Shenzhen, China– Private education companies that provide extracurricular courses to a large number of Chinese children have become the government’s goal, as officials try to reduce the pressure on students and the financial burden on families.
Although it is aimed at private tuition companies, Suppress As the ruling Communist Party celebrates its 100th anniversary this week, it is a symptom of the broader systemic problems facing China.
The declining birth rate and the rapid aging of the population are causing trouble for China’s future economic growth.
Chinese President Xi Jinping emphasized in a speech at the end of January that income inequality, regional economic divides, and the huge opportunity gap between urban and rural residents are urgent issues that China must resolve to achieve what he calls an era of “shared prosperity”. The next few years.
Chinese leaders avoided the term “middle-income trap”—that is, a country’s failure to reach a higher and more developed status—but if the leader fails to resolve these rifts, the country may end up in trouble.
Xi Jinping’s remedies—better income distribution, education, social security, affordable medical care, housing, pensions, child support, and quality employment; also mentioned in the same speech—with most working families and youth Many of the same needs.
However, the current structural and political barriers may make it difficult to implement these policies unless more in-depth reforms than piecemeal efforts are implemented, such as removing restrictions on the number of children a family can have or trying to reduce homework for school-age children.
They will be expensive and may require the wealthiest people in the country to pay higher tax rates through property taxes or capital gains taxes. But implementing such policies is fraught with dangers. Doing it too quickly may cause capital flight, problems in the white-hot real estate market, and turbulence in the financial system, which will do more harm than good.
There are other structural obstacles. China’s hukou system links social welfare to the family’s rural or urban hometown, and the over-emphasis on the college entrance examination (standardized test) determines whether students can enter university and have a higher economic success rate.
With stagnant incomes and rigid social mobility, the pressure on parents and students has increased over the past decade, which has increased the need to reform these systems.
In recent months, this shift has caused a widely discussed social situation: tangping (or lying flat) is an act of trying to overcome difficulties as little as possible, and its partner’s “involving” philosophy-one This feeling of despair or exhaustion, especially those who participate in the 996 work culture, they work six days a week, from 9 am to 9 pm.
Sun Liping, a professor of sociology at Tsinghua University, recently wrote on his WeChat account that these conditions mainly affect the young middle class and white-collar workers, whose hopes have stalled. Even if they study hard and work hard, they feel that they have reached the point where it is impossible to go up, and they are more likely to fall.
So, given that housing prices in many cities are so high, and parents who retired earlier than most workers in the world, almost no one wants more, or even children. Any additional cost may cause them to leave that plateau.
This is a big change from the Cultural Revolution and China’s reform and opening up in the 1960s and early 1970s. At that time, families had much greater opportunities to change their social status through hard work and education, mainly because of the starting point of almost everyone. It’s all so low.
“Over time, a new elite has formed and developed vested interests,” Imogen Page-Jarrett, a research analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in Beijing, told Al Jazeera. “People with low-income backgrounds have higher barriers to enter society.”
Liang Jianzhang, chairman and co-founder of booking site Ctrip.com, recently stated that China needs to reform the college entrance examination system, substantially increase education expenditures, and strive to achieve university education for all young people to meet the needs of young people. A more complex and innovative economy in the future.
Potential fixes cause more problems
The recent efforts to resolve some of the pressures faced by Chinese parents and teenagers have met with mediocre response and sometimes ironically strong opposition.
In the government’s announcement that married couples are allowed to have Up to three childrenIn order to increase the birth rate, some comments have appeared on social media, emphasizing that the policy change has no effect on solving the soaring cost of raising children or the financial burden of taking care of elderly parents.
Other government policies in the pipeline, such as proposals to ban online and offline courses during summer vacations, weekends and other non-school periods in places like Beijing and Shanghai, will only raise other potential problems.
Theoretically, the idea is to release the stress on children and allow them to take a real break from school so that they are not exhausted in adulthood.
Julian Fisher, co-founder of risk education at the Beijing consulting firm, said: “I think one of the interesting things about many of these changes at the moment is that every force has equal and opposite responses.” “When you promote a learning center, you are promoting a multi-billion dollar industry, which affects human resources and society because people are hired [for these tutoring jobs]. “
Fisher pointed out that this can also put many families into trouble, especially when both parents work and may not be able to access childcare services other than education centers. “What are they going to do with their kids in the summer?” he asked, questioning what would happen if the government banned online and offline courses.
“If the new regulations prohibit training on weekends and winter and summer vacations, then instructors and teachers may be laid off because the income of training institutions may drop significantly, so they may lay off staff and teachers to cut costs,” Director Flora Zhu Fitch Ratings The head of corporate research in Beijing told Al Jazeera.
“In fact, online training institutions that rely heavily on marketing to attract students have already [been laying off staff] With stricter government regulations [allowable advertising for] Training institutions. “
As the Chinese leadership has become more nationalistic, the past few months have also had an impact on foreign participation, ownership, and teaching materials for preschool to middle school students.
Alexander Chipman Koty, an analyst at consulting firm Dezan Shira & Associates, told Al Jazeera: “However, due to the political importance of education by Chinese leaders, these regulations foreshadow further restrictions on foreign participation in Chinese education. Industry risk.”
Some of these run counter to the reforms required by the education sector. Parents actually want more opportunities for their children, which causes many of them to take advantage of online and offline courses outside of normal school hours.
Page-Jarrett believes that China needs more private sector and foreign participation to promote school improvement and innovation, and provide education for the more complex economy in the future, not less.
“Rote memorization still occupies an important place in the education system, and it worked for a while when China needed a generation of engineers,” said Page-Jarrett. “What China needs now is an innovative workforce. The education system needs to cultivate students’ key thinking skills.”
Don’t lie flat when you are already underneath…
Rural students and parents in China have more obvious needs for education spending and reforms. They are rapidly falling behind their urban peers because they have more opportunities and benefits and because they are urban residents.
“The gap in the quality of education in rural areas has become larger, not necessarily because education in rural areas has become worse, but because education in urban areas has become better and more competitive,” said Page-Jalret . “For a low-income family, it is extremely difficult to enter a first-class university. They may only be able to enter a second and third-tier university.
For Scott Rozelle, a development economist at Stanford University and co-director of the Rural Education Action Plan, the whole problem of “laying down” is entirely an urban problem.
“When you have a rural hukou, no one is’lying down’,” he told Al Jazeera. “This is the exact opposite problem. There is no money for weekend or evening classes. No one can take anything for granted. Life and life are day after day. There is no chance for such bad education and health care.”
China has formulated a rural revitalization plan and a grand plan for rural areas, but so far, this has mainly focused on rural infrastructure and agricultural improvements, rather than solving the problems of schools or rural social mobility.
Although the hukou policy has been relaxed in parts of the country to allow greater mobility between rural and urban areas, most of these efforts are related to the “talent acquisition” program-urban areas hope to attract the best and brightest people , Let the least educated people watch outside.
The stakes that fail to address these systemic challenges may become China’s Achilles’ heel. Social mobility and income inequality will exacerbate social frictions, economic stagnation, and eventually fall into the middle-income trap that Chinese leaders hope to avoid but are usually self-evident.