New Law in China: Randomized Admissions for *Private* Schools

From Ni Dandan at Sixth Tone:

This youthful rat race is a thorn in the side of China’s government, which for some years has tried to lower workloads for the country’s youngest, often with limited success at best. For many children, less homework and shorter school hours have only meant more time spent in extracurricular classes, as parents are loath to let their children fall behind.

Students prepare for a performance at a primary school in Shanghai, May 18, 2017. Jiang Xiaowei/VCG

Students prepare for a performance at a primary school in Shanghai, May 18, 2017. Jiang Xiaowei/VCG


The government’s latest move — made public on July 8 by China’s Cabinet, the State Council — requires private institutions that cover the compulsory education period of primary and middle school to select applicants at random whenever their number exceeds admission quotas, which is virtually always the case. Shanghai has said it will formulate specific local rules around the year’s end, but the policy change promises to make intake interviews a thing of the past — and extra classes irrelevant.

After the parents’ meeting, Xu Mengxin found herself some peace in the lobby of the training center while waiting for her daughter’s class to finish. She is dreading the change. “I won’t want to leave my child’s admission to a lucky draw,” she tells Sixth Tone, with a tired look. Xu explains she got out of bed at 6 a.m. to drive her 5-year-old daughter some 30 kilometers to the training center — the family’s Sunday morning routine.

Xu feels conflicted about putting her daughter into cram schools. “On the one hand, I hope she can enjoy her childhood; on the other, I don’t want her to be left behind academically,” she says. “Can you imagine the anxiety when you learn kids of her age are able to recognize over 1,000 Chinese characters and read English stories on their own while your child knows none of that? They are peers, and eventually they’ll compete in high school and college entrance exams together.”

“It (the new policy) means you might not be given a chance to sit a test or an interview; you can only count on your luck,” Shanghai mother Chen Mo says while waiting at a training center, where her 5-year-old son is being taught how to solve math problems usually given to children three years his senior. “This is pitiful for families like mine, who have invested a lot of our time and money into preparing our children for an admission test.”

In the downtown district of Xuhui, where Chen lives, private primary schools enjoy much better reputations than their public counterparts. Their graduates score better academically, and a higher proportion of them manage to test into a desirable private middle school. While public schools admit students based on their household registrations, or hukou, private schools can set their own admission interview requirements. These conversations often include evaluating children on a range of skills, including math, reading, and English, as well as their manners.

As a private education sector researcher at Sinolink Securities, Wu Jingcao believes that private schools owe much of their advantage over public schools to being able to select more precocious children. “The new policy is apparently aimed at curbing the excessively early selection of students, which is the most serious problem,” he tells Sixth Tone, adding that the government would prefer not to separate students until the high school entrance exams.

Hmm.   This law would seem to decrease the perceived value of a private school in China, and therefore the willingness to pay tuition.

I wonder if it will work as intended.

Will admissions officers openly discourage applications from families they don’t want? What will happen when some of those parents apply anyway?  Will private schools adjust by rapidly expelling young students they don’t want?