Sunday, November 11, 2012

Compulsory Education in China - separate and not even equal


On Friday, November 9, Lingxin Hao, Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins University, visited the University of Pennsylvania to discuss the migration of Chinese from rural to urban areas, specifically the children of these migrants. Professor Hao recounted many of the established reasons for migration, which include job opportunities in areas of higher Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and better educational opportunities for their children. However, the realities of migration are that while many of the rural migrants do find better job and education opportunities, they end up suffering the consequences of extremely segregated communities and unequal access for education. As a result of the unequal access to public education, migrants are, counter intuitive to the idea of compulsory education, forced to enroll their children in substandard private-institutions that exist to take in the neglected children of migrants.
The root of the problem is very simple: while education is compulsory in China, the government is not willing to foot the bill for policies that make equal access a reality. Unfortunately, there is also not enough reliable research to validate the claims of sociologists to make a compelling argument for the government to implement new policies and change the existing ones. There are also tremendous obstacles to conducting this kind of sociological research in China. Hao recounted how she was forced to develop her guanxi, or her relationships with various personalities, including teachers and principles, in order to conduct her research in the Chinese school systems.
Further dampening attempts to attack this problem is the unwillingness of the generally wealthier urban residents to acknowledge the inequalities in the education system in a meaningful way. When a higher-quality urban school reaches what Professor Hao described as a "tipping point" in the number of rural migrants' children, these urban communities experience a phenomenon very similar to that of "white flight" in the United States. It is different because it is not within neighborhoods; in China the flight is contained to schools - wealthier urban parents will relocate their children to attend other schools.
One thing that I had wished I had asked about was about Hong Kong's system of education. It was not mentioned in the presentation, but it is an extreme example. It is a westernized, developed city that has managed to cultivate a extremely racist public towards mainland Chinese migrants, their failure to observe social expectations, and particularly their burden on public services like transportation and the healthcare system.
While of course it seems like something too big to handle, I thought the similarities in the United States were very interesting and beg several pointed questions. While education in the United States varies from place to place, there are minimum expectations for every school, and schools cannot reject students on the basis of their birthplace, their ethnicity, color of their skin, etc. In the United Sates, diversity within education has come to be valued. China might be an economic powerhouse and international rival to the United States on many levels, but it still has a long way to go before it institutionally recognizes the values of diversity.
F. Miller, SAS '13

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