With the enrollment season beginning, Shanghai’s private middle schools are experiencing a surge in interest from parents who think paying a higher price will bring their children a better education than in public schools.
Interest is so intense that as many as 20 children are vying for each slot, even with tuition costs that run 20 or more times higher than those for a seat in a public classroom.
The Yongming Middle School in Luwan District, for example, so far has received nearly 2,000 applications for the September semester, but only 150 new sixth graders will be admitted.
Today there are 122 private primary and secondary schools with an enrollment of 124,300 students, compared with 1,882 public schools and 1.6 million students.
In 1992, there were only five such private schools serving 1,000 students. The reason: Seven years ago, the Shanghai Education Commission tried to relieve the intense study burdens on primary school children by doing away with entrance exams for middle schools, which cover grades six through nine. Instead, students would be sent to the nearest school.
At that time, the children who scored highest on entrance tests got to go to a district-level or city-level key school, giving them a better chance of getting into a top high school and ultimately a top college.
But rather than lessening study pressures, the change drove the children from more affluent families out of the public schools and into the private institutions, which focus on English-language skills, arts and some other special programs.
Five years ago, for instance, Yongming received some 200 applications. The number grew to 2,300 last year and will probably top 2,500 this year.
The school charges 1,600 yuan (US$193) a semester, plus special “maintenance” fees of 10,000 yuan to 20,000 yuan, depending on the parents’ financial status and their relations with school administrators.
In comparison, the tuition is 80 yuan at a public facility, where maintenance fees may apply as well for some students who want to go to the key public schools not in their districts.
Many parents don’t seem to mind the higher costs. Xuhui District resident Yang Zhonghua reported with pride she was able to get her daughter into the Jinhua Middle School, which is attached to East China Normal University.
To arrange the change of schools, Yang had to use the address of the girl’s grandmother to get her enrolled plus “donate” 30,000 yuan to the school’s construction fund.
“Now I am happy and very relieved,” said the mother.