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A private school in Shanghai: New forms of education for a new China

By 26 June 2009 No Comment
Photo by Alice Ju

Little red book: Graduates of New Century get their diplomas | Photo by Alice Ju

“The needs of the public have diversified,” said principal Yang Yishang of the New Century Private School in Shanghai. “Private schools offer better education for parents who can afford it.”

New Century Private School, founded in 1992, is the city’s first private school, offering instruction in grades one to five. As private school rates typically go, the tuition at New Century is relatively high. Public schools are free to Chinese citizens, but the tuition at New Century is 11,000 RMB (USD 1609.60) per year, not including textbooks and extracurricular expenses.

“The quality of service we provide is worth the cost,” Yang said.

New Century classes are more comprehensive than their public school counterparts. For English education, for example, public schools only use one textbook, while New Century includes supplemental audio and conversational materials, said Yu Chunyan, the school’s curriculum administrator.

In addition, the school also offers extracurricular courses every Friday afternoon, Yu said. At the beginning of the semester, each student chooses electives based on individual interest. These elective courses cost up to 500 RMB (USD 73.16) per semester.

“In private schools, the principals can be more independent,” Yang said. “We can choose what textbooks we want to use, while public schools must use curriculum assigned by the government.”

Before the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, private schools were encouraged in China. During the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, however, such institutions were outlawed in the name of ideological purity. After the economic reform in 1978, private schools were permitted once again. By 2008, 66 of Shanghai’s 672 elementary schools were privately-operated, according to the Shanghai Educational Committee.

“New Century is a medium-sized school [by Shanghai standards],” Yu said. The school currently has 454 enrolled students, including 112 fifth-graders who graduated on June 25. Every grade has three classes, each averaging 30 students. Yang said that the school always has more applicants than it can admit every year. Since entrance exams for primary schools are prohibited, many private schools in Shanghai interviews potential students and parents to make their admission decisions.

“One quarter of the students’ parents are not Chinese citizens,” Yu said. “These parents are attracted by our diversified style of education.”

Shanghai’s diversity is represented through New Century’s various student nationalities. Approximately 133,000 foreigners call Shanghai home, according to the National Bureau of Statistics of China. Twenty-three percent of the foreigners in Shanghai are Japanese nationals. As a result, 13 private schools in Shanghai focus on foreign-language education. Some only accept international students, Yang said.

“Those students who choose international school usually won’t stay in China in the future,” Yang said. “Parents choose our school because our educational system better prepares students for the high school system in China.”

Junior high school education is part of the nine-year compulsory education in China, so there is no required entrance examination. However, many private junior high schools hold their own exams in order to choose excellent students. The rest of the students are randomly assigned to junior high schools in their local districts. Parents still want to prepare their kids well in academics in order to avoid random assignments. New Century is well-known for its students’ academic achievement.

“This school pushes its students more than other ones,” said Zhou Tao, a New Century parent who declined to give his child’s name. “That’s why we chose this school five years ago.” His daughter, who graduated this term, has been admitted to the Shanghai World Foreign Language Middle School.

Even though private schools are free to dictate their own curriculum, private school tuition rates are still regulated by Shanghai officials, Yang said. The average salary of the faculty is 65,000 RMB (USD 9,512.95) per year, which is about the same for public school teachers.

“We hope we can dictate our own tuition rates in the future,” Yang said. “When that day comes, we can offer better education worth higher prices.”

Photo by Alice Ju

Pomp and new circumstances: Private education makes a comeback in China | Photo by Alice Ju

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