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April 28, 2014

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Parents address school enrollment change

ANGEL Su recently scrapped plans to buy a downtown apartment in Jing’an District after her preschool son was disqualified from enrolling in a sought-after local primary school that was the focus of her purchase.

Like Su, many local parents are so keen on selecting the best schools for their children that they resort to buying apartments in the intake areas of schools with the best reputations. That results in prime schools unable to cope with rapidly rising enrollment.

Education authorities, alarmed at the trend, are trying to apply the brakes.

Jing’an District adopted a policy this month stating that every apartment in the district can have only one child every five years enrolled in a given school. Under the revision, Su’s apartment would no longer qualify for enrollment for her son because the current homeowner has a daughter already attending the school.

“Plans are sometimes thwarted by change,” said 28-year-old Su. “But I’ll never give up.”

Fanaticism about school selection is driven by parents’ obsession to ensure that their only child has the best education possible. To ensure that, parents seek xue qu fang, or “houses near schools.”

A recent survey showed 52.2 percent of local parents are willing to buy xue qu fang despite the expense of moving to prime locations. Nearly 87 percent of the parents said their decisions take into account later enrollment in post-primary schools. About 76 percent of parents said they value a school’s reputation.

The Jing’an District Education Bureau said rising enrollment resulting from the frequent churn of xue qu fang has severely impaired the normal order of admissions and distorted equality of educational opportunities.

In recent years, cream-of-the-crop public primary schools have experienced huge increases in enrollment, forcing them to expand classes and hire more teachers. At the Jing’an Education College Affiliated School, for an example, enrollment rose to 140 in four classes last year from 90 in three classes in 2011.

“The increases have created a great burden for schools with limited facilities and expansion prospects,” said Yin Houqing, a senior official with the Shanghai Education Commission.

‘It’s disgraceful!’

Conflicts sometimes arise when schools are so overcrowded that they can’t accept qualified students, he added.

Usually, preschoolers enter schools according to the home address on their hukou, or permanent residence permits. Each school has an enrollment area corresponding to several communities in that jurisdiction. The education bureaus post intake maps every year to keep the public informed.

“Some real estate agents use the maps to sell houses,” said Yin. “It’s disgraceful!”

The new Jing’an policy comes into effect in 2016, the education bureau said.

“We are aware that some families have recently bought apartments that will be unqualified when their children reach primary school age,” said Qiu Zhongning, director of the basic education division of the Jing’an District Education Bureau.

“We decided to unveil the policy in advance of its implementation date so that parents can adjust their plans accordingly.”

The practice of buying xue qu fang ultimately rests on public perceptions that some schools are better than others.

“All 13 public primary schools in Jing’an are highly balanced,” Qiu said. “In other words, every school is a good school.”

Grace Zhou, who moved from Jiading District to Xuhui District last year, said downtown schools have a better learning environment because most of their students come from well-educated families.

Her family sold a 160-square-meter apartment in Jiading to buy a 60-square-meter unit in Xuhui so that her 6-year-old son could enroll in what Zhou considers a good public school.

“Sometimes I’d miss my big apartment in Jiading with its beautiful French windows, but I tell myself it’s worth the sacrifice if it means a better education for my son,” she said.

Each district in Shanghai is trying to cope with the trend.

There since birth

In Jing’an, children who want to enter public primary schools will be required to hold a hukou in the school district for at least one year. Their parents also need the same hukou for over a year, and one of the parents must own the apartment.

In Changning District, several popular primary schools adopted a new rule on enrollment from public housing projects, limiting it to children who have lived there since birth.

With doors closing, many anxious parents are looking for cracks in the policies.

“I will ask real estate agencies to keep an eye out for opportunities,” said Su, who now lives in Baoshan District.

So what’s wrong with schools in Baoshan?

Su said the district has a much bigger population than Jing’an, which means her child could face fiercer competition when it comes time for him to matriculate into the best middle and high schools.

“As a mother, all I can do is to provide the best I can,” Su said.

Currently, about 88 percent of local students attend public schools and 12 percent are enrolled in private institutions, according to the education commission.

Zhou Jing, a senior real estate agent with Shangfang Real Estate Co, said the new policies will stimulate home prices for “qualified” apartments.

“Eligible and available apartments are very rare. If the family is not very rich, it will be hard for them to find a suitable apartment,” Zhou said.

Zhou said the unit price of homes in school districts in Jing’an ranges from 45,000 yuan (US$7,196) to 60,000 yuan per square meter.

After the new policy was announced, the price of “unqualified” houses dropped, while prices for still “eligible” apartments leapt 15 percent.


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