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SOCIETY & CULTURE

Think China Is Crowded? Check Out Its Primary Schools

Students take a free extracurricular class at Hefei Peace Primary School on Friday in East China’s Anhui province. Photo: VCG
Students take a free extracurricular class at Hefei Peace Primary School on Friday in East China’s Anhui province. Photo: VCG

China’s primary schools are getting crowded — quickly.

And the trend is largely being driven by the shuttering of rural schools.

The number of elementary schools dropped nearly 6% from 2016 to 2017 — from 176,000 to 167,000 — continuing a decline seen for more than a decade, statistics from the Ministry of Education show.

Meanwhile, the number of students enrolled at primary schools continued to soar, reaching 101 million last year, increasing concerns of so-called “super classes,” in which up to 70 students are taught in one classroom, in some cases.

Issues linked to overcrowding have been underscored by incidents like a stampede at a primary school in Henan province last year that left one child dead and 22 others injured.

The number of primary schools in China shrunk from 280,200 in 2009 to 176,000 last year — largely because of the government’s closure of tens of thousands small schools in remote areas.

From 2009 to 2016, the number of rural primary schools dropped by more than half to 106,400, according to the ministry. That forced many students as young as eight to travel significant distances to attend class after schools in their villages were closed by the government.

China’s now defunct one-child policy and the migration of huge numbers of citizens to cities have also contributed to the dwindling number of students in rural areas, according to Wu Zhihui, a professor of education at Northeast Normal University in Changchun, Jilin province.

The number of students enrolled in rural schools fell from 56.6 million in 2006 to 28.9 million in 2016, according to the ministry.

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Contact reporter Li Rongde (rongdeli@caixin.com)
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