China Mulls Ban on Private Schools With First Through Ninth Grades
(Beijing) – Chinese lawmakers are considering a ban on for-profit private schools that have classes for first- through ninth-graders — a move that could affect 12 million students and deal a heavy blow to the country’s booming private-education sector.
The latest draft revision to a 2002 education act — the Law on the Promotion of Non-Public Schools — that is being debated by the country’s top legislature this week includes a proposal to limit private schools to kindergartens, grades 10 through 12 and university courses, several sources with knowledge of the matter said. About 10,700 schools would be affected if the amendment is passed, according to the Ministry of Education.
The proposed change comes as education authorities are pushing private schools that follow international curricula to adopt the state-sanctioned syllabus when teaching Chinese history, and its constitution, law and morals, amid worries that Western curricula were eroding the values promoted by the party-run school system. Last week, the Shanghai government told principals from 21 international and bilingual schools in the city to offer China-specific subjects in their curricula.
"The proposed revision is a sign that the state wants greater control over education, which will pose a significant risk to foreign joint ventures in the field," said a foreign investor who has several private schools in his portfolio.
Lawmakers, however, are pushing for the change due to concerns that allowing private institutions, some of which charge tens of thousands of U.S. dollars in tuition per year, would widen inequalities in access to basic education, the sources said.
The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, the decision-making body of China’s top legislature, convened Monday for a third reading of the draft regulation. The amendment is likely to be passed and incorporated into law at the end of the NPC’s eight-day meeting, according to Wu Hua, head of the Research Center of Private Education at Zhejiang University.
Wu said the revision could drive many private schools out of business and reduce education options available to parents who want an alternative to public schools, which emphasize rigid, rote learning methods.
Private schools could continue to offer classes from grades one through nine if they register as nonprofit schools, the latest draft rule says, but this would require them to get government approval when setting tuition fees, making the option unattractive.
The proposed law sends a signal that for-profit schools are unwelcome in China, Wu said. Even if they switch to nonprofits, they would face challenges in terms of acquiring land and struggle to operate without preferential tax policies, he said.
A clause that provided a three-year grace period to all private schools to reregister as either a for-profit or a nonprofit institution has been removed from the latest draft, sources said.
The first nine years of schooling is considered compulsory education under Chinese law, and the state offers free education for grades one through nine.
Contact reporter Li Rongde (email@example.com); editor Poornima Weerasekara (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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