China’s Education Ministry has instructed local education authorities to clamp down on homeschooling parents, as a new app helps to ensure that no child can avoid the mandatory lessons about socialism and Xi Jinping thought.
Homeschooling has technically been illegal since 2006, with all children required to spend nine years in an officially recognized school. However as with many areas of China’s opaque legal system, enforcement was patchy at best. An announcement clarified the law in 2017, and now instructions have been issued to take action against unlicensed home education.
These unofficial schools are known as 四書 (sishu), after the Four Classics which form the basis of a traditional Chinese education: three works by Confucius and one by Mencius. They have often been criticized for the lack of essential modern subjects such as math, for relying on rote learning, and for the use of corporal punishment.
It is not clear what the ruling might mean for international parents who practice homeschooling as an alternative to increasingly expensive international schools. In the past authorities have tended to show little interest in the education of foreign children, being more concerned to ensure that Chinese citizens grow up learning the required lessons about socialism with Chinese characteristics. However in 2016 a law was introduced requiring international schools which accept children with Chinese passports to teach the Chinese curriculum in its entirety.
The clampdown comes at the same time as the launch of a new app to teach elementary and middle school students about “new socialist thought”. The app includes sections called “I Am Chinese,” about the country’s 56 recognized ethnic minorities, and “Grandpa Xi Led Us Into the New Era”.
This follows the success of a similar app for adults; although that success may have something to do with the Communist Party’s 90 million members being instructed to download and use it. The idea that a high score on the app might help members’ career prospects led to characteristically Chinese, or perhaps just human, attempts to game the system, some as simple as just leaving the app open to rack up points.
These latest initiatives demonstrate that the government is determined to ensure that all children in China get the official line about the country’s politics and culture. However it should be pointed out that such interference is not unknown in western nations; whether it’s applicants for UK citizenship having to take a test in “Britishness” which many native-born Brits would struggle to pass, or conservative lawmakers in Michigan removing the word “democratic” from the “core American values” to be taught in the state’s schools.