Facebook Twitter 新浪微博 腾讯微博 Wednesday 3 June 2015
English>>Life & Culture

Only 6 years old but facing a first big test

(Shanghai Daily)    10:23, May 07, 2015

Chen Chen is only 6 years old, but she's about to be introduced to the frenzied realm of parents obsessed with getting their children into Shanghai's best schools.

On Saturday, an estimated 25,000 kindergarten children will sit for interviews for admission into private primary schools. Most parents have spent a fortune to prepare their children by sending them to special training classes. — Wang Rongjiang

This Saturday, she and an estimated 25,000 other kindergarten children will be undergoing interviews with educators at privately run primary schools.

Parents are barred from the interviews but that doesn't mean they are absent from the process. Many have sent their preschool youngsters to special training classes to prepare them for the interview process as local kindergartens are not allowed to teach them about that.

"She has been attending cram school classes in the last three years to train her on what to expect and how to behave," said Yvonne Feng, Chen Chen's mother. "But you just never know what will happen when facing so many strangers as you aren't there."

She added, "Some of her foreign classmates in the training center failed in interviews at the end of last year when applying for intentional schools, despite how perfectly they had done in classes. It really makes me uncertain about her performance on Saturday."

The interviews are not necessary if parents are content to have their children attend public primary schools. Actually, the parents of more than 120,000 children have chosen to study in public schools near their homes, including Xu Yucheng in the Changning District.

"I want her to have a happy childhood and attending cram sessions to do well in interviews isn't my idea of fun," her father said. "So I will let her go to public schools and avoid the interviews."

Many parents believe that private schools offer better education, enhancing the chances of their children attending the best junior and senior high schools. Parents who have Shanghai permanent residence permits, or hukou, or migrants with temporary residence permits of three years or longer are eligible to enroll their children in public schools. All others need to resort to private education.

Based on Western model

There are over 170 private primary schools in Shanghai, compared with an estimated 757 public schools. Unlike the public education system, the private schools charge fees that can range anywhere from several thousand yuan to tens of thousands of yuan a year. Some are based on Western models of education — offering the kind of curriculum that parents believe will help propel their children into overseas universities. Some are famous for high rates of enrollment in China's top universities.

"It's important to get my child on the right ladder," said Feng. "If she gets a good education from the start, she will have better opportunities in the future. So I have been telling her since three years ago that she has to work harder than her classmates after school because she has to face fierce competition in private school enrollment."

She added, "I don't want to push her too harshly, but it is the situation where she has to succeed in an interview to get a better start."

Though the training for the interview cost Feng between 150 and 250 yuan (US$40) per class of 45 minutes, she said she did not regret it. "We've spent about 40,000 yuan in the past three years, but I think it is not only cost that matters," Feng said. "It makes me feel somehow assured. I just couldn't do nothing when I knew that other parents had enrolled their kids in special training."

Rapid urbanization has resulted in a disparity of education quality, at least in parents' minds. Private schools generally outrank public schools and inner city public schools generally outrank suburban schools, where a high proportion of migrant children end up.

The Shanghai Education Commission has called for standardization of public education to eliminate the dichotomies that cause parents to resort to extreme measures, like buying apartments in the catchment areas of the best public schools or even paying backhand money to guarantee enrollment.

To ease the anxieties of the current system, the commission has narrowed the choices in private education. It ruled that each student could apply only for two private schools in the city and that schools without boarding facilities in a given district can't accept students from other districts. Moreover, all interviews for private primary schools will be limited to only one day — this Saturday, this year — instead of the former two days.

Many private primary schools are now clearly stating in their enrollment prospectuses that they will give preference to applications that list their school as first choice. That means the chances of getting into a second choice school if the first choice fails are almost impossible.

All these changes have reduced the ratio of applicants to available slots in private schools from 10-to-1 last year to 4-to-1 this year.

"The average ratio for all private schools may be lower," said Feng, "but for the most popular schools, it's still a dog-eat-dog scramble. Unfortunately, my daughter has applied to one of the most preferred schools."

Inside information

The nature of private school interviews is supposed to be secret, but many parents and training centers have inside information based on past years. One parent said young applicants at one school last year were divided into small groups and put in a room with books and toys to see what they choose to pick up and how they interact. She also said the children were asked questions that require some basic math and an ear for foreign languages.

For example, one parent said her young daughter's interview training class gave her the following example of a question that might be asked. "You have a 5-meter pole. If you take a deep breath and climb up 2 meters, but then slip down 1 meter each time, how many deep breaths will you have to take before reaching the top?"

The training centers even have different solutions for different targeted schools. If a school is believed to have focused on language expertise in interviews in previous years, then special emphasis is placed on language training for current applicants. If a targeted school focused on logical thinking or group cooperation, then potential applicants are drilled in those disciplines.

Parents usually begin training children for the interview two or three years in advance. A teacher surnamed Xi from the Chameleon Logical Thinking Training Center told Shanghai Daily that intensive preparation is necessary.

"Logical thinking and problem-solving capabilities cannot be perfectly learned in a week or a month, especially for preschoolers whose moods and behaviors are not easy to control," said Xi, "They need time to digest what they learn to ensure a stable performance in interviews."

Xi said her center trains about 200 kids a year and those who start at ages of 3 or 4 generally are accepted in private schools.

But there are some parents who simply refuse to expose their children to the pressure of taking cram training courses every weekend.

"I would rather help my son build up good learning habits and nurture his interests instead of teaching specific knowledge," said Leo Zhang, a father of a 6-year-old boy. "I believe the interviewers will be impressed if he shows the kind of personality, aptitude and behavior that they appreciate. If not, then the school really isn't suitable for him."

If a child passes the interview gauntlet, the parents of successful applicants are then subjected to their own interviews at the schools.

"One of the questions parents were asked last year, I am told, is 'What can you do for our school?" said Feng. "Some parents have donated money to the school while some promise to volunteer to help on school events."

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Huang Jin,Gao Yinan)

Add your comment

Related reading

We Recommend

Most Viewed


Key Words