Elizabeth asks: What would an average family make per month in Xiamen?
According to the Xiamen government website, the average income of rural residents of Xiamen is about 520RMB ($68) per month. The average income of city residents is 950RMB ($124) per month. Obviously, that average takes in a lot of people, some of them very, very poor. Remember that my law students would consider a salary of 5000RMB ($625) per month an appropriate salary for them.
Would that $250 include groceries? Yes, the $250 I withdraw from the bank each month includes groceries! Really, it costs so little to live here it’s unbelievable! Now, if we insisted on buying a lot of American foods -- cereal, peanut butter, etc. -- our costs would icrease a lot. But "going Chinese" it is really, really cheap.
China doesn't have a free public school system like in US? No, but it is moving toward such a system. It started by waiving tuition and fees for rural school children, and now it’s doing the same in some urban areas (not yet in Beijing and Shanghai, where I’m told education is VERY expensive). The parents here in Xiamen tell me that the program has come here and school fees for primary and secondary school (the 9 years of compulsory schooling) are only 400RMB a year – about $50! I had to keep asking because I couldn’t quite believe it, since kindergarten is 6,000RMB (about $800) a year! They said they laugh about that all the time, and claim the kindergarten must think they are training college students. But primary and secondary school is much cheaper. High school, not part of the compulsory education system with a tuition break, costs 6,000-10,000RMB a year. College also runs about 5,000-10,000RMB a year. And one of my students told me there is a new government program for loans to pay college fees. If you pay the loans off within a few years of graduating, they are interest-free.
Remember I mentioned a few weeks ago that high school students were taking the national college entrance exams? Well, the scores came out this weekend -- fast, huh? And these are students who are graduating and going to college in the fall, not a year in advance like we tend to take college boards. I'm sure there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the scores were reported. The score determines whether you can go to college at all, because there are not enough college seats for everyone who applies. And the score determines which college you can attend. This is much more serious than in the U.S., where just about anyone can get into some college if they want to go, and where colleges look at more than test scores.
I also learned while in Guangxi Province that China has affirmative action! Members of the 52 or so recognized minority groups can be admitted to college with lower scores because of China's concern about their underrepresentation in government and other aspects of civil society.
China has stated a strong interest in reforming its education system, and part of that is to make education available to more and more people. They are rapidly expanding colleges and starting new ones, and I think this tuition waiver program is a wonderful one.
Still, one of the biggest problems is in rural areas, where there are not enough schools and not enough teachers. Many children have to attend boarding schools just because there are no schools close to them. When we were in the farming village in Yangshuo, I saw no children at all, and asked Cristy about it. She said it was likely that the students were in boarding school. But Yangshuo was only a short distance away, I said. But, she said, most farmers wouldn't have any way to get the children to school daily, even at what looks like short distances to us. And at times the roads may be impassable because of rain. So, boarding school it is.
And then another problem for rural children is that oftentimes they have to stay with relatives in their rural village when their parents go to the city to work because the parents can't afford the higher cost of education in the city. Even with tuition waivers available in the city, migrant children are not eligible for them. They're only eligible for tuition waivers where they are registered, and that is the place where they are born. It's almost impossible to change your place of registration (I know one Beijing resident who is married and has lived there for 10 years, but she is still registered in Inner Mongolia, where she was born.) So migrant children who go to the city with their parents either do not attend schools or they attend illegal schools set up by the migrants themselves. Not surprisingly, the quality of these schools is not great and many times the buildings are dangerous.
So China's education system is improving, but there is still a long way to go. But then, the same could be said for American public education, huh?!