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Parents Struggle to Afford Middle Schooling

It's the recruiting season for primary and middle schools again. It's also a vexing time for parents of primary school graduates. Since the cancellation of middle school matriculation exams, middle schools have been selecting enrollees at random with the help of computer programs. Students' scholastic aptitude no longer counts in the selection process. Despite this, three options are open to children, and their parents, being eager to attend a better middle school: one, using connections, two, a multiplicity of certificates (subject to the schools' recognition), and third, money.

Many "connection-free" families live frugal lives and even borrow money in order to send their children to better middle schools. The majority of graduates from so-called "key primary schools" elude the electronic selection process and later attend better schools thanks to their parents' connections and money. Many of the less fortunate pupils are dispatched to ordinary schools by computer. These students and their parents are unsurprisingly disheartened but don't give up and never stop, or their parents, looking for better schools. Although the tuition (nicknamed: "school selection fee") usually amounts to tens of thousands of yuan (8.27 yuan=US$1), which is ten times the tuition of an ordinary school, parents scramble for admission tickets.

The headmaster of a middle school affiliated to a prestigious university once received one kilo of informal letters asking him for "convenient" admission to his school.

A Beijing high school publicized market price for its enrollment: for those students whose scores below the normal admission score, 10,000 yuan (US$1,209.61) for one point. So far the record for this year's "school selection fee" has been 120,000 yuan (US$14,515.4). A municipal-level "key middle school" registered a "school selection fee" of 100,000 yuan (US$12,096.1) and the average price for district-level "key middle schools" is around 50,000-60,000 yuan (US$6,048.07-7,257.68).

A prestigious Beijing school, known as "cultivating 'high quality' children from the cradle," requires their "applicants" to register as soon as they are born, and the school will further serve them as their nursery, middle school, and preparatory school for studying abroad. For sure the tuition is considerable: students' parents have to pay at least 30,000-40,000 yuan (US$3,628.84-4,838.46) annually from their childhood, which will eventually total about 400,000 yuan (US$48,384.6) upon their graduation from the school.

The deal is acceptable and satisfactory to both sides, middle school headmasters say.

Wei Yahua, an economic observer, said that middle schooling is a lucrative field producing staggering profits. "Their tuition of 50,000-100,000 yuan (US$6,048.07-12,096.1) has far surpassed the record set by the 'noble schools' that were very popular years before."

Wei said that the tuition increase by middle schools is unjustified but it won't fade as long as scarcity of very good middle schooling resources exists.

(China.org.cn by Chen Chao, July 21, 2003)

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