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China to unleash potential of private education

Hu Yongqi
Updated: Jan 24,2017 7:16 AM     China Daily

The State Council, China’s Cabinet, has decided to promote private educational institutes after approving a guideline on encouraging more social support for the educational system in a move to ensure it plays a bigger role in compensating for what public schools cannot do.

Since reform and opening-up began more than 30 years ago, private education has improved greatly thanks to its crucial contribution to the promotion of education modernization and social development, according to the guideline that was released on Jan 18.

Relevant departments should focus on innovations for the educational system, improving support policies, strengthening regulation and enhancing the quality of teaching, in an effort to further stimulate social enthusiasm in support of private education, it said.

Private schools should be managed under categories of profit-oriented and nonprofit ones, both of which should give priority to cater to public concerns over quality education for the younger generation. However, no profit-oriented schools will be allowed in the nine-year compulsory education from primary to middle school.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, an education think tank, said compulsory education is crucial for the nation’s school-aged children and no profit should be earned in this field, while private high school and colleges can compete for profit.

The funds used in this regard should be included in local government budgets and be revealed to the public, with the aim of improving efficiency in spending the funds. To provide further incentives for private education, the document also said students at private schools will enjoy the same policies on low-interest loans as those at public schools. Meanwhile, private schools, as market entities, will enjoy a series of preferential tax policies.

The guideline also called for speeding up the modernization process of the schooling system in private schools with clearer management mechanisms and regulations.

In addition, private schools should deepen reform of teaching and innovate schooling patterns while enhancing training for teachers and introducing international educational resources to improve the country’s overall quality of education. To further guarantee the implementation of the guideline, local governments are urged to embrace private educational projects into their overall plans for education and social development.

According to the 2015 communique on the development of education in China, the country has more than 162,000 private schools with 45 million students, 2.68 million more than in 2014.

In addition, more than 20,000 private training schools have tutored 8.98 million young people for the purposes of enrolling in college, studying overseas and getting through exams for public servants.

Recent years have seen huge progress in private schools in educating talented students and they have increasingly gained popularity among parents. In Huoshan county, East China’s Anhui province, the private Wenfeng High School enrolls more than 1,000 students each year from four neighboring counties.

Parents flock to Wenfeng to register their children, even though tuition fees are double that of a public school. Parents believe they provide a better chance of passing college entrance exams.

In many places across the country, public high schools cannot enroll all middle school graduates, making it necessary to find another way to educate them, said Zheng Zonggen, a 31-year-old teacher at Wenfeng.

Zheng said the school charges much higher fees than public schools but still attracts swarms of students who appreciate its strict management and high ratio of graduates enrolled by renowned universities.

The new guideline will speed up the development of private schools like Wenfeng, Zheng said. “In many countries such as the United States, private schools are among the best because they are expensive and meet the demands of wealthy people that public schools cannot do. I believe this is the direction China’s private schools are taking,” he said.

Liu Xiangqian, a teacher at Tangchi High School in Yuexi county, also in Anhui, said some teachers have left for private schools and the higher salaries but more choose to stay because public schools can ensure their positions and income.

“Private schools are more attractive to young teachers, who are more enthusiastic in teaching students and finding new ways to improve their performances in exams,” Liu said. “The new guideline will probably work as an incentive to boost private schools.”