Common sense dictates that as Beijing continues to grow city authorities should be doing everything in their power to expand its infrastructure, as has been the case with our much-improved subway system and on the flip-side, the high-end housing glut.
But there are other areas where efforts, much less the supply, seemingly cannot keep pace with the demand. Beijing’s beleaguered healthcare system, a woeful lack of roads and the dwindling water supply are at the top this list; but for the city’s growing population of parents, perhaps most alarming is the Capital’s school situation.
A few weeks ago I blogged about a recent article in The Diplomat in which Jiang Xueqin, a writer and deputy principal at the Peking University High School, described how Shanghai’s school system is now considered the world’s best by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and compared it with Beijing’s school system (which comes up woefully short, I’m afraid to say).
The differences cited (i.e. an emphasis on analytical and creative thinking in the curriculum, a system of "tangible awards" for faculty and administrators to improve the schools etc.) were eye opening.
Qualitative differences aside, one thing Beijing shares in common with Shanghai is a dearth of schools, both public and private – an unfortunate reality my family has learned first-hand after spending a year dealing with administrative problems at our daughter’s kindergarten (I’ll spare you the details).
Quite simply, we’ve found out that when it comes to schools in Beijing, it’s a seller’s market. Of course there are undoubtedly many caring and competent school faculty and administrators in this city; but it seems that there are just as many, if not more, who seemingly operate with impunity by routinely under-investing in competent teachers, facilities and educational resources (lord knows how higher-level regulators might also be personally profiting from all this).
In some ways, it’s easy to understand the jaded cynicism that some administrators must feel – for every disgruntled parent or problematic child they deal with there are probably ten families waiting just to get into the door – call it the "Surly Restaurant Waitstaff Effect." Small wonder that local parents often feel compelled to bribe teachers and administrators just to ensure their kid gets adequate attention.
I shouldn’t complain too much, my family is among the fortunate – at least we have a school for our daughter to attend (for now). The situation is even more dismal for less advantaged families, many of whom are migrant workers, in the Capital. The China Daily reports that around 14,000 students in the city are being affected by a campaign of school closures targeting "unsafe private schools:"
Since June, about 24 schools in Daxing, Chaoyang and Haidian districts have been shut down. With the new semester just days away, the parents of stranded students face a race against time to get them enrolled before classes restart … Reasons for the crackdown on private schools vary. The most common are that there is a lack of permits and that school buildings do not meet safety standards … According to safety standards, a school should be at least 15,000 square meters in size and have a floor space of at least 3,587 square meters, as well as a 200-meter track for sports. "Being realistic, no private school for migrant children can meet that standard," [says]Principal Yang Tuan, whose school was among those ordered to close this summer.
The motivations behind dealing with these schools, many of whom undoubtedly operate under less-than-stellar conditions, are justifiable to an extent – safety, health and administrative problems surely exist at these schools. But what’s befuddling is why local authorities are not constructively working with these schools to improve their facilities, as opposed to allegedly and simply shutting them down – under these conditions the affected students – many of whom have reportedly not been guaranteed placement in other schools – literally have nowhere else to go. Am I missing something here, or are not enough palms getting greased?
The article also cites one NGO worker’s claim that to date, only 63 such schools "have been approved by city authorities" – factor this in to a citywide population of some 20 million and it doesn’t take a math genius to figure out that we’ve got an alarming problem. A lack of adequate educational resources for such a large portion of the city’s population does not bode well for this society’s future, and it brings to mind what’s happened in the US after decades of educational decline (or closer to home, the chaos that erupted in China just a few decades ago).
Perhaps I’m being too cynical, but I hate to think that this is just another case of "sweeping things under the rug" or, to be more precise, "sweeping undesirables from one pile to another" (e.g. we don’t want your kind around here so we are going to cut you off from the necessities of life). At this rate, such shortsightedness means we will eventually all pay a heavier price in the future – and I’m not just talking tuition.
More info: Chinese Migrant Workers Walled Off From Society (voa365.com)