Public Education: A ‘Myth’ in China

September 9, 2008 Updated: September 18, 2008

The Communist regime’s mouthpiece claims September 1 will be recorded as a milestone in China’s education history. No tuition or miscellaneous fees will be charged for the nine years of compulsory public education nationwide, beginning this September.

However, the Epoch Times interviewed many parents around China and discovered that the policy has not been implemented in many areas. Other areas are awaiting a formal notice from the national government.

Miscellaneous Fee Waivers Not Implemented

Mr. Fan from China’s most developed city Shanghai, said that on the first day of school, he paid the following public elementary school fees for his son: 1,800 yuan for tuition, 580 yuan for books, 100 yuan for activity costs, 24 yuan for newspapers, and 150 yuan for medical insurance. In addition, the annual sponsorship fee is 3,500 yuan. The total fees paid were 6,154 yuan (approx. US$900).

According to the regime’s official data in 2007, the average disposable income per person in Shanghai was 17,831 yuan (approx. US$2,606), the highest in the nation. For a typical family of three, these school fees represent almost 12% of their annual income.

Fan said his relative in Guangdong Province also paid more than 1,000 yuan (approx. US$146) for tuition fees for his elementary school child. He was also asked for nearly 100 yuan (approx. US$15) for workbooks by the school. Besides the additional fees for the workbooks, there were fees for exam papers, insurance, extracurricular reading materials, and clean drinking water.

According to the regime’s official data in 2007, the average disposable income per person in Guangdong Province was 13,405 yuan (approx. US$ 1,959).

Mrs. Xiao in southern China’s Liuzhou City, Guangxi Province said that her daughter is in fourth grade in elementary school. She paid 190 yuan (approx. US$28) for the miscellaneous fees on the first day of school, but the school did not give receipts.  “The [national] government said no fees. It is just talk. Saying is one thing but doing is another.” She said that a school in another region has a higher fee because it has a higher graduation rate, so her child wanted to transfer to that school. However, the fee for studying in another region is several thousand yuan. “Is there no one to take care of such obvious acts that violate the policy?” she said angrily.

Former journalist, Li Yuanlong told the Epoch Times that some local schools still required 200 plus yuan (approx. US$ 29) for miscellaneous fees on the first day of the school. Some are waiting to see what happens. They claimed they will make a decision after seeing the formal government document. Li’s wife teaches in an elementary school. She said that her school is still in a wait-and-see mode.

“Parents generally complained about it. They said that schools only want money. They seriously exploit students. Schools buy workbook materials for half the retail price and sell it to students at the original price. Schools are profiting from it, so teachers buy the materials not to make use of them but to make money. Some schools require thousands of yuan for students that transfer from other schools. Still others ask parents to donate furniture.” said Li.

Li thought that it is certainly not just the schools’ problem that they continue to charge the miscellaneous fees, but it is related to governmental organizations like the education department. At least, it is conspired and then tacitly agreed upon.

Mr. Yang in Central China’s Xi'an City, Shaanxi Province said that on the surface, it seems that students don’t have to pay miscellaneous fees, but the total fees are more than in the past with a variety of items such as fees for school uniforms, insurance, heating, health, medical examinations, papers, activities, makeup courses, and school selection fees, collection fees, re-exam fees, etc. If students do not perform well, they have to pay a fee for making up a lesson. There are penalties for violating the national government’s policy, which is just for the government to look good, but no one takes responsibility to determine if the regulation is correctly carried out.

“Primary and secondary schools require a wide range of fees. For example, many teachers do not teach key points to students at school, but teach them at cram schools. School classes become complementary to the cram schools. So students are forced to attend different kinds of cram schools or go to the teachers’ homes to take lessons after school. The fees are very high. Now this phenomenon is widespread and becoming progressively more rampant. The fees are more expensive for cram schools than school tuition. All students participate in them. We are worried our children may fall behind if they don’t attend them.” said Yang.

A parent of an elementary school student in northern China’s Cangzhou Prefecture in Hebei Province said that he registered his daughter on the first day of the semester. He paid 125 yuan (approx. US$ 18) for textbooks and 150 yuan (approx. US$22) for something he wasn’t told about. The school did not give him an invoice. In addition, there are class fees, extracurricular reading material fees, and an education donation fee, etc. The teachers said that some fees are voluntarily, but parents pay them anyway since they don’t want their children to be alienated by teachers in school. He said that one of his daughter’s classmates paid 500 yuan (approx. US$73) more than other students because he is from another region.”

Mr. Chen in Chongqing, Sichuan Province, said that he is not a registered resident there, so to register his elementary school son, he has to pay more than 4,000 yuan (approx. US$584) per year in fees. He said that teachers mentioned there are interest classes, cram schools, counselling materials, workbooks, which are all directly connected to the exams. So who dares not to pay? There are all kinds of strange charges, which are disguised. Parents can only eat the leek [bitterness] for their children.

He also said that this is a general practice. These required fees violate the "Compulsory Education Law.” But no one regulates it. The government has done too many illegal things. It even violates the Constitution. So it’s nothing for it to violate the Compulsory Education Law. In order not to delay children’s study and growth, parents can only silently suffer the losses.

The Privatization of Education

Meanwhile, many Mainlanders revealed that some schools have become privatized and operate like businesses.

A blogger from southeast China’s Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province wrote, “Four reputable schools in our district have become private schools charging 9,000 yuan (approx. US$1,315) tuition each semester. My son was admitted through a heated competition for admission.” While Jiangsu’s 2007 average disposable income per person is only 12,412 yuan (Approx. US$ 1,815).

A blogger from Hauzhou City in Anhui Province wrote, “It’s such a joke about the news that the government cancelled tuition and fees for compulsory public education. My kid is going to first grade. I heard that someone bought our local school a few years ago. This is the last year before it turns private and it still charges us 550 yuan (approx. US$80). For the convenience to commute, I reluctantly paid. However, that means we are stuck with high fees for the rest of the 12 semesters during the next six years. I don’t understand what kind of compulsory public education system this is.”

“What’s more, our reputable middle schools, such as the first and the secondary municipal middle schools have both been bought by individuals and become private schools with new names and high fees. They charge 1,800 yuan (approximately US$263) a semester. Other schools of lower reputation cancel the tuition but are left with a large pool of students. Parents struggle to register their kids. Some even bribe the admission staff to get their child admitted. It is both hopeless and ridiculous.’

Yet, another blogger indicated that the problem was created by the regime. Back in the 1980’s, the regime implemented a policy to push school staff and faculty to generate half of their own salary and bonus through institutional activities. How could a school be able to generate its own revenue? Of course it would come from future generations.

The Education System Violated the Law

According to the regime’s mouthpiece, waiving the tuition for the compulsory public education will benefit 28.21 million students in 25,900 elementary and middle schools. Each student will save between 190 and 350 yuan (approx. US$28 to US$51) per year.

Former Associate Professor of Nanjing Normal University, Guo Quan, indicated that tuition is only a very small portion of multiple fees and charges involved in each student’s registration expenses. It will not make the education more affordable to the public nor increase the number of people who could receive an education.

Guo Quan’s child is in second grade. He has just paid for expensive book fee, insurance, and uniform fees. There are also all sorts of activity fees and special interest learning class fees. He questioned, “Exactly what is tuition? Aren’t these part of the tuition?” He does not believe the concept of the CCP’s tuition fits so-called compulsory public education. Parents are in fact responsible for the majority of the cost. Even the uniform costs of several hundred yuan is more expensive than the tuition. He said, “Real compulsory public education should cost nothing, just like in the Western nations.”

He also indicated, “In fact, compulsory public education was legislated in the 1990’s. It has not been implemented until now. This means the [local] government has been violating the law all this time. The real issue is where the money went. All the money charged in the past should be returned.”

The Political System Is the Core Problem

Li Yuanlong believes that the communist political system is the fundamental problem for not controlling and supervising the implementation of this policy. This goes beyond the issues of tuition or the education system. This is in fact the core issue of the regime’s political system.

Ma Xiaoming a former Shaanxi TV reporter agreed, “People might blame the organizations under the umbrella of the government for the problem. Some might even think that the Chinese Communist Party’s policy is good, but the people who carry out the policy have made the mistakes. I don’t think that way. I believe even if those who perform the task have not done right, the government is still to blame. Because it is not only the government’s responsibility and function to formulate policies, but also to supervise and ensure the implementation of specific policies.”

He emphasized, “If the implementation has not been done correctly and becomes a persistent issue, it only signifies that the policy was only for a show by the government to deceive the public and the media. Otherwise, why wouldn’t the government supervise strictly to ensure the implementation of the policy? Why wouldn’t the government strictly investigate the relevant departments and personnel? It would be a lie to say the government is powerless in this aspect. This government has been very powerful to strictly perform the prevention, supervision, suppression and persecution of the dissidents and democratic activists with all its manpower and resources. Where have all these powerful tools been?”

Anything Short of Promises Causes Greater Resentment

Guo Quan indicated, “Even though the CCP waives the tuition, it does not mean the CCP has made progress, or given a favor to its people. It is the result of people’s constant and persistent struggle. The CCP has to compromise and give in because many people have fought for their rights with all possible means. It shows the weakness and emptiness of the CCP regime. The CCP is only waiving the tuition for its self-interest. During the implementation of the policy, anything partial will cause public resentment.”

Li Yuanlong agreed that the CCP was forced to do so in order to bribe the public and secure its power. It would not have done so if it weren’t for the popularity of the Internet and persistent public resistance. The CCP has always functioned for its own benefit instead of the public’s interest.

He mentioned, “The CCP claims that any policy is a benefit and a favor from the party. It is a damning tactic to earn people’s appreciation. The tuition should not have been charged. Even if it’s cancelled now, it is only a decrease in the amount that’s been charged. It is robbery. How could we appreciate being robbed less?”