How Policies Fail: Investigating Local Educational Policy Implementation and Educational Equality in Jianshui County, Yunnan, China
（沈池风，Claremont McKenna College）
Nowadays, there are more and more discussions about the decrease of social mobility and educational equality in China. In 2006, The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) published Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China. The published law aims to decrease the inequality of educational resources, and increase educational opportunities, thus enhancing social mobility. However, in 2004 the State Council of the PRC published Regulations on the Implementation of the Non-state Education Promotion Law of the People’s Republic Of China, in which the bureau permits the operation of non-state schools and gives instructions and requirements for running non-state schools. This law has induced a wave of “well-known public schools running non-state schools” (Wang, eol.cn) and gives many state-run schools with advanced resources the opportunity to be partly privatized, thus increasing the tuition and decreasing the possibilities for students from relatively poor families to access the outstanding educational resources.
This paper compares the implantations of two policies: Chinese national educational policies regarding junior high school entrance and non-state school policies in Jianshui County, Yunnan province, China. The comparison will show that policies suggested above are contradictory to each other in terms of aim and actual effects. Besides the comparison between national policies and local implementation, this paper will also describe current educational phenomena at Jianshui according to interviews of local students, analyze the reasoning behind the phenomena, evaluate the impacts they create from a macro perspective and provide several solutions.
2. Policy – National Policies on Compulsory Education and Junior High School Entrance
Following policies will show that the fundamental goals for these policies are to improve equality of educational resources.
The Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China was initially introduced in 1986. In 2006, the National People’s Congress of People’s Republic of China adopted a new version of Compulsory Education Law. My following analysis will be based on the new version.
1. According to the Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China 2006, “The State implements a system of nine-year compulsory education” (Chapter I, Article 2, People’s Republic of China). The nine-year compulsory education includes elementary school (six years) and junior high school (three years).
2. The acceptance into elementary school and junior high school should be determined by the distance from home to school：
School-age children and adolescents shall be exempted from the entrance examinations. The local people’s governments at various levels shall ensure that school-age children and adolescents enroll in school near the places where their residence is registered” (Chapter II, Article 12，People’s Republic of China).
3. There shall not be divisions and classifications among schools:
People’s governments at or above the county level and the administrative departments for education shall promote balanced development among schools by narrowing the differences in the conditions for school running, and they shall not divide the schools into key and non-key schools. And the schools shall not divide the classes into key and non-key classes (Chapter III, Article 22).
4. According to National Policy of Junior High School Entrance 2011, elementary school graduates shall be able to attend junior high school without entrance examination. Any school cannot reject without reason (National, aoshu.com).
5. The nine-year compulsory education supposed to be free.“Schools shall not collect any fees in violation of State regulations, nor shall they seek profits by selling commodities, services, etc. to students or doing so in disguised form.”
The location-oriented enrollment policy makes sure that every student is eligible for elementary school and junior high school education. Parents no longer need to worry about their children getting an education. Free tuition enables parents to stop being concerned about affordability. The nine-year length of compulsory education significantly decreases the rate of illiteracy. This set of laws play a tremendously important role in the traditionally exam-oriented Chinese society. It has indeed increased social mobility and has changed the fates of millions of Chinese. However, when worrying equality of students, the parents may no longer be pressure-free.
3. Policy – National Policies on Non-State School
As the national policy regarding to compulsory education started to have some efficacies, the national policies on non-state school was announced and implemented, and it eventually led to a decrease in educational equality.
1. According to the Regulations on the Implementation of the Non-state Education Promotion Law of the People’s Republic Of China implemented in 2004, there are following restrictions on non-state schools:
Where a state school participates in running a non-state school, it shall not use any state financial funds, shall not affect its own normal educational and teaching activities, and shall be subject to the approval of the administrative department of education or the administrative department of labor and social security in accordance with the conditions prescribed by the state. A non-state school with a state school as a participant shall be qualified as an independent legal person. It shall have a campus and basic educational and teaching facilities that are separate from the state school, shall adopt independent financial accounting system, shall enroll students separately and shall issue diploma certificates independently.
A state school that participates in running a non-state school shall be entitled to enjoy the rights and interests of a founder in accordance with the law, shall perform the obligation of managing state-owned assets in pursuance of the law and shall prevent the loss of state-owned assets.
Any state school engaging in compulsory education shall not be transformed into a non-state school (Article 4, Regulations on the Implementation of the Non-state Education Promotion Law of the People’s Republic Of China).
This article clearly demonstrates the extent of independence and separation between the state-run school and the non-state school.
2. In terms of the board of management of the non-state schools, it is also stated in the law that:
The person-in-charge of the school council, board of directors or any other decision-making body shall have good behavior, political rights and complete civil capacity.
Any functionaries of the state organ may not be members of the school council, board of directors or any other decision-making body (Article 19).
3. The law also has specific requirement about teacher recruitment:
A non-state school may hire teachers and employees independently. When hiring a teacher or employee, the non-state school shall conclude an employment contract with him (her), clarifying the rights and obligations of both parties (Article 24).
The law was originally devised to solve the problem of insufficient government investment, increase the value of state educational resources, and diversify educational options. It was also expected to nurture the public schools, enhance their facilities, inspire new ideas, innovate new systems, and benefit their internal management. However, ever since it was actually applied, it has further isolated the originally limited educational resources and significantly boosted educational inequality. Sanhe Junior High School (SH) in Jianshui County, Yunnan province provides a vivid demonstration.
4. Implementation – Entering the Jianshui No.1 High School System
In Jianshui County, the commonly known best high school is Jianshui No.1 High School (J1). J1 was founded in 1917. It is honored as the First Level High School of Yunnan Province, which is the highest honor a high school in Yunnan is eligible for. (Jianshui No.1 High School, jsyz.net) J1 has 336 faculties, including 5 “Outstanding Teachers”(the highest honor for junior high school and high school teachers in China), 134 High School/Middle School Senior Teachers, and 71 High School/Middle School First Level Teachers. (The Top Notch of Education in Jianshui). Most importantly, it has excellent scores in the College Entrance Examination (CEE), which makes the school a dream of every parent and student. In 2013, there were 1124 fresh graduates who took the College Entrance Examination (CEE) and 1123 of them scored higher than the minimum college admission score. The total enrollment rate was 99.91%. 39.2% of the students reached the score requirement for a 1st tier college in China. Both figures ranked 1st in the local state.
As a high school with such fine faculty resources, it only enrolls 700 students per year. Students must have a score of over 865 out of 900 in the High School Entrance Examination to be admitted directly or pay 8000 RMB (about $1300) per semester to enroll with score between 820-865 (Admission Policy of Jianshui No.1 High School, jsyz.net). The large faculty-student ratio and highly selective enrollment process makes it one of the best high schools in Yunnan Province.
In 2004, approved by Jianshui County Government, Ji and Mengzi Sanhe Printing Press co-founded the so-called “private-run, public-support” junior high school – Sanhe Junior High School (Li De and Wang Shibin). SH has its own entrance examination. The exam is open to all elementary school graduates in Yunnan province and the school selects 300 students annually (Sanhe Junior High School Enrollment Policy, jsyz.net). Due to the fact that it is invested in by a private cooperation, it is not categorized as a public school, and thus it is not under the regulation of the Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China 2006.
Most citizens in Jianshui knows that for a student, attending SH means that it is very likely to go to J1 for high school. There were 31 students from SH who scored as the top 50 students in 2013 Jianshui High School Entrance Examination. 56 students of SH scored as top 100. In other words, SH ranked 1st in terms of the number of top 100 students in the county. Most important, SH ranked 1st in the number of students who scored higher than the minimum admission score of Jianshui No.1 High School and the number was 178. Besides, there were another 73 students who were admitted by that high school through a special policy, which gives 20 points to SH graduates when they are applying for J1. In total there were 251 students who got the chance to go to J1 (Good News, jsyz.net). 251 students out of the 300 students at SH were able to go to J1. And as I mentioned before, J1 only enrolls 700 students a year. The proportion is clearly extreme.
Why is SH so good? There are various reasons: First, SH and J1 claim to be separated, but are actually together. They are located in the same campus, share most of the faculty and facility resources, and have a highly overlapped management structure. Second, the add-score policy is crucial. Graduates from SH will automatically be given 20 points when they are applying for J1. The reason for this privilege is never publicly explained. Obviously, the policy gives the graduate students from SH a higher chance of going to J1.
The reason why local students have strong aspirations for SH is now clear. How much does the education cost, then?
The normal tuition is 2100 RMB (about $350) per semester. Boarding fee is 80 RMB (about $15) per semester for a 12-person-shared dormitory and 550 RMB (about $90) per semester for the 4-person-shared apartment (Sanhe Junior High School Enrollment Policy, jsyz.net). It is a total of 2180-2450RMB ($360-400). For a county with GDP per capita of 4600 RMB (about $750), education at SH is obviously not for everyone. (Inrtoduction of Jianshui Country)
5. Interview-Understanding the Reality in Jianshui
Zong Yun, a girl who recently graduated from J1, talked about her experience of pursuing SH and J1.
Shen (indicated as S in the following passage): When did you start to think about entering J1?
Zong (indicated as Z in the following passage): I don’t remember. It is so early that I couldn’t remember.
S: What was your impression about J1 before you entered SH?
Z: You get in and you will manage to go to a college.
S: Who gave you that impression?
Z: Everyone. Teachers, parents, relatives, friends…J1 is indeed excellent.
S: SH is expensive, right? Why didn’t you choose to go to a public school where education is free?
Z: Everyone knows that it is expensive, but everyone wants to get in.
Z: Because as a student at SH you will have more 20 scores in the High School Entrance Exam if you are applying for J1. It makes a lot of difference.
S: Are your parents rich?
Z: Not really. My parents are both chicken feeders. They don’t make a lot of money. But my cousin is rich. He supported me.
S: How about your classmates at SH? Were their parents generally rich?
Z: Yes. Most of them.
S: About how many?
Z: 4/5? Around this figure.
S: How could you tell that they were rich?
Z: They were mostly urban. You could tell from their outfits and consumption behaviors.
S: Do you think SH is opened for the rich people?
Z: To certain extent yes. I have some peers who passed the entrance exam for SH but didn’t get in eventually because they could not afford it.
S: Is there a big difference between going to SH or not?
Z: If you are good at self-control and always work very hard, then you may eventually get into J1 anyway. But if you are not this type of person, going to SH will definitely be a much safer choice.
Zong Yun’s understanding of J1 and SH is reasonable and representative in Jianshui. Many other interviewees gave answers on why going to SH is so important.
Besides certain extent of financial ability, the students may also need some social capital to get well informed. The politics behind is also interesting.
Zhao Song is currently studying at J1. He did his junior high at Jianshui No.4 Junior High School, which is located in the village he lived in.
S: You must be pretty smart to get to J1.
Zhao (indicated as Z below): I worked very hard.
S: Why not go to SH for junior high?
Z: Our teachers didn’t tell us that SH was having the exam.
S: They concealed the information?
Z: Probably. No one told us anything at that time.
S: Can you guess what was the motivation for them to conceal that information?
Z: Because they want the best students to stay in this area and study at No.4 Junior High School.
S: What’s the point of this?
Z: The number of students who can eventually get into J1 School is correlated with the quality of the junior high. If all of us stay here, there would be more students who get into J1 from Jianshui No.4 High School. It is an honor for the school.
S: How many people in your junior high school eventually get into J1?
Z: About 50.
S: That’s a lot.
Z: Yes. We rank the 1st in the village-level junior high schools.
S: What’s that ranking for?
Z: All the non-city public junior high schools in Jianshui are ranked according to their achievements in the High School Entrance Exam. The number of people who meet the score requirement of J1 is one of the factors considered.
S: Did your parents know anything about the exam of SH?
Z: No. Both of my parents are farmers. They have to work from early in the morning to sunset. They don’t have the source for this kind of information. Actually, even if I passed that exam, my parents probably wouldn’t let me go. It is too expensive.
I was a little bit surprised by Zhao Song’s political intuition at that time. He clearly understood why he didn’t get into SH. He knew that besides working really hard, he didn’t have any other option at that time. There were thousands of students who were just as uninformed as him, and most of them would not have his smartness and luck to eventually get into J1.
6. Analysis – Why Policies Fail
It’s clear that the outcomes of the Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China and the Regulations on the Implementation of the Non-state Education Promotion Law of the People’s Republic Of China contradict each other. Many may wonder why SH is able to exist, enjoy the advanced educational resources of J1, and charge a high tuition without being regulated.
To understand these questions, we need to analyze the fundamental reasons why there is the grey zone of “well-known public schools running non-state schools.” As the family income levels increase, more and more Chinese citizens have strong demand for high quality educational resources that are actually in shortage. The solution suggested was to introduce privatization (Cao). The market-oriented transition induces a decrease in the budget of public institutions. These institutions, including schools and local bureaus of education, capitalize on the opportunity of privatization to fill the budget and increase revenue (Liu). The revenue, of course, comes from students and private companies. Top schools like J1 uses its inherent advantages to attract students. Its outstanding faculty and facility resources (which are actually state resources) and the special add-score policy make sure that even though the tuition is expensive, SH still gets the best students in the county.
The lack of regulation and reporting mechanisms further aggravates the problem. Most local citizens don’t know that it is illegal for SH to be located in J1 and share the public resources. Local government and the bureau of education participate in the operation of privatization so that the official channel of report is nonexistent. Local media once investigated the educational inequality phenomenon in Jianshui and several nearby counties, but the news didn’t draw much attention.
Obviously, all the problems may not be solved immediately. Achievable solutions for now are: first, evaluate properties of the “well-known public schools running non-state schools” according to Regulations on the Implementation of the Non-state Education Promotion Law of the People’s Republic Of China in order to prevent further loss of state properties. Second, investigate these schools’ enrollment and tuition policies to prohibit the monopoly of educational resources.
The existence of educational and even social inequality is undeniable. Social policies should aim to solve the problem of inequality. If they are unscientific, imprecise and lack transparency, they may not only sustain the extent of equality, but also enlarge it. Only with clear awareness of the government and strict regulation of the policies may we eventually come closer to educational equality and social mobility.
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