Archive for ‘education’

09/06/2017

India has made primary education universal, but not good

IN 1931 Mahatma Gandhi ridiculed the idea that India might have universal primary education “inside of a century”.

He was too pessimistic. Since 1980 the share of Indian teenagers who have had no schooling has fallen from about half to less than one in ten. That is a big, if belated, success for the country with more school-age children, 260m, than any other.

Yet India has failed these children. Many learn precious little at school. India may be famous for its elite doctors and engineers, but half of its nine-year-olds cannot do a sum as simple as eight plus nine. Half of ten-year-old Indians cannot read a paragraph meant for seven-year-olds. At 15, pupils in Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh are five years behind their (better-off) peers in Shanghai. The average 15-year-old from these states would be in the bottom 2% of an American class. With few old people and a falling birth rate, India has a youth bulge: 13% of its inhabitants are teenagers, compared with 8% in China and 7% in Europe. But if its schools remain lousy, that demographic dividend will be wasted.

India has long had a lopsided education system. In colonial times the British set up universities to train civil servants, while neglecting schools. India’s first elected leaders expanded this system, pouring money into top-notch colleges to supply engineers to state-owned industries. By contrast, Asian tigers such as South Korea and Taiwan focused on schools. Of late, India has done more to help those left behind. Spending on schools rose by about 80% in 2011-15. The literacy rate has risen from 52% in 1991 to 74% in 2011. Free school lunches—one of the world’s largest nutrition schemes—help millions of pupils who might otherwise be too hungry to learn.

Pointless pampered pedagogues

However, the quality of schools remains a scandal. Many teachers are simply not up to the job. Since 2011, when the government introduced a test for aspiring teachers, as many as 99% of applicants have failed each year. Curriculums are over-ambitious relics of an era when only a select few went to school. Since pupils automatically move up each year, teachers do not bother to ensure that they understand their lessons. Overmighty teachers’ unions—which, in effect, are guaranteed seats in some state legislatures—make matters worse. Teachers’ salaries, already high, have more than doubled over the past two rounds of pay negotiations. Some teachers, having paid bribes to be hired in the first place, treat the job as a sinecure. Shockingly, a quarter play truant each day.

Frustrated by the government system, and keen for their children to learn English, parents have turned to low-cost private schools, many of which are bilingual. In five years their enrolment has increased by 17m, as against a fall of 13m in public schools. These private schools can be as good as or better than public schools despite having much smaller budgets. In Uttar Pradesh the flight to private schools almost emptied some public ones. But when it was suggested that teachers without pupils move to schools that needed them, they staged violent protests and the state backed down.

India spends about 2.7% of GDP on schools, a lower share than many countries. Narendra Modi, the prime minister, once vowed to bump up education spending to 6%. However, extra money will be wasted without reform in three areas. The first is making sure that children are taught at the right level. Curriculums should be simpler. Pupils cannot be left to pass through grades without mastering material. Remedial “learning camps”, such as the ones run by charities like Pratham, can help. So can technology: for example, EkStep, a philanthropic venture, gives children free digital access to teaching materials.

The second task is to make the system more meritocratic and accountable. Teachers should be recruited for their talents, not their connections. They should be trained better and rewarded on the basis of what children actually learn. (They should also be sackable if they fail to show up.) The government should use more rigorous measures to find out which of a hotch-potch of bureaucratic and charitable efforts make a difference. And policymakers should do more to help good private providers—the third area of reform. Vouchers and public-private partnerships could help the best operators of low-cost private schools expand.Mr Modi’s government has made encouraging noises about toughening accountability and improving curriculums.But, wary of the unions, it remains too cautious. Granted, authority over education is split between the centre and the states, so Mr Modi is not omnipotent. But he could do a lot more. His promise to create a “new India” will be hollow if his country is stuck with schools from the 19th century.

Source: India has made primary education universal, but not good

14/04/2017

Tiger toffs: China’s elite boarding schools | The Economist

CHINESE parents pride themselves on the importance they attach to education; it is, they say, the most important gift they can bestow on the next generation.

That makes them all the more willing to shell out, if they can afford it, on expensive boarding schools which they believe will enable their children to concentrate fully on their studies. Poor families in the countryside pack their children off to board, too. But that is because they have no choice: daily commuting would be too expensive or arduous. In the cities, boarding schools are usually far grander. Attending them is more a badge of privilege than evidence of pragmatism.There is considerable demand for such urban schools. In many rich countries, parents often fret about sending their children away to board, partly because of the high cost and partly because these days many parents prefer to have their children with them. In China, by contrast, it is considered very normal for a couple to live apart from their child (they usually only have one). For urban boarders, the distance is seldom great: parents usually send their children to schools very close to where they live.

Boarding school offers an alternative to foisting a child on grandparents, which parents often do, sometimes for days on end. It may be costly, but parents reckon that such schools can do more to help children study after class than the elders can at home. In a country where siblings are so rare, many also see communal living as good for their offspring. Some 3.5m children now board in cities, around 4% of the urban school population. The vast majority of them do so at high school (8% of secondary-school pupils board, compared with 1% of primary schoolers).

A few of the boarding schools court the country’s elite by offering to prepare children for admission to universities abroad (in China, foreign education is another much-desired symbol of privilege). The redbrick quadrangle of the recently built Keystone Academy in a suburb of Beijing resembles a boarding school in New England. The institution’s annual boarding fee of 360,000 yuan ($52,000) is higher than tuition at Harvard University.

But the most expensive boarding schools may have had their heyday. Many parents with that much cash to spare would often prefer to send their children to board abroad: enrolments in American and British boarding schools are rising fast. Social trends are also changing. A wife who can afford not to work—and who has time to parent a child—is increasingly seen as someone who enjoys high status: traditional gender roles are making a comeback. In 2014 Yin Jianli, a popular author and former teacher, included an essay entitled “Boarding is a Bad System” in a book she wrote about education. It argued that if dorm-life really fostered the “sense of collectivism” that its proponents claim, then children from orphanages would score top marks. She said that mothers should be more involved in child-rearing.

For ordinary middle-class parents, less fancy state-run boarding schools are becoming more affordable: often they cost only a few thousand yuan a year. But even their future may be threatened. President Xi Jinping’s anti-graft drive is making it harder to secure a place in the best ones by using the once common methods of paying backhanders and pulling strings. These days having a child at a good state boarding-school can be a sign of corruption. No one wants that badge.

Source: Tiger toffs: China’s elite boarding schools | The Economist

07/04/2017

Prestigious Chinese university to open campus in Oxford despite ideological crackdown at home | South China Morning Post

One of China’s top universities is preparing to open a campus at the heart of British academic life, just months after President Xi Jinping called for Chinese universities to be transformed into strongholds of Communist party rule.

Peking University, an elite Beijing institution where Mao Zedong once worked as a librarian, will open a branch of its HSBC Business School in Oxford early next year, financial magazine Caixin reported on Thursday.

The school is setting up camp in Foxcombe Hall, which it recently purchased for a reported £8.8 million (US$11.97 million). The 19th century manor was home to the eighth earl of Berkeley.

Peking University said courses at its Oxford campus, which is not connected to the University of Oxford, would focus on “professional knowledge of China’s economy, financial market and corporate management”.

Wen Hai, its dean, said Peking University had beaten off competition from three rivals, including an unnamed Oxford college, by offering a “very tempting price” that left the sellers “little room to say ‘no’”.

Wen said the university had been able to do so thanks to its close ties to China’s Communist Party. Those connections allowed it to “to expedite the transfer of money transfer needed for the acquisition” despite tight capital controls imposed by Beijing in an attempt to stop firms and citizens shifting large sums of money overseas.

Last summer’s vote by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, which has seen the pound plummet against the Chinese yuan, will also have helped the buyers.

Caixin said the university’s decision to expand into the “city of dreaming spires” came as Beijing pondered ambitious plans to boost the global standing of China’s top universities. Peking University, currently ranked the world’s 29th best university, had been handed billions of yuan by the government to “improve its research facilities and recruit teaching staff from top universities abroad to boost its international profile”, it said.

International schools in China attract more pupils

Prestigious British schools have set their sights on mainland China over the last 15 years with public schools including Harrow, Dulwich College and Wellington all opening spin-offs. British universities have also made moves into the mainland, where it is now possible to study at campuses operated by the University of Nottingham and the University of Liverpool. Last month the University of Leicester said it would open a campus in the north-eastern province of Liaoning.

Peking University described its Oxford campus, designed for students from both Europe and China, as “a bold step” and “an important milestone for the development of China’s higher education, given its inferior position globally over the past century”.

“It is our hope that the new initiative in Oxford will further strengthen the school’s international reputation as well as its teaching and research capabilities,” Lin Jianhua, its president, said in a statement.

The acquisition comes a few months after Xi, whom liberal scholars accuse of presiding over a severe clampdown on freedom of expression, declared Chinese universities should be party “strongholds”.China’s top colleges to face ideological inspections

Echoing a 1932 speech by Joseph Stalin, Xi called teachers “engineers of the human soul” whose “sacred mission” was to help students “improve in ideological quality [and] political awareness”.

Mainland China now has two universities in the world’s top 40, according to the Times Higher Education rankings. Even so, senior Communist party leaders have looked abroad to educate their offspring.

Xi Jinping’s daughter, Xi Mingze, studied at Harvard while Bo Guagua, the son of jailed party chief Bo Xilai, studied PPE at Balliol in Oxford where he built a reputation as an inveterate party animal.

“[It was like when] you take the cork out of a champagne bottle and it explodes for a bit,” Andrew Graham, the college’s former master, told the BBC in a recent series about the scandal-hit Bo family.

Source: Prestigious Chinese university to open campus in Oxford despite ideological crackdown at home | South China Morning Post

25/11/2016

China battles foreign influence in education | The Economist

CHINA has long oscillated between the urge to equip its elite with foreign knowledge and skills, and an opposing instinct to turn inward and rebuff such influences.

In the 1870s the Qing imperial court ended centuries of educational isolation by sending young men to America, only for the Communist regime to shut out the world again a few decades later. Today record numbers of Chinese study abroad: over half a million people left in 2015 alone, many for America (see chart).

The Communist Party officially endorses international exchanges in education while at the same time preaching the dangers of Western ideas on Chinese campuses. A new front in this battlefield is emerging, as the government cracks down on international schools catering to Chinese citizens.

Only holders of foreign passports used to be allowed to go to international schools in China: children of expat workers or the foreign-born offspring of Chinese returnees. Chinese citizens are still forbidden from attending such outfits, but more recently a new type of school has proliferated on the mainland, offering an international curriculum to Chinese nationals planning to study at foreign universities. Their number has more than doubled since 2011, to over 500. Many are clustered on the wealthy eastern seaboard, but even poor interior provinces such as Gansu, Guizhou and Yunnan have them.

Some international schools are privately run, including offshoots of famous foreign institutions such as Dulwich College in Britain or Haileybury in Australia. Even wholly Chinese ventures often adopt foreign-sounding names to increase their appeal: witness “Etonkids”, a Beijing-based chain which has no link with the illustrious British boarding school. Since 2003 some 90 state schools have opened international programmes too, many of them at the top high schools in China, including those affiliated with Peking University and Renmin University in Beijing.

New laws are making it harder for such schools to operate. In 2014 Beijing’s education authorities stopped approving new international programmes at public high schools. Several other cities, including Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Wuhan, have also tightened their policies on such institutions. Some have capped fees for international programmes. The Ministry of Education says it is pondering a law that would require public high schools to run their international programmes as private entities (fearing this event, a few schools have already begun doing so).

Earlier this month a new law banned for-profit private schools from teaching the first nine years of compulsory education. That came only days after Shanghai started to enforce an existing ban on international schools using “foreign curriculums”. Some such institutions already offer a mixture: Wycombe Abbey International, which is based in Changzhou in eastern China and affiliated to a British girls’ boarding school, teaches “political education”, a form of government propaganda, and follows a Chinese curriculum for maths. But the new regulations threaten to nullify the very point of such institutions for most parents, which is to offer an alternative to the mainstream Chinese system, in which students spend years cramming for extremely competitive university-entrance exams that prize rote learning over critical or lateral thinking.

Lawmakers say the rules are prompted by concerns about the quality of international schools. The expansion of international programmes within regular Chinese schools also spurred a popular backlash against the use of public facilities and funds to teach pupils who plan to leave China. Since the number of people attending public schools is fixed, the elite high schools are accused of squeezing out regular students to feed their lucrative international stream. Local governments often provide capital for private schools, too.

The move to control international schools is “the next logical iteration” of a wider campaign against Western influences, reckons Carl Minzner of Fordham University in America. In 2015 China’s education minister called for a ban on “textbooks promoting Western values” in higher education.

This mission extends far beyond the educational realm: the government has called for artists and architects to serve socialism, clamped down on video-streaming sites that carry lots of foreign content and even proposed renaming housing developments that carry “over-the-top, West-worshipping” names. Chinese organisations that receive foreign funding, particularly non-governmental ones, face increasing scrutiny.

The Communist Party is instead seeking to inculcate young Chinese with its own ideological values: the new directive on for-profit schools calls on them to “strengthen Party-building”. After pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989, nationalistic “patriotic education” classes were stepped up in schools, a move that Xi Jinping, the president, has taken to new levels since 2012, seeking to infuse every possible field with “patriotic spirit”. “Morals, language, history, geography, sport and arts” are all part of the campaign now. Unusually, he also seeks to include students abroad in this “patriotic energy”.

But lashing out against international schools could prove risky. Any attack aimed at them essentially targets China’s growing middle class, a group that the ruling Communist Party is keen to keep onside. Chinese have long seen education as a passport to success, and it is not just the super-rich who have the aspiration or means to send their offspring abroad to attend university. Some 57% of Chinese parents would like to do so if they could afford it, according to the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. Even Mr Xi sent his daughter to Harvard, where she studied under a pseudonym.

Since school is optional after 15, and parents must pay for it, even at public institutions, the state will find it tricky to prevent high schools from teaching what they want. Moreover, constraints on international schooling in China are likely to swell the growing flow of Chinese students leaving to study abroad at ever younger ages. This trend is the theme of a 30-episode television series, “A love for separation”, about three families who send their children to private school in America.

Restricting for-profit schooling also risks hitting another growing educational market: urban private schools that cater to migrant children who cannot get places in regular state schools because they do not have the required residence permits. A law that undermines educational opportunities for the privileged and the underprivileged at once could prove far more incendiary than a little foreign influence.

Source: China battles foreign influence in education | The Economist

13/10/2016

Is this the world’s most oversubscribed school? – BBC News

The VidyaGyan Leadership Academy, a boarding school in India‘s Uttar Pradesh state, is offering an elite education for pupils drawn from the rural poor.

There are about 200 places on offer each year – but such is the appetite for families to get a better life for their children, there are 250,000 applications.

The school, set up by the Shiv Nadar Foundation, is completely free, and offers the type of education usually available only to the very wealthy.

Roshni Nadar Malhotra, a businesswoman and trustee of the foundation, says the school has been modelled on India’s private schools, which put students on the pathway to top universities and high-flying careers.

Roshni Nadar Malhotra wants the school to produce a more meritocratic generation of leaders for India

But the VidyaGyan school is open only to the very clever and very poor – which she describes as the “top of the bottom of the pyramid”.

No-one can even apply u

Unless their family income is below the equivalent of £1,500 per year, and the school carries out checks to make sure that better-off families are not trying to get in.

“Most of India is rural, there is a huge population in India not being tapped for their excellence. They have no access to great universities,” says Ms Malhotra, who is chief executive officer of the HCL technology company.

A performer from Uttar Pradesh prepares to take part in a festival

“We wanted to see if we could have an admissions system that was truly meritorious.”

The admissions system operates on an epic scale.

After the initial 250,000 applications, Ms Malhotra says, about 125,000 turn up to take a written test.

The drop-out rate is a reflection of the tough lives of these families, who might struggle to travel to a local test centre or be stopped by bad weather.

The school’s ambition is for its students to compete anywhere in the world

Based on the results, there is a shortlist of about 6,000 students, who then take another set of tests. There are also visits to the homes of applicants.

This sifting process produces an intake of 200 pupils, boys and girls, who are taught, clothed, fed and housed by the school.

These children from the poorest rural families, a deliberate mix of religions and castes, then receive a high-cost education, exposing them to ideas and opportunities.

It is an intensive process, designed to create a “stepping stone” to top universities in India or abroad.

The school has been founded to help clever poor pupils from Uttar Pradesh

It has become such a phenomenon that there are now coaching academies dedicated to training people for the test.

So far the school has cost the foundation £59m – and Ms Malhotra says there have been questions about whether the money would have been better spent on teaching basic literacy to much bigger numbers of young people.The final intake of 200 pupils stands compared with Uttar Pradesh’s population of about 200 million.

But Ms Malhotra says the distinct purpose of the school is to create a leadership academy focusing on providing a chance for disadvantaged youngsters to compete with India’s elite.

These are the children of poor, uneducated farmers, and she wants them to be equipped to reach the top in politics, business or sport.

The school is intended to provide a stepping stone to top universities

And she says there is a “ripple effect” on the home villages of these pupils, as they see their young people being able to go to a top university in India or in Europe or the United States.

“When students get into a great university, it’s a huge aspirational lift for their village. These students become beacons of hope.”

There are also expectations of paying back to their local communities. In the summer, when they go home, they have to carry out a socially useful project, such as providing cleaner water, clearing away rubbish or finding a safer way of cooking.

“It’s about getting their hands dirty and finding out how to solve problems,” says Ms Malhotra.

Once pupils are accepted, everything in the school is free for families

The school’s first graduates have left with “stellar results”, but she also wants them to be equipped to compete with international students anywhere.

“It’s not just about getting in, they need to be able to survive. All of a sudden you’re thrown in with other highly competitive students from all over the world.”

It will be some time before it is possible to see if they become India’s future leaders, she says. “But they’re on their way.”

Source: Is this the world’s most oversubscribed school? – BBC News

25/08/2016

TV Show Spotlights Middle Class Anxieties in China – China Real Time Report – WSJ

A hit Chinese TV drama that tells the story of three families who sent their young teens to study abroad has surfaced middle-class doubts about their future in the country.

“A Love for Separation,” based on a novel by Lu Yingong, started screening last week and grabbed the public’s attention despite competing with the Olympic games for viewers. Users on the cultural website douban.com gave the show an average score of 8.2 out of 10.

Some critics say it reflects a widespread anxiety among China’s middle class: they constantly feel insecure and believe that the only way for their children to get a better life is to leave China and pursue their dreams elsewhere. The story line has triggered discussions about the country’s test-based education system and about “tiger” mothers, fathers and teachers. Many scenes of domestic conflict in the show center around the children’s test scores.

In one clip circulating on social media, Fang Duoduo, a ninth-grader, yells at her father, “You want respect from me? You only treat me like an exam machine!”

In this still from the TV show “A Love for Separation,” the character Fang Duoduo’s mother helps with her homework late at night.

PHOTO: SCREENSHOT

Stress about the highly-competitive gaokao, or college entrance exam, is one of the reasons why some parents would rather send their kids abroad to study.

In the show, Duoduo’s mother tells her, “If you can’t make sure you in the top 100 right now, you won’t enter a key senior high school. If you can’t enter a key senior high, you won’t enter a key university. If you can’t enter a key university, you whole life is done.”

In China, college admission hinges on the gaokao, which can only be taken once annually. Competition is so intense that parents would do anything to make sure their kids’ sail through the exam without interruptions. Last summer, a Sichuan family made headlines when it emerged that a mother hid from her daughter news of her father’s death for nearly two weeks until she’d finished taking the test, for fear it would influence her results.

The show reflects a “collective anxiety” among the middle class, the writer Huang Tongtong said in an article on her public WeChat account.

“Do you sometimes feel like everything you own is so fragile? Is it merely a fluke that you have the kind of life you live? Do you have the confidence that your children can live a good life? These are the questions that each one of us has to face,” Ms. Huang wrote.

Frustrated with a rigid education system and a growing list of grievances, more and more well-off Chinese parents send their children away when the children are increasingly young. More than 520,000 people left China to study abroad last year, up nearly 14% from 2014, according to China’s education ministry.

In a survey of 458 Chinese millionaires by China Citic Bank and Hurun Report, 30% of them said they plan to send their children to attend senior high schools overseas, while 14% of them said their children should leave at a younger age, for junior high school.

In the U.S. alone, Chinese students make up about half of the 60,815 foreign pupils in high schools and 6,074 in primary schools.

“The show makes me so sad. I used to argue with my parents all because of my scores. Study is the most important issue in my family. Only study study hard, there was never love and care,” said one user on the Twitter-like Weibo platform in China.

Source: TV Show Spotlights Middle Class Anxieties in China – China Real Time Report – WSJ

08/08/2016

This Is Why It Is Difficult to Make in India – India Real Time – WSJ

PHOTO: Employees worked on the cabin of a Sikorsky S-92 at the Tata Advanced Systems Ltd. facility at Adibatla in the south Indian city of Hyderabad, June 07, 2016.

Having signed a string of multibillion-dollar orders from foreign firms to make parts for helicopters, jet fighters and trains, India is struggling to find people with the skills to build them.

In a $3.3 billion push, it is racing to equip 15 million people by 2020 with the skills necessary to realize Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s aim to bring more high-grade manufacturing to the country.

But the challenges are significant at a time when foreign suppliers including Boeing Co., Airbus Group SE and Alstom SA often can’t find the employees with the training and experience to help fulfill Mr. Modi’s ‘Make in India’ program.E

More than 80% of engineers in India are “unemployable”, Aspiring Minds, an Indian employability assessment firm, said in a January report after a study of about 150,000 engineering students in about 650 engineering colleges in the country.

A lack of specialized courses mean companies have to train their own people from scratch. At one training center outside Hyderabad in southern India, young workers in their early 20s toil with high-precision hand tools as they are taught for the first time how to fix rivets on aircraft-grade aluminum sheets as part of a year-long training program.

Source: This Is Why It Is Difficult to Make in India – India Real Time – WSJ

30/06/2016

Why You Need Near-Perfect Exam Scores to Bag a Place at the University of Delhi – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s prestigious University of Delhi on Wednesday released the grades students need to study at its various colleges.

With an excess of qualified students and a limited number of places, India’s universities have famously stringent exam-score requirements.

The University of Delhi is no exception. To get one of the 99 spots on offer for Ramjas College’s undergraduate business degree, Bachelor of Commerce (Honors) program, students this year need to have scored 99.25% in their senior-year exams. That’s the highest the so-called “cut-off,” as the score requirements are popularly known, has peaked to in the first round.

While the minimum score for admission to the university’s over 55 programs doesn’t demand a perfect 100% from students this year, they need to be pretty close.In the past, university administrators have said they raised the percentage requirements for students because they receive inflated scores in their school leaving exams. This year, for instance, an estimated 90,000 students across the country secured more than 90% in their exams. Until three years ago, there were less than half that number of students in that category.

There are about 54,000 spots available on the programs across the University of Delhi’s 61 colleges. Administrators say they have received an estimated 250,000 applications this year.

The score is an average of a student’s best results in four subject areas, including a language. Scores tend to be lower for applicants from marginalized and backward classes, who have a certain number of spots set aside for them under the federal affirmative-action program. And, colleges do slash score requirements as they invite students to apply in a second round of admissions, depending on the number of places available.

Rajendra Prasad, the principal of Ramjas College, told television news channel NDTV that fixing the requirement at 99.25% this year was a “calculated risk” to attract the finest students. Mr. Prasad added that the second round of admissions might bring the score requirement down marginally by at least 1%.

The university’s other famous colleges, such as the Shri Ram College of Commerce and the Lady Shri Ram College for Women, which started a trend of asking for a 100% score from students in 2011, have set their requirements slightly lower. Both colleges demand a 98% score from students to qualify for admission onto their Bachelor of Commerce program.

Despite their efforts, colleges across the university remain saddled with the number of applications. The university moved a preliminary registration process to an online platform this year that has contributed to the swelling of the applicant pool. Until last year, students could register to apply through forms available offline as well.

“Streamlining the process has led to more students applying when the number of seats has remained the same,” said Muneesh Kumar, a member of the academic council at the university.

Source: Why You Need Near-Perfect Exam Scores to Bag a Place at the University of Delhi – India Real Time – WSJ

03/06/2016

The class ceiling | The Economist

NO CAR may honk nor lorry rumble near secondary schools on the two days next week when students are taking their university entrance exams, known as gaokao. Teenagers have been cramming for years for these tests, which they believe (with justification) will determine their entire future. Yet it is at an earlier stage of education that an individual’s life chances in China are usually mapped out, often in ways that are deeply unfair.

To give more students access to higher education, the government has increased its investment in the sector fivefold since 1997. The number of universities has nearly doubled. In 1998 46% of secondary-school graduates went on to university. Now 88% of them do. About 7m people—roughly one-third of those aged between 18 and 22—now gain entry to some form of higher institution each year.

China’s universities offer more opportunity for social mobility than those in many other countries, says James Lee of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. But the social backgrounds of those admitted have been changing. Until 1993, more than 40% of students were the children of farmers or factory workers. Now universities are crammed with people from wealthy, urban backgrounds. That is partly because a far bigger share of young people are middle-class. But it is also because rural Chinese face bigger hurdles getting into them than they used to.

The problem lies with inequality of access to senior high schools, which take students for the final three years of their secondary education. Students from rural backgrounds who go to such schools perform as well in the university entrance exams as those from urban areas. But most never get there. Less than 10% of young people in the countryside go to senior high schools compared with 70% of their urban counterparts. The result is that a third of urban youngsters complete tertiary education, compared with only 8% of young rural adults.

One reason is that junior high schools in the countryside are far weaker academically than urban ones. Local governments invest less in them per student than they do in cities. Urban parents tend to be better educated and thus better able to help children with their studies. Rural pupils often suffer from a “poverty of expectations”, says Jean Wei-Jun Yeung of the National University of Singapore: they are not encouraged to think they can succeed, so they do not try to.

Expense is a huge deterrent for many. Governments cover the costs of schooling for the nine years of compulsory education up to the age of around 15. But at senior high schools, families must pay tuition and other expenses; these outlays are among the highest in the world (measured by purchasing-power parity). Many students drop out of junior high school—which is free—because rising wages in low-skilled industrial work make the prospect of staying at school even less attractive. Millions enter the workforce every year who are barely literate or numerate. Poor nutrition is also a handicap. Stanford University’s Rural Education Action Programme has found that a high incidence of anaemia and intestinal worms in rural areas affects educational performance.

Since the 1990s more than 200m people have moved from the countryside to work in cities. Many have left their children behind because of the difficulty of getting them into urban schools: the country’s system of hukou, or household registration, makes it hard for migrant children to enjoy subsidised education in places other than their parents’ birthplace.

But migrant children who do attend schools in cities usually get a worse education than their city-born counterparts. State schools that accept migrant pupils often operate what Pei-chia Lan of National Taiwan University refers to as “apartheid school models”. In these, migrant children are taught separately from urban ones in the same school, and are even kept apart from them in the playground. Since they are forced to take senior high-school exams in the hometown of their hukou, many have little choice but to return to the countryside to attend junior high school.

Source: The class ceiling | The Economist

20/02/2016

A slow awakening | The Economist

AROUND 270m people have left China’s countryside to work in urban areas, many of them entrusting their children to the care of a lone parent, grandparents, relatives or other guardians.

By 2010 there were 61m of these “left-behind children”, according to the All-China Women’s Federation. In a directive released on February 14th, the government has at last shown that it recognises the problems caused by the splintering of so many families. The document acknowledges that there has been a “strong reaction” from the public to the plight of affected children. It describes improving their lot as “urgent”.

That is clearly right. There have been numerous stories in recent years revealing the horrors some of these children endure. Last year four siblings left alone in the south-western province of Guizhou apparently committed suicide by drinking pesticide. Numerous sex-abuse cases involving left-behind children have come to light.

The new proposals look sensible enough: minors may not be abandoned entirely; local institutions such as schools and hospitals must do more to notify the authorities of cases of abuse or neglect; social workers should monitor the welfare of left-behind children. Sadly, however, the government’s suggested remedies will achieve little. They largely replicate recent laws and policies designed to protect children (not just left-behind ones), which have been almost universally unenforced. It is already illegal to allow minors to live alone, for example. There is no indication that the new recommendations will be made law or implemented any more rigorously.

The new scheme mentions the importance of giving migrants urban hukou, or household-registration certificates, which are needed to gain access to public services such as education and health care. Most migrants leave their children in the countryside because they do not have such papers. In December the government announced plans to make it easier for migrants to gain urban hukou privileges. But few casual labourers are likely to fulfil the still-onerous conditions that must be met to qualify.

A study published last year by researchers at Stanford University found that among more than 140,000 children assessed in areas such as education, health and nutrition, left-behind ones performed as well as or better than those living in the countryside with both parents. But both kinds of children lagged far behind those who grow up in cities.

Source: A slow awakening | The Economist

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