Late last year, some journal or the NYT, which I generally try to avoid, ran an article on corruption in education in China. Wanting to ascertain the truth of it, I translated the article for my friend who has a young middle-school age daughter (15). Not only did she verify, but she also added data asserting if you don’t have money, your child will likely not get a good education. She made these assertions: if you want the teacher to pay special attention to your child, you must pay; if you want your child to sit in the front of the classroom, you must pay; if you want your child to get into a good high school or university, you must definitely pay. She was not talking school fees but bribes. The corruption is so rampant and so blatant that some parents give the teacher a bank card for an account into which the parents deposit money monthly to guarantee extra special attention.
What happens to children whose parents can’t pay? It depends on the teacher, and some teachers are dismissive of them, haranguing them as stupid.
Recently, my friend spent anywhere between 15,000-30,000 RMB to pay a visa consultant so her child could get a visa to come to the USA for an English program, which the mom hoped to parlay into a low cost private school and then USA university. She didn’t get the visa, but the fires burn bright for her child to get an American education. I don’t know if she’s thinking about fair educational treatment, but she’s certainly wanting more than is available here.
Furthermore, she says, parents here are seeing a generation of children so self-centered and lazy that it boggles the mind and augurs not well for the country’s future, except that the children of the poor have a hunger to succeed burning inside them. Consider this, many parents have spent considerable substance to send their children to USA Ivy, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and such. Having graduated, the kids decline to meet parental expectations of career and financial independence. Why? The kids esteem that if mom and dad could afford to pay Ivy tuition then they are rich enough that junior doesn’t need to work. Therefore, the kids refuse to work.
Another thing is this, one of the pitfalls new foreign teachers encounter here is the entertainment of the idea that grading is performance-based. It is not. This country exemplifies what Obama would push the USA into: outcomes-based education, especially at the university level.
To get into university here is extremely difficult because the entrance exam is hard. To switch majors often means going back to high school and redoing the entrance exam after a year. The unsuccessful, unlike their American counterparts, are forever shut out of the halls of academe. However, once admitted, failure is impossible. Everyone MUST pass. So, if the final grades signify failure, they will be elevated by administrators to passing (depending on the popularity of the school, the offending teachers do not receive a new contract). High achievers whose teachers give grades in the 90’s will see final grades in the 80’s. Why? They claim there must be room for improvement and children must be encouraged. This is analogous, perhaps, to the American passion for paying attention to the learning disabled at the expense of the gifted.
It is hard to read my correspondent’s remarks without thinking that things may soon come apart at the seams. This level of corruption is the sort of thing that drives parents stark-raving mad.