Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Poor State of China's Education System

A child uses a TV stand as a desk in a school in Shunhe township
I was going to write about former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun's trial that unexpectedly began yesterday and then ended today.

He confessed to defecting when he fled to the United States embassy in Chengdu which is a serious charge, but because he aided in the investigation into Briton Neil Heywood's death, the court may give him some leniency.

The verdict will be given at a later date.

But there are other more pressing matters -- like the state of education in China.

A recent report stated that up to 3,000 students in Macheng's Shunhe township, an impoverished region in Hubei province, had to bring their own desks and chairs to school.

A grandmother and grandchild carry desk and stool to school
Photos showed a grandmother carrying a roughly-made desk on her shoulders, while another pupil sat on a stool and used a TV stand as a desk.

The report led to public outrage that local Macheng officials could not provide such basic necessities for students to study properly.

This contrasted with the ultra-modern Macheng city government complex nicknamed "the White House of Macheng" by The Beijing News, which criticized the local government for not allocating funds properly.

And some used the power of the internet to post pictures of Macheng's party secretary Yang Yao wearing various luxury watches.

He later admitted on his own microblog that he owned a Longines watch he bought six years ago.

While he said Macheng is an underdeveloped area, he admitted the shortage of desks was an ongoing problem, with some 40,000 students having to furnish their own.

Forty thousand students who don't have desks and chairs?

Where did the money go?

The city government added there was a shortage of funds due to renovating old schools.

But following more media criticism, the local government miraculously seemed to find an extra 5 million RMB on top of the 4 million RMB earmarked for 32,800 desk sets last year.

At the moment 3,000 students now have new desks in Shunhe.

"The public deserves an answer on how the government could come up with 5 million RMB in such a short period of time," said Professor Chu Zhaohui, from the National Institute of Education Sciences. "What if the media hadn't reported the shortage of desks in Shunhe?"

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute says the main problem is that even though the central government may increase funding for education, students are at the mercy of local governments who allocate the funds.

"That largely leaves the level of school funding dependent on the financial soundness of each local government. So an overhaul of the school funding regime is imperative for a higher level financial guarantee, preferably at the provincial level, if mainland governments are serious about tackling inequality."

This story clearly illustrates two things. The first is, China may claim to have trillions of dollars in US Treasuries, but then why are a number of its schools so poor?

The other shows that the central government doesn't have enough control over provincial and local governments to ensure money is properly allocated.

So while Beijing may claim so much money has been funneled towards educating the next generation, the funds have obviously gone elsewhere...

And who is responsible for the growing gap between the rich and the poor?


  1. This in an officially Communist country... Like was observed in George Orwell's "Animal Farm", all animals are equal -- but some are more equal than others!

  2. It may be officially Communist, but it runs on a capitalist system, so not everyone is equal!

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