|In China: I'm more prefet to boys in poor family|
|http://www.sina.com.cn 2003/08/26 10:14 北京青年报|
The ongoing increase in the number of self-financed university students and the opening of private universities are indispensable steps if China is to develop the large and diverse education sector it will need to sustain its economic growth in the coming decades. But if paying tuition and housing fees becomes the norm, what will happen to students from poor families? Should they just be written off? Or provided with a trickle of charity scholarships just sufficient to bring a handful of the brightest poor students to each campus?
In the US, paradoxically, poor students often have an easier time financing their higher education than do middle-class kids. Bright teenagers from underprivileged backgrounds are actively recruited by elite private universities, which supply generous financial aid. For less gifted young people there is considerable financial aid in the form of partial scholarships based on economic need, government-backed bank loans and campus jobs. Plus there are low-paying but nonetheless helpful off-campus jobs in the service sector, usually abundant in cities and towns with large student populations. Any modestly intelligent American kid from a poor family can, if he understands the value of a university education, find the means to attend university. In other words, it is cultural factors and psychological motivation, not family income, that determine who can go. Since World War II, colleges and universities, above all low-cost state schools, have acted as social escalators lifting millions of poor, immigrant and working-class young people into the middle class.
China needs easy educational credit. The cost of higher education here is still fairly low, especially relative to the salaries that people with university degrees are likely to be earning 10 or 15 years after graduation. Scholarships for the bright children of the rural and urban poor should be expanded, but something more is required: a system of cheap government-guaranteed long-term loans that any teenager admitted to a university could readily obtain. The investment would be modest, the social payoff huge in promoting talent, funneling ideas for development to out-of-the-way and economically depressed localities, and maintaining the country's stability. Indeed, the system of loans ought to be open to secondary students as well; no child should be forced to drop out of school in today's China because his or her parents can't afford school fees.
Having taught in China at the university level for many years, I am very much in favor of increasing the number of students from peasant and urban poor families. Some of the most impressive students I have known here tended water buffalo or planted rice as children -- and many, nay most, of the least impressive grew up in prosperous urban families. The rural students in particular know things about life in China that are wholly lost on kids who have grown up inside over-protective Beijing families where they spent their adolescence doing precious little but play video games, watch TV and study for the national university entrance exam. The rural students have already had experience of two or three major social adjustments (typically village -- large town -- big city); their lives are an unfolding exploration. They are learning how to adapt to new settings and develop an understanding of people very different from themselves. Their eyes are open.
In contrast, I am forever amazed to talk to quite bright Beijing kids who know next to nothing even about this city, their own immediate environment; worse, they do not have an inkling of the extent of their own ignorance. And these hot-house simpletons are supposed to make career choices at 18 -- on the basis of what? In the end, of whatever other people are doing, or what their parents tell them to do, which amounts to much the same thing.①This is about as foolish a way to conduct one's life as I can imagine. They too need to acquire a sense of life as a grand exploration, however puzzling, and learn to negotiate alien environments and unfamiliar situations. They must learn to question and discover, to make their own mistakes and to learn from them.
And they need to know their own country, which will never happen on the basis of classroom instruction and watching TV. Mixing well-off Beijing kids with peasant and poor teenagers on campus is sure to produce better informed and shrewder Chinese citizens. If I were a Beijing parent with some money I would do everything possible to make sure my offspring was broken out of the urban secondary-school cocoon. I would want him to consider going to university in Shanghai (yes, Shanghai!) or Guangzhou, and I would welcome new friends of his from the countryside or depressed urban neighborhoods. Any campus in today's China without a substantial number of peasant and poor students is not a fit environment for educating young people.
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