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Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Schools in China

By Johna Ferguson

Not having any children of school age, I asked my friend Dandan about schools in Beijing where she lives. She is a single mother raising her three-year-old daughter Yiyi and receives no help from her former husband or from the government.

Because she works, her daughter must have someone to take care of her. The usual solution in China is to have the grandparents care for the child but Dandan’s parents are too old to help. Because she is divorced, the other grandparents are no help.

She had to hire an ayi (aunt, maid, baby-sitter) for help because private kindergartens don’t take children until they are three. But help is expensive. By Chinese money standards, maybe $400 a month or 2560 Chinese rmb, and the sitters are usually from the countryside so they often have less schooling.

Some can not read or even write their names. They were raised with different standards, so many city people don’t want them handling or caring for their children.

Dandan dealt with the ayi problem. It was difficult at times but now her daughter is three and can go to a private pre-school (called kindergarten in China). It lasts all day long but she must take Yiyi there or have someone else do it since it isn’t in her neighborhood.

Dandan is lucky as she owns her own car but some must take their children on the back of their bikes, by bus or have neighbors help out. Dandan pays $1,700 or 10,880 rmb a year for admission money to have Yiyi accepted plus about $200 a month.

There are too many children and not enough schools so that is why the up-front money. Therefore, anyone who is poor cannot possibly afford to send their children to kindergarten. The average factory worker in Chinese cities earns $1.6 or 10.25 rmb an hour.

Yiyi can arrive at school at 8AM and must leave by 5PM. She gets breakfast, lunch and dinner at the school, but all schools have different rules and fee schedules.

Dandan is lucky she has a good job and can afford to support her daughter. But now she tells me she has a new problem. She wants to get Yiyi into a good public primary school when she is six, but again there are not enough schools and the good ones are expensive.

Now she must enroll her daughter in some kind of music school, say piano or violin. If not, a good primary school won’t even think of accepting her. Not only will this cost money but also take more time out of Dandan’s busy schedule.

She is lucky, however, for she lives in one of the two very good Beijing school districts. If one wanted their child to be accepted into one of these good schools, then you must live in the district. If not, some say their child is living with a relative who luckily happens to live in the district or in some cases, they just pay a huge up-front amount.

Dandan wants her daughter to go on and get a good education therefore, Yiyi must prove her worth. If she is a good student, then her teachers would recommend her to the very good middle school in that district. If not, then she would have to go to another middle school out of her area, taking the bus a long distance.

It just goes on and on in China because there are too few schools and too many students clamoring to get into the top schools so a university will eventually accept them.

Now that Chinese are getting rich, they can afford to study abroad. 57,000 Chinese undergraduates went to the United States in 2010/2011. This means many U.S. children are finding it harder to get into colleges. With cutbacks in funding, public universities are willing to make room for out of state/country students who pay a much higher tuition rate.

Competition is so tough in China and yet easy in the States if they can get a visa. But I read in The New York Times that students at Chelsea in New York City pay $39,700 for pre-school and at Horace Mann in New York City pay $37,696 a year for kindergarten and that school only lasts 155 days, not the 180 public schools demand.

Life is not easy anywhere.

By the way, Dandan graduated with a BA in design from a university in Beijing and has an MBA from a university in Germany. She is a fashion designer for both TV commercials and movies in China.

(Photos are of Dandan and YiYi, and of a performance at school)

Dandan and Yiyi

Yiyi at School

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. PLEASE read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I can't even imagine living with that kind of pressure on the parents and the children. How sad, even if it does produce superlatively educated children.
Love hearing about life in China, which you present so well, Johna

Oh, and the pictures are just adorable.

As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed your story.

You give the reader outstanding glances about life in China.

I look forward to your next one.

Johna - Good grief!

After lazily sliding my way to a BA and an MBA under the American system - and after reading your wonderful description of how it works in China, I am fairly certain I wouldn't have qualified for janitorial work over there! - Sandy

I wonder sometimes about quality of life vs. quality of education. As different as our children are from theirs, even perhaps less superior, I am glad we don't have that kind of pressure. Thanks for sharing this great insight.

In 2001, I went to China with a delegation of community college teachers. We were greeted at a Beijing college with the video of Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xS-R7SM_-M4 I was stunned and pleased but also painfully aware that they knew far more about us than we knew about them. Whitney Houston’s death brought back this memory. Thanks Johna, for sharing your stories about China and increasing our knowledge of this culture.

As usual, Johna, I enjoyed every word of your description of raising a child in China.

The pictures were adorable and only added to the pleasure of reading your story today.

Just curious--are there as many single parent families in China as here?

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