This is a series of articles on education in Shanghai (I tried to avoid big topics like Education in China:
I will continue the topic around which school should I send Yifan to today. As I always did, I am trying to share the options I have, and the dilemma I am facing to help my readers to get some ideas about the tough decisions to make for people in this city. Again, I tried not to generalize it as a question people face in this country. For example, Shanghai and my hometown Luoyang is very different.
Primary School is Not Important, If…
Although everyone won’t say primary school is not important – every stage in people’s life is important, but it is not THAT important if you have to make a lot of effort to send your child to a good primary school. I believe this is the commonly accepted concept. However, the real situation in Shanghai tends to be: primary school is NOT important, if it is not tightly linked to a higher education, say, the middle school.
In a society where the resources are so scare (think about a city with 16 million people, and limited schools to choose from), the system has been twisted into a chain of selection process. Just because to enter university is so important (and hard), to get to the right high school is important. Just because most high school put so much emphasis into where the students graduate, to choose the right junior high is important. Similarly, the junior high choose by the primary school they went to. The most ridiculous thing I heard from my friend who just went through this was, the primary school put which kindergarten the kid went to as a factor of selection process.
How this happens?!
We can easily dig into details about how this happens. If you were a HR manager of a company, say Google, and there are 100 candidates seeking for the same job. By the first round of selection, will you consider their educational background and working experience before you call him/her for an interview? A Harvard or Stanford degree obviously give you some advantages.
The ridiculous thing is, everyone understand the selection process for a company, but for kids, it is completely not acceptable. Even the United Nation Human Rights Declaration passed in 1948 confirmed that all children need to be given equal opportunities for education, before they enter a selection process. That means, the selection I described is actually against the human right declaration.
The problem is even further beyond that. The current system in Shanghai actually at the surface level, follows with the spirit – students are equally allocated to the school near them, and there is no such a difference. However, the faculty resources, and budget resources are far less evenly distributed. As long as there are clearly identified good schools, or bad schools, parents mobilize to get to the better school district by buying houses.
So the key is, although it seems to be fair, as long as the schools are not created equal, and more importantly, as long as the university education is so scare a resource, the problem is very hard to fix.
The Hard Choice
Before Yifan was 1.5 years old, Wendy and I have decided to send him to the school within walking distance from where we live. However, when we realized that if you mis-step in this chain once, you may lose the opportunity for the kid in the future. It is not as easy a decision to make as we thought. Let me repeat, the choice is no longer a primary school choice, it is the education style much further than that. The chance to get to a better middle school for Yifan is much lower than the selected good primary school, based on the information I collected so far.
This is a tough decision to make.
One Kid, Two Systems
Another tough decision to make is, which path I want Yifan to go – Chinese educational system or the international one. Again, the two path is not compatible with each other.
It is very sure that a kid from international school cannot (at least it is very hard to) get back to the Chinese educational system. You are smarter than others, and you know how to sing and dance, and are extremely well developed, but you cannot pass the exam! Especially many exams are very weird if you are not educated in that system. Politics in Chinese educational system is something interesting. What you need to remember is what the propaganda that you know is far from truth.
It is also not easy for a kid from Chinese educational system to get to international system. Well. This is relatively easier than the other way, since many people (both at university, graduate school, or high school level) have proved it. I guess that a student from Chinese system will find it a paradise in an international school after the initial culture shock.
In Shanghai, there are many international schools (English school, American Schools, and schools from all nations, and some plainly called International schools with students from everywhere). It seems to me a very attractive choice. The serious fact to consider is, if you choose this path, you kid will need to say good bye to Chinese universities – it is not an option any more, since it is for sure that the graduates cannot pass the college entrance exam.
Primary School Education is the Foundation for Cultural Identity
Another even bigger question in my mind that I am trying to seek an answer is, culturely speaking, whether you want Yifan to be a Chinese, or, English speaking “foreigners”.
I am not kidding. I read a lot about the culture differences (as you can imagine, a topic I have devoted myself in the last 7 years), and my conclusion is, it is the primary school which determines one’s cultural identity. If the kid went to primary school in US, he is culturally an American. I said I preserved a Chinese identity myself (Why I Don’t Have an English Name), and if you ask me, I would prefer the same for Yifan. I surely understand the confusion, internal struggle of a mixed-blood (culturally).
Then the question will be, although I know it makes better sense to send Yifan to an international school if I just want him to be happy, it proposes a question in the future – Yifan will feel more at home when he sees western drama, than watching Beijing Opera.
I Haven’t Decided Yet
I still have about one year to consider, and I don’t have an answer yet. It is not an easy decision to make.
P.S. My readers asked me in the previous article about what happens if the parents are not Shanghai resident. They can send their children to a school until middle school. They have to get back to where they original live for the exam, which is much harder than Shanghai. I am happy that even today, the policy is much better, because, as I stated in the story in this article: Hukou System in China, I never receive kindergarten education myself, since no kindergarten accepted me just because I didn’t have a city Hukou. See. That is the reason on one side, I am struggling to make this country better, and at the same time, I am optimistic about China’s future.