Bribery in Chinese Preschool

We’re on Day 40 of the Varsity Blues college admission bribery scandal here in the USA.

Now from BBC:

A photo exhibition of pupils’ family cars organised at a preschool in the city of Shenzhen in southeast China has provoked a heated debate on class discrimination in schools.

The activity was widely seen as the collection of financial information about the pupils’ families.

Many people took to China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo to air their concerns that favouritism based on wealth is becoming entrenched in the country’s education system.

Following the outcry, the local authority stepped in to ban the project.

The idea here was that the teacher would use this information to be better able to shake down families for bribes.

The controversial homework was assigned by Lihai Chuncheng Preschool on an online parents chat group. The teacher emphasised that the photos must show “a real car, and not a toy car”.

One of the parents, who suspected a more sinister motive behind the educational activity, posted a screenshot on Weibo.

….And last year, a mother in Heilongjiang province complained that her daughter was “shame paraded” through classrooms because she didn’t give the teacher a gift.

The fear of unfair treatment is such that almost half of Chinese parents surveyed have resorted to “bribing” teachers in 2018, according to the Global Times newspaper.

I first read about the lavish gifts that Chinese parents give to elementary and preschool teachers in Lenora Chu’s amazing book, Little Soldiers.

“How’s Rainey doing with recorder play?” asked Teacher Song, the master teacher of my son’s Shanghai kindergarten class.

It was odd, manipulative: Teacher Song and I both knew my son Rainey, then 4, hadn’t yet mastered rhythm. Teacher Song continued. “When I pay attention to Rainey, he plays certain notes. He’s not bad when he concentrates,” she said, as she suddenly glanced behind me, as if to confirm the hallway was empty.

“Would you like me to spend some extra time with him?” she queried, searching my face.

“Oh!” Immediately, I understood. It was cultural code: “Extra time” meant a teacher’s attention for a little cash. It was an invitation to step into China’s education grey zone, an illicit world of gifting for favors, gifting for a teacher’s attention, gifting for grades. Once you pass through, you cannot easily turn back. The parent-teacher relationship is forever altered.

I had a decision to make.

Gifting has long wielded immense power in Chinese society. This quality, coupled with China’s runaway consumer culture, has made a greasing of the palms in relationships important to you, a part of everyday life.

Because, in China, education is so important to life prospects — fail a test called the gaokao and a kid won’t go on to a regular college — there’s no more imposing figure than your child’s teacher.

Gifting has long wielded immense power in Chinese society.

“Louis Vuitton, Prada, L’Occitane, Clinique, Godiva,” one Chinese parent told me, ticking off the Western luxury items she liked to bestow on her daughter’s master teacher.

Gifting inside a schoolchild’s journey might start innocuously, like a pineapple cake to a principal or teacher, which he or she graciously accepts. It’s just a token of appreciation, yet, a microscopic line has been crossed.

Then, you hear that Nong Nong’s mother delivered cash in a red envelope, and shortly thereafter you notice the boy got a front-row seat in math class. (Your boy sits in back, where it’s harder to hear.) Soon, you find yourself shopping for Tory Burch for a teacher gift at Chinese New Year.

It seems to me that the advantages gained are smaller than the harm delivered to outlier kids whose parents give no gifts and the teacher picked on. Scarring.

The system favors well-funded parents, whose children might be granted a fast pass onto the highway of individual attention and opportunity. A girl I’ll call Amanda suffered because her parents didn’t play the game. Always the best student, she nevertheless found herself a subject of her primary school teacher’s constant rage. Not once was she selected for class leadership.

“We never paid,” Amanda told me, eyes lowered. “Later, did your parents regret not participating? Not playing the game?” I asked.

Amanda stared into her coffee and nodded once.

I talked to 2 young entrepreneurs about helping them open a preschool in Shenzhen. We never got to the finish line. But in my notes I’d wondered about how to properly ban this practice in a culturally acceptable way. I haven’t yet seen an estimate of additional income that teachers receive. But if you have 10 students and get $500 each, that’s $5,000 on top of an average teacher salary of $20,000. Would we charge more upfront in tuition to pay teachers more, to thereby make up for lost gift income?

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