China needs its wealthy for education reform

By Xiong Bingqi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, November 6, 2011
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The flight of the Renminbi[By Jiao Haiyang/]

In a survey done by a U.S. non-profit education press in 2006, Bill Gates was elected as the most influential person in U.S. education in a decade. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ranked third on the list of the most influential organizations on education – just behind the U.S. Congress and the Department of Education. Mr. Gates attracted the public attention on education when he said "American's high schools are obsolete" in his speech to the National Governors Association in 2005. Later that year, he pledged US$15 million to improve educational standards in U.S. high schools.

Meanwhile, millionaires in China are investing overseas for their children's education instead of criticizing and investing in domestic education. According to a report released by the Hurun Research Institute and Bank of China, one third of Chinese millionaires have overseas assets, with half of them investing in order to send their children to study abroad. Moreover, 14 percent of the wealthy have or are in the process of applying for emigration, while another 46 percent are considering doing so.

Some say their choice demonstrates their disappointment in the domestic education system, and the act of sending their children abroad will force China's education authorities to implement reform. If they fail to do so, more and more students and families will leave the country – along with their capital.

If only that would work. As it stands, this exodus of potential education funding from the private sector is instead reducing the pressures on education departments and schools to reform.

Once gone out, students and their families no longer care about domestic education reforms. Yet, public concerns and participation are key to promoting reform. If the wealthy and entrepreneurial can speak out on education and actively participate in its reform, they could push the development forward. This would not only benefit their children but also themselves. After all, their businesses could use lots of talents. Most, however, would rather leave than get involved.

The only education growth they have helped move forward, incidentally, are international classes which provide preparatory courses for students who want to study abroad. With the number of students studying abroad growing 20 percent year-on-year, those classes spawned like mushrooms after the rain.

Incredibly, the growing number of students studying abroad has neither gained education officials' and school principals' attention nor forced them to reflect on the quality and system of education. They hold another view: do not blame the domestic education; if you don't like it, you can leave the country. It is becoming easier to study overseas, which somehow allows education officials to claim going abroad as a generous option they have bestowed upon those with the means to do so.

The right of discourse and ability to initiate education reform are held by leaders in China's education administrative departments and some prestigious schools. But they could not see the urgency of reform. Although the current number of students going abroad doubles every year, it is no more than 500,000 – a mere fraction of the almost 9 million students nationwide taking the annual college entrance exam. Public schools are not threatened financially by the decline of the number of students. Private schools will be the only ones to suffer. For the public officials who have the ability to send their children overseas, they care more about their own interests than the overall quality of China's schools.

If this situation persists, our schools will stay subpar compared with foreign standards. It may split students into those studying at home and those abroad and deeply impact China's cultivation of its talent pool and, in turn, its social development.

This post was first published in Chinese and translated by Li Shen.)

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