“Cash and gifts” will get your child into the right class

Last year the New York Times published an exposé on the culture of corruption in the Chinese schools admissions system, with rich parents able to buy their children into the best schools. But less well documented is that parents with children in primary and middle schools can actually pay to have their children placed in the better classes of the year-group. Despite official bans to the contrary, many schools disproportionately favor particular classes within a student year-group, lavishing it with better teachers and resources in order to boost test scores in an attempt to make the school more attractive to parents (and boosting bribes payable for admission). In this process some students get a much better shot at getting into leading high schools and universities.

The front page of yesterday’s Yunnan-based Spring City Evening News 春城晚报 carries the headline “Investigating the ‘unwritten rules’ of primary and middle school class allocation: some schools even allocate classes based on parental occupation”. The page-six feature article laments that no sooner had the ‘school admissions war’ in Kunming finished, than the ‘class placement war’ has begun.

According to Provincial Education Office regulations, schools must evenly distribute teaching resources and use computers to randomly assign students into classes. Testing and competition results should not be used in class placement decisions.

While the majority of households with primary school-aged children that were surveyed by the newspaper believed that their children’s schools did not streamline students into ‘focus classes’ 重点班 and ‘ordinary classes’ 普通班, the reporters uncovered many cases of parents and schools not playing by the book.

Some spoke of a tacit understanding between parents and teachers of the ‘unwritten rule’ 潜规则 that cash or gifts could be used to ensure one’s child was placed in the best classes and thus had a better chance of achieving high test scores.

Other primary schools conduct face-to-face interviews with new students to determine their abilities at counting, writing, singing, dancing, and reciting poems. Students are graded and then sometimes allocated into streamlined classes accordingly.

It is reported that there are also many schools in Kunming that place students into classes based upon the educational background and occupations of their parents, concentrating the children of high-achieving parents into certain classes and the children of low-achieving parents into others. One school even interviews parents to filter students for admission based upon the cultural level and educational principles of the parents.

The situation is reflected in the views of a parent interviewed by the newspaper, identified as Mr Li, “Nowadays most families have only one child, who wouldn’t want to make sure their child is in the best class? …A good teacher has one crucial element, which is that you need to look at their teaching record, for example how many of their students are accepted into [the best middle schools in Kunming]. This one point is very important, otherwise what good is anything else?”

Links and Sources
Spring City Evening News (春城晚报): 有学校竟按父母学历职业分班
New York Times: A Chinese education, for a price
Danwei: Opening the door to American universities with lies

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