A report by Beijing Normal University found that a third of China’s wealth is in the hands of the country’s top 1 percent. The bottom 25 percent together control only 1 percent of the country’s wealth.
In addition to pointing out that staggering wealth gap, the report also honed in on how China’s elites and masses enjoy radically different access to healthcare and education.
According to the report, the education gap is most pronounced in urban-rural and east-west comparisons. Further, it found that while the education gap was relatively small for people born in the 1960s, it accelerated rapidly with the country’s market reforms of the 1980s and 1990s. Birthplace, hukou status and wealth were the primary determining factors for education outcomes.
While regional disadvantages have persisted for generations, such sweeping differences in education outcomes within a single location are a relatively new phenomenon.
In Beijing, students who don’t have local hukou cannot attend public school. Although wealthy families who lack a hukou can choose to pay for international school , children from poor families with no Beijing ties are cut off from their studies.
China had 597 international schools as of 2015, surpassing the United Arab Emirates to become the country with the most international schools.
Wu Yue, CEO of Xinxueshuo.com, told The Paper that there are mainly three types of international schools in China: ones for expats’ children, private schools and international programs set up by public schools.
In 2012, the Ministry of Education estimated there were 116 schools for expats. A UK research center said China had 236,400 students studying at international schools in 2015.
However, Fan Shengwu, headmaster of one of the private international schools in Beijing, told Sina Education that the international education industry in China is hard to measure.
“Different schools have different entrance requirements. International education in China is not mature. They need to shake off the traditional teaching method, but for cultural reasons most foreign methods cannot be directly applied to Chinese students and families. As far as I am concerned, the international schools in Beijing vary greatly in their education quality, and the industry needs more management,” Fan said.
For private international schools and international programs run by public high schools, not only do their requirements and quality vary – so does their tuition.
Keystone Academy, the most expensive private international school in Beijing, costs around 350,000 yuan a year. Other private schools cost 250,000 to 300,000 yuan per year. International programs run by public high schools cost between 70,000 and 200,000 yuan.
For students who choose to join an international school, the main goal is to get admitted to a prestigious foreign university. Most international schools in China offer Advanced Placement (AP) courses, and some provide ALevel, IGCSE or International Baccalaureate (IB) lessons.
Merely providing more choices for students who can afford them would not be news. But Chinese education experts argue that opening international programs inside a public school will divert public education resources to wealthy families.
In 2013, the Chinese government tightened its control of public schools’ international programs. In the following year, Beijing announced it would stop approving new international programs for public schools. Shanghai also stated its public schools would separate their international programs from the main campus.
Chen Zhiwen, editor-in-chief of China Education Online, said in a seminar that it is necessary to separate international programs from public schools because they make education less fair and few schools can really manage an international education program.
Shi Guopeng, headmaster of Beijing No. 4 Middle School, was the first headmaster to launch an international program within a public high school.
“Our school is planning to move its international programs to another campus,”Shi told The Paper. “The International program thrives better within the private system.”
How to balance private sand public education has been a problem for many Western countries. But China has only been involved in the balancing act for 15 years.
The trend is not hard to predict. Students who have grown up in the private education system have different skills, outlooks and friends compare their peers who attended the public system. And when comparing students who received an education in a first-tier private school compared to a rural public school, the gap is even greater.
The UK is well-known for its private education system. In 2014, the country published a report suggesting that only 7 percent of its population attended private school. That 7 percent accounts for 71 percent of the country’s senior judges, 62 percent of its senior armed forces officers, 55 percent of Whitehall’s permanent secretaries and half of the House of Lords.
Peter Tait, the former headmaster of a private boarding school in England and columnist, wrote that “old schools links, favored internships and the bias of employers and universities”caused this phenomenon in the UK.
Although China has yet to reach such a state, the increasing gap between rich and poor bodes ill for the country’s equality and President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream.”
“The Chinese dream is the dream of the people. It needs people to realize it, and it also has to benefit the people,”Xi said at one political gathering.
If the Chinese government is indeed the government of a socialist country, it may be time to put forward some measures to create a relatively fair playing field where all people can achieve their personal dreams and individual success.