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China’s education gap widening

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BEIJING — Every September, the campuses of Peking and Tsinghua Universities, dubbed the Harvard and M.I.T. of China, brim with bright-eyed new students, the winners of China's cutthroat education system. These young men and women possess the outlook of cosmopolitan youth worldwide: sporting designer clothes and wielding smartphones, they share experiences of foreign travel and bond over common fondness for Western television shows such as "The Big Bang Theory" and "Sherlock."

北京——每年九月,在常被誉为"中国哈佛和M.I.T."的北京大学和清华大学的校园里,都会遍布神采奕奕的大一新生,他们是从中国千军万马挤独木桥的教育体制中脱颖而出的优胜者。这些少男少女们与他们在其它国家的同龄人一样国际范儿十足:穿着潮流新品,拿着智能手机,他们或分享出国旅行的见闻,或交流着对《生活大爆炸》和《神探夏洛克》等英美电视剧的热爱。

 

They are destined for bright futures: In a few decades, they will fill high-powered positions in government and become executives in state banks and multinational companies. But their ever-expanding career possibilities belie the increasingly narrow slice of society they represent.

他们注定拥有光明的前途:几十年后,他们就将进入政府高层机关,或是掌舵国有银行和其他跨国公司。然而在他们似锦前程背后,却是他们所代表的日益狭窄的社会阶层。

 

China's state education system, which offers nine years of compulsory schooling and admits students to colleges strictly through exam scores, is often hailed abroad as a paradigm for educational equity. The impression is reinforced by Chinese students' consistently stellar performance in international standardized tests. But this reputation is a myth.

中国提供九年义务教育,并将考试分数作为唯一标准选拔大学生,这也在国外常常被褒奖为促进教育均等分配的典范。中国学生在国际标准的考试中耀眼的成绩也似乎更加印证了这样的看法。但中国教育获得的这些赞誉或许只是虚名。

 

While China has phenomenally expanded basic education for its people, quadrupling its output of college graduates in the past decade, it has also created a system that discriminates against its less wealthy and poorly connected citizens, thwarting social mobility at every step with bureaucratic and financial barriers.

虽然中国在民众中极大地普及了基础教育,让大学毕业生人数翻了四倍,但另一方面它也造就了一个欺贫凌弱的体制:以官僚阻挠和收入门槛拖累着社会下层力争上游的步伐。

 

A huge gap in educational opportunities between students from rural areas and those from cities is one of the main culprits. Some 60 million students in rural schools are "left-behind" children, cared for by their grandparents as their parents seek work in faraway cities. While many of their urban peers attend schools equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and well-trained teachers, rural students often huddle in decrepit school buildings and struggle to grasp advanced subjects such as English and chemistry amid a dearth of qualified instructors.

导致这个问题的罪魁祸首之一,便是城乡之间教育资源的分配不均。在农村还有着6000万"留守"儿童,他们由爷爷奶奶带大,父母去了遥远的城市打工。当他们在城市的许多同龄人在设备一流的校园里读书,接受科班出身老师的辅导时,农村孩子们却还都蜷缩在破败的教室里,在缺少合格老师情况下艰难地学习英语、化学等高难度科目。

 

For migrant children who follow their parents to cities, the opportunity for a decent education is similarly limited, as various government policies foil their attempts at full integration. Thehukou system — residency status that ties access to subsidized social services to one's hometown — denies rural children the right to enter urban public schools. Many migrant children are relegated to private schools that charge higher tuition and offer subpar education. Recent reforms have only had tangential impact on leveling the playing field, and are mostly limited to smaller cities. In large metropolises like Beijing, new policies seem intended less to promote educational equity than to exacerbate the discrimination. Most migrants have no choice but to send their children back to their rural hometowns.

另一些孩子跟随父母来到城市,成为农民工子弟,然而他们得到良好教育的机会同样有限。政府的诸多限制让他们无法融入当地社会。户口制度将他们获得公共社会服务的权利与他们的出生地绑定,将他们挡在了城市公立学校的门外。很多民工子弟只能选择那些教育质量较差,收费更高的私立学校。最近的户口改革多针对一些小城市,对于弥补城乡教育机会差距来说杯水车薪。在北京这样的大都市里,一些新政似乎更加剧了这些歧视。很多务工者别无选择,只能将孩子送回农村老家。

 

China requires the vast majority of students to take the national college entrance examination in their home province, and elite universities allocate higher admission quotas to first-tier cities like Beijing and Shanghai. One researcher showed that an applicant from Beijing is 41 times more likely to be admitted to Peking University as a fellow student from the poor and largely rural province of Anhui.

中国要求绝大多数的学生在家乡参加高考,而顶尖的大学又将更多的录取名额分配给了北京、上海这些一线城市。一项研究发现,一名北京本地学生相较于来自贫穷的农业大省安徽的学生,考上北大的几率几乎是后者的41倍。

 

Even an urban residency status doesn't ensure educational equity among city dwellers. The quality of urban schools varies widely, and the competition to enter top schools has spawned rampant corruption. Parents fork out tens of thousands of dollars under the guise of "voluntary donations" to secure a slot for their children in elite elementary schools. At top-ranked high schools, such as the one I attended in Beijing, these charges can reach $130,000. Further advantage can be purchased by parents who can pay handsomely to hire teachers to offer extra tutoring to their children, a practice discouraged by the authorities but widespread in reality.

即便在城市户口拥有者之中,教育机会的分配也极不均等。城市学校质量良莠不齐,而且进入顶尖学校的竞争也滋生了严重的腐败问题。为了让孩子获得一个进入顶尖小学的名额,父母们常常缴纳上万元的"自愿捐赠"。而在一些一流中学,比如我的母校,这些费用有时会高达13万美元(约80万元人民币)。父母多交钱还可以得到其他好处,比如开个好价钱让老师给自己的孩子单独补课,尽管这种行为被有关部门明令禁止,但在现实中仍比比皆是。

 

To curb the culture of graft, Beijing has implemented policies this year that require students to attend elementary schools in their home districts. But the new rules, instead of stopping parents from gaming the system, simply channeled the cash to another market. Property in well-regarded school districts became Beijing's hottest commodity this spring. Families have been tripping over one another to trade spacious homes in posh compounds for dilapidated flats next to prestigious elementary schools. In a sought-after neighborhood in the Xicheng district, for example, a 107-square-foot flat was listed for $550,000.

为了铲除腐败现象,北京今年出台新政,要求学生就近入学。但这些新措施并没有阻止家长们钻体制空子,而仅仅把金钱引向了另一个市场。好学校所在地段的房产已经成了北京今春最抢手的商品。许多家庭争先恐后地从奢侈小区的宽敞洋房搬进了名牌小学旁的破旧公寓。在西城区某抢手居民区里,一套107平方英尺的公寓售价就高达55万美元。

 

Chinese education, having always placed enormous emphasis on test scores, is now becoming a game of another set of numbers. When graduating high school students walk into test centers to take the most important exam in their life, their chances are determined not only by a decade of assiduous study, but also by the costs of their cramming lessons, the years their parents have toiled in cities in exchange for an urban residency permit, and the admission quotas universities allot to the provinces. The system that has functioned as the chief engine for mobility since ancient times now serves to reinforce entrenched social exclusion.

中国的教育一贯极其注重考试分数,如今它已经变成了一场以另一个数字论成败的角逐。当高三学生们走进高考考场,进行他们人生中最重要的一次考试时,他们成败的几率早已注定,不仅取决于十年寒窗的努力,还取决于他们在补习班中倾注的费用,他们父母为获得城市户口而四处奔波的年头,以及大学在他们的省份分配的录取名额。从古代就沿袭至今的科举制一直是社会流动的核心动力,但这种考试制度如今却在加剧已经根深蒂固的阶层分化。

 

My mother, who attended Peking University in the late 1970s, remembered being surrounded by classmates of all walks of life — from the heirs of party officials and the scions of intellectuals, to workers fresh out of factories and peasants hailing from far-flung provinces. In the decades that followed, the economic opening that has led to vast wealth, along with extreme income inequality, has all but obliterated such diversity in the top tier of Chinese education.

我的母亲70年代后期曾在北京大学念书,她记得身边同学背景迥异——从党员干部子女、知识分子后代,到刚从车间里走出来的工人,到自边远省区的农民。在接下来的几十年里,经济开放不仅带来了巨额财富,还带来了收入不均,这些都让中国顶尖高校圈子里的多样性近乎荡然无存。

 

China has vowed to transform its manufacturing- and export-based economy into one driven by knowledge and innovation. To reach that goal, it is pivotal that its youth develop to their fullest potential. The Chinese education system will not live up to its reputation as the great equalizer until the son of a rice farmer in Hunan and the daughter of a civil servant in Beijing can both dream of a future inside the red columns of Peking University.

中国已经宣称要将自身生产出口型的经济模式,向知识和创新驱动型模式做出转变。要达成这个目标,便需要允许中国青年人有条件充分探索他们的潜力。只有当一个湖南农民的儿子和北京公务员的女儿都可以梦想通过努力在北大金榜题名时,外界对于中国教育作为社会公平均衡器的赞誉才是名副其实。

2016-06-23

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