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May 9, 2012

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Fierce competition to get into top primary schools

"WHEN Lily was six years old, she was two years older than her younger sister; When Lily is eight years old, how many years is she older than her younger sister?"

The question is asked in the school admission test for Eason Dong, a six-year-old who is queuing up for a seat in an elite primary school.

Scratching his head, the boy cannot figure out the right answer. He has been receiving the so-called mind training which mocks the primary school interviews for one year in order to stand out for enrollment.

Like him, hundreds of thousands of children his age are facing the same challenge of squeezing into elite elementary schools.

Shanghai faces a big education resource shortage amid an ongoing baby boom. To compete for the limited better schools, preschool children attend academic and art courses in their spare time.

Schools ignore edict

The Shanghai Education Commission has ordered all private schools to reject students' competition certificates this year and hold non-academic interviews until next weekend to reduce the burden on preschool children.

Xue Mingyang, director of the Shanghai Education Commission, said in a radio program early this week that private schools which violate the regulation will see their admission quotas decrease.

But some private schools ignored the ban and held interviews amid parents' passionate pursuit for elite schools.

"Ordinary families without much power and money can only push their children to be excellent to win the places in elite schools by their own ability," said Xiong Bingqi, vice dean of the 21st Century Education Research Institute.

Due to demographic changes, the competition for a slot in an excellent elementary school now seems to be fiercer than the notoriously difficult Chinese College Entrance Exam, parents complained.

Parents push and push

The number of children receiving pre-school education in Shanghai has risen from 300,000 to 500,000 in the past five years due to increasing newborns and the influx of migrant families.

Under the theory of "don't let children lose at the starting line," local parents are struggling to send their children to top primary schools by all means, including queuing up for admission since early morning, spending lavishly on children's art and sports courses and investing in apartments to be eligible for admission.

"How to send children to an elite elementary school" has been one of most popular topics among Chinese young people. Parents discuss the questions heatedly in local online forums to get useful tips for the interviews.

"Parents want the best for their children," said Sun Mingjun, principal of the Quxi Road Primary School.

Locals shun migrant kids

Many local public schools have reported decreases in the number of local students, after Shanghai became the first city in the country to include all migrant children into the free nine-year compulsory education system in 2010.

Lots of Shanghai parents don't want their children in a classroom with kids whose parents are migrants working in construction sites or wet markets.

They worry that migrant worker's children, who often get little family guidance, will deteriorate the education quality and spread diseases to their children because most of them have poor hygiene habits.

Some local parents complain that they were forced to turn to private schools, most of which charge more than 10,000 yuan (US$1,585) for one semester.

"Private school is not an ideal choice for our family considering the expensive tuition," said Jason Dong, father of Eason. "But public schools are my last choice."

The family lives in Minhang District, one of the most populated areas of non-locals.

The boy attended the interview for a slot in a private bilingual school in the district at the end of last month to compete for 240 seats with another 2,400-plus candidates.

He failed, despite the mind-training courses.


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