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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Corruption in Chinese Education

Bribery [in China] has become so rife that Xi Jinping devoted his first speech after being named the Communist Party’s new leader this month to warning the Politburo that corruption could lead to the collapse of the party and the state if left unchecked. Indeed, ordinary Chinese have become inured to a certain level of official malfeasance in business and politics.

But the lack of integrity among educators and school administrators is especially dispiriting, said Li Mao, an educational consultant in Beijing. “It’s much more upsetting when it happens with teachers because our expectations of them are so much higher,” he said.

Affluent parents in the United States and around the world commonly seek to provide their children every advantage, of course, including paying for tutors and test preparation courses, and sometimes turning to private schools willing to accept wealthy students despite poor grades.

But critics say China’s state-run education system — promoted as the hallmark of Communist meritocracy — is being overrun by bribery and cronyism. Such corruption has broadened the gulf between the haves and have-nots as Chinese families see their hopes for the future sold to the highest bidder.

“Corruption is pervasive in every part of Chinese society, and education is no exception,” Mr. Li said.

It begins even before the first day of school as the competition for admission to elite schools has created a lucrative side business for school officials and those connected to them.

. . . Government officials have also found a way to game the system. The 21st Century Business Herald, a state-run newspaper, reported that powerful agencies and state-owned enterprises frequently donated to top schools under what is known as a “joint development” policy. In exchange, education reformers say, the children of their employees are given an admissions advantage.

The same practice has been taken up by private companies that provide “corporate sponsorships” to top schools.

. . . Some parents have found that the only way to preserve any integrity is to reject a Chinese education altogether. Disgusted by the endemic bribery, Wang Ping, 37, a bar owner in Beijing, decided to send her son abroad for his education. In August, she wept as she waved goodbye to her only child, whom she had enrolled at a public high school in Iowa.

“China’s education system is unfair to children from the very beginning of their lives,” she said. “I don’t want my son to have anything more to do with it.”
In one respect, this is just an example of basic economics--if there is an artificial price ceiling, but the intersection of the supply and demand curves are higher than the price ceiling, one method of balancing out the inequality is some hidden cost. Often, it will be bribes, "favors," "gifts," alumni donations, etc. Thus, government imposed price ceilings, so beloved of socialist societies, will inevitably produce either shortfalls in  supplies or corruption, and generally both.

In another respect, this story is yet another example of how wealth is always self-reinforcing by limiting the best education to those with the most money. Of course, the purpose of socialism has never been to produce equality, but to replace one aristocracy with another.

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