Parent Protests Erupt As China Announces Education Reforms

Several protests have popped up in China’s Jiangsu and Hubei provinces – this time, on the issue of education reform.

The rallies burst forth upon the Chinese government’s announcement of a new quota system to be implemented that would allot nearly 80,000 slots in universities in the Jiangsu and Hubei provinces to students from poorer regions in China.

The protests, which were led by distressed parents of the local schools, have sparked questions and criticism of the nation’s educational system and “the measures the Chinese government is taking to make it more equitable,” Voice of America reports.

China suffers greatly in the realm of equal education; the disparity of educational opportunities for students of varying class and location within China is blatantly visible. Eastern China is speckled with prestigious universities, with the majority of students being locals. Cities like Beijing and Shanghai offer institutions leagues ahead of those found in the rural countryside – and those countryfolk students are essentially blocked by geographical and socio-economic circumstances from entering the world of a good higher education.

Victor Yuan, chairman of Horizon Research Consultancy, spoke on this matter: “If you are in Beijing, that’s about 70 percent of students if they graduated from high school, could go to university, but if you are in a province maybe only 20 or 30 percent. That is the key problem.”

The government’s proposed reform aims to abate this poignant inequality. The plan would allow for 210,000 students from impoverished areas of China the opportunity to study at universities in 14 developed provinces, including cities like Beijing, home to China’s highest-ranking schools, Peking University and Tsinghua University.

Until now, the process for applying and getting into schools involved – and was dictated by – scores on the gaokoa, China’s equivalent to the U.S.’s SATs.

Jiang Xueqin, a researcher and educational consultant in China, said that as China attempts to tackle inequality in the world of higher education, its efforts at reform will likely be met with protest.

“It’s the middle class who will stand to lose, and they understand that, because the gaokao has benefited the middle class mostly, and with any changes to the Chinese system, the middle class will lose. So for the next few years as the government system changes, the middle class will become more and more anxious,” Jiang contended.

The Chinese economy has recently been on a steady decline, which has also been affecting universities. As it slows, the pressure to get admitted to elite schools is mounting, as is securing good, solid jobs afterwards. This makes the issue of education all the more relevant, and the tension surrounding it even more heightened.

In response to the recent flare of protests (which included six cities in Jiangsu, as well as the cities of Wuhan, Xizhou, Yancheng, Taizhou, Changshu and Lianyungang), Jiangsu’s provincial government released a statement saying acceptance into universities will ultimately increase because the number of students applying to the schools has decreased.

This statement did little to assuage distraught parents, however, nor did it address the gaping divide between China’s rich and poor.

One student, Eric Sun, who is a senior in high school in Beijing, told the VOA that the stark differences in educational opportunity are “readily apparent” among his peers within the city.

“I think the educational opportunity, the people are very stratified here. The people with less money, less everything, tend to have a harder time getting education. In order to get into the very prestigious schools, you have to have a lot of investment in your child,” Sun said.

Eric ruled out universities in China altogether, planning on attending college in the U.S. or Europe instead. Thousands of seniors, however, are not so fortunate. Without the financial capital to seek higher education abroad, they will be forced to enter the taxing process and fierce competition within China’s borders.