Candice previously wrote a very interesting blog that introduced us to the unfairness of regional education in the United States. The same thing actually exists in China as well and in this blog I would like to give an introduction on it.
The education in China has four stages, the first stage is the primary school which is compulsive and lasts for 6 years long, the second is middle school, which is also compulsive and lasts for 3 years. After that, the compulsive education ends and things become very competitive. The third stage is a three-year high school and after which the high school students all take the most famous College Entrance Exam (also known as GaoKao) to get into a university to start their four-year higher education.
The first difference is in the level of different provinces, take the GaoKao as an example, different provinces usually organize their own exams but in similar subjects. Then based on the test results, all the students in that province will be ranked based on their grades. The student with a higher rank has the priority to choose the university and department that they want to attend. The overall process is usually only based on their GaoKao exam results, which is very fair within the province. However, when it comes to the province level, things become different. Different universities usually give each province different numbers of students they allow, yet the number in different provinces makes huge differences. Take the two best universities in China, the Tsinghua University and Peking University as example, the number of students allowed in Beijing is 791 in 2018 whereas the total students taking the exam is around 63,000. In the province Hebei where I come from, the total students accepted by these two universities are 164, but more than 450,000 students take the exam. More explicitly, students in Beijing have around 1.25% of chance of getting into the best university of China whereas the students in Hebei is only 0.036%, the rate is more than 34 times. Some may argue that it is the same in the United States, however, as the funding of the university mostly comes from the central government rather than the provincial government. It is clearly unfair for the students in other provinces as their tax is also used in funding the universities in Beijing. In recent years, the government is making changes on this issue, however, the progress is very slow and only 2-5 quotas are changed every year, this is partially because the resistance for the reform is very large as most senior officials’ children are in Beijing.
One result of this unfairness is that the students at Beijing have smaller pressure to get into a good university and are able to spend more time on their hobbies and interests, whereas the students at other provinces are in a much more tense atmosphere and spend most of their time studying to get better grades. When I was in college, I was often surprised by the broadness of hobbies that my classmates from Beijing or Shanghai have, because some of those hobbies can take a lot of time to practice and that is the time we do not have in high school. The unfairness also brings some unique phenomenon that probably only exist in China, for example, the GaoKao immigration where parents move to provinces of higher chance in getting into good universities to help their kids. Another example is the existence of militarized high school, where students are administered as in military in daily life to maximum their time usage on studying for the GaoKao exam, the timeline is restricted strictly in these high schools, for example, the lunch time is restricted to 10min so the saved time can be used to study math and physics.
The second part I want to introduce is the difference between the cities and rural areas, as I grew up in the city where I can have multiple approaches to get good teaching and a quiet place to study, I always regard convenient education with adequate resources as a natural thing. This idea changed dramatically when I joined a small group to go to the rural area in one of the poorest provinces in China to conduct an investigation on compulsive study. I was shocked by the education situation there, although the kids there can still get the compulsive education required by the government, it is not easy. Firstly, as not every village has a primary school, some kids need to go to other villages for school, and some of them have to spend more than two hours on road everyday. Moreover, the salary for the teachers in these schools are usually very low, so it is very difficult to keep good teachers there, once they are experienced, they tend to move to good schools in town to live a better life. At last, after the stage of compulsive study, the kids in these areas usually choose to go outside and earn money instead of continue their study, because a lot of them fail to see the advantage and meaning of getting higher education.
After the investigation trip, I become a advocator for the online education, as I know although there is still a lot of disadvantages exist in the online education currently, however, for the kids in these rural areas, it is probably the only solution for them to get access to the education with high quality. Moreover, the internet can bring them the chance to see what is going on in the outside world and boarder their knowledge to make wise decisions.
The two differences I mentioned in this blog have existed for a long time in China. Currently, I cannot see any evidence for the first one to change in a short period of time, so the only thing I can do is to try to get a living permit in Beijing if I go back to China so that my kids can live an easier life. However, the second one has been improved quickly with the internet, and hopefully can be solved given more time.