Chinese scramble for private school places: Capitalist roaders are buying a fast-lane education for their children, writes Teresa Poole in Peking

TWENTY-FIVE of China's most precious little darlings sat in their classroom, each behind a personal Yamaha electric piano, following the teacher's baton as it glided over a state-of-the-art electronic music stave blackboard. Outside, in the autumn sun, a group of pupils stretched their limbs on the new sponge-plastic running track. Over in the dormitory block, the children's noise cushioned by the carpets, another teacher showed off the computer room, lined with 28 identical terminals.

Jinghua primary school, in the Chaoyang district of Peking, offers the sort of facilities that would astound most British parents. Its 150 children, aged between six and 10, learn English in the language laboratory, can sign on for extra-curricular classes in martial arts, chess or calligraphy, and have a wardrobe of 11 different school outfits. It is a world away from the 30 million children under 14 in China who have never attended school, or have quit early because their parents could not afford the arbitrary fees imposed by cash- strapped state schools.

Jinghua opened on 28 August, the first private primary school to receive permission from the Peking authorities. It is part of a revolution sweeping through education from kindergarten to degree level in China. While the state education system is desperate for money, China's new rich have plenty of cash to invest in the best schooling they can buy for their one-child-policy offspring. The result is more than 16,000 minban (literally 'people-run') non-state educational establishments, including 550 at tertiary level.

Zhou Yue, the vice-president of Jinghua, was stating the obvious when she said her pupils come 'generally speaking, from the wealthier families'. The school's start-up costs were funded partly by a private electronics firm, but mainly by a one-off initial fee of 30,000 yuan ( pounds 2,500) paid by the parents for each child. On top of this the annual fee this year is 13,500 yuan while the average annual urban income in China is still below 2,000 yuan.

Ms Zhou, who used to work in a district state education bureau, said she and the five other founders had started the school 'to meet the social demand. With the reforms there are more and more families capable of supporting their children to receive a better education'. She was right: the school - all pupils are weekly boarders - is full. The owners plan to open high school classes for older children as this first intake grows up.

According to the State Education Commission, China now has 1,500 registered minban primary and secondary schools with 200,000 pupils, and 14,000 kindergartens with 530,000 children. Facilities vary hugely, from opulent to below the state equivalent.

They are private in the sense that the financing does not come from the government. In China's half-reformed educational system, a grey area exists as private money and management encroaches on government ownership, especially higher up the educational level. There are, for instance, no individually-owned universities, but several privately-financed ones.

Minban colleges and schools first appeared in the early 1980s. It is government policy to encourage them, within a framework of regulations and under the watchful eye of the Communist Party. Schools such as Jinghua enjoy an autonomy that extends to choosing teachers and designing the curriculum. The State Education Commission Minister, Zhu Kaixuan, has said private schools are inevitable in a market economy, but should not be profit-orientated. And he warned: 'Schools that aim to train aristocrats should not be tolerated . . . No matter how superior the education and living conditions are, no matter how much money is invested, the private schools should adhere to the socialist road.'

According to Ms Zhou: 'We have better facilities, but we are not creating an aristocracy . . . When society develops, we should use modern facilities to have a modern education.' Boarding schools can guard against the phenomenon of the one-child policy 'little emperors', she argued. 'In their homes they are treated like little emperors; there can be four adults (including grandparents) just surrounding one child. At school they must look after themselves.'

Central government does not want to lose control of education but can no longer afford to provide free education for all. Inadequate funding has forced most state schools to rent out buildings or set up sideline businesses. Others, especially in rural areas, have been found illegally charging parents fees for everything from examinations to heating, forcing poor pupils to leave.

However, it is a tiny minority which enjoys the privileges of China's best private schools. In Peking there are nine private primary schools. At Jinghua, an exhibition of work included pictorial essays on 'My Family' in which two fathers were typically described as a general manager and a senior engineeer.

Jinghua can attract good teachers by paying more and by allowing them to implement their own teaching ideas. In the state system, wages can be lower than a factory worker's - and that is when the pay-packet actually arrives. Owed back pay had reached 340 million yuan in seven provinces at the beginning of this year. Teachers have been forced to take second jobs while others have left the profession.

A recent survey showed that financing children's education was the main savings goal for the Chinese. One parent, hearing about Jinghua's facilities, said: 'If I could I'd send my daughter there. I'd pay for the best private school in the hope that she'd then get into the best of the state universities.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
people
News
A boy holds a chick during the Russian National Agricultural Exhibition Golden Autumn 2014 in Moscow on October 9, 2014.
news
Life and Style
love + sex
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle v United 1 player ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Engineer - Managed Services Provider

£30000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 2nd / 3rd Line IT Support Eng...

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot