Chinese parents split over educational independence
Published: May 19, 2016 05:58 PM Updated: May 20, 2016 07:54 AM

Illustration: Lu Ting/GT

Chinese parents with grade-9 and grade-12 children usually become anxious in May as local families have to decide which schools to apply to for further studies before students nationwide sit for the fate-deciding Zhongkao and Gaokao exams in June.

I happen to be the mother of a grade-9 daughter who will finish her compulsory 9-year education and start her senior middle school life in September ... IF no mistakes are made in the following month.

This Friday is the deadline for my daughter to submit her middle school application. The deadline for the Gaokao application form is also next Friday. Let's call it "Black Friday."

My friend with a grade-12 daughter seems to be in the same nerve-racking situation as me, although they made it through the first round of anxiety three years ago. But it seems that positive outcome hasn't provided them with much reassurance this time around.

On WeChat, I am among the multitudes of nervous parents. Together we collectively worry: "What if my child fails; what if we have over-estimated or underestimated their ability..."

It feels like every parent in China has gotten together for a big game of roulette. We place our bets, the government spins the wheel and, before we even realize it, the outcome cold-heartedly reveals society's next generation of winners and losers. Some children will go on to become leaders and millionaires; others, just because of their scores, will be grocery store clerks and toilet attendants.

Shanghai claims to have more educational resources than any other province in China, and that is very true. According to local regulations, prior to the general examination in June, quite a number of top schools have the right to select a portion of excellent students. It doesn't necessarily mean that they will choose only the nerds. Sometimes they select students with talents such as a sports or music.

Students who successfully pass this screening test are then eligible to sign an agreement with the school to secure a position - but only on the condition that they do not choose another school on their application form.

Among all the parents at my daughter's junior middle school, I have been closely networking with many of them for the past four years and am quite familiar with each of their children's academic performances. We share such information openly while also seeking mutual support. However, within the past two weeks, our close-knit group has suddenly become divided on the issue about choosing an ideal school for our children.

We all agreed that children should play the primary role when it comes to deciding their future. But this has turned in an empty promise now that the most critical juncture of their academic career has arrived.

Parents are always less brave and ambitious than their children. The young generation dreams of achieving nothing but the best for themselves and are willing to do whatever it takes to reach it without any consequences of failure. This contradicts the mentality of China's older generations, who are keenly aware of how precariously close we are to the hard life.

Some of the conservative parents in my group have already begun to persuade their children to abandon their dreams and start thinking "realistically." My daughter reported to me that those children can now be heard murmuring to themselves in school "They kill my dream, they don't encourage me to fight."

Fortunately, one boy was brave enough to stand up to his parents. "I just began to study really hard and made huge progress, you should trust my potential and support me!" His parents finally admitted that, no matter what the result, this whole process has been a good life lesson for their family.

My husband and I have always encouraged our daughter's independence. But when she firmly declined two offers from some relatively-good but not-top-tier local schools, we tried to reason with her. "It seems all your previous claims are fake and pretentious!" she sneered at us. "Why stop me from pursuing my dream for the truly top schools in Shanghai? I won't promise anything, but I will try and give myself a chance."

I swallowed the sentence I had prepared: "But can your talent support your ambition?" Only time will tell, but as her mother, I must continue to believe in her, even if it means watching her make mistakes.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.