BEIJING — Although recent news has shown the spotlight on President Xi Jinping’s crackdown on corruption among bureaucrats and top officials, there has been a different sector in Chinese society that deals with corruption and bribery in a very different manner. Chinese children learn about corruption at an early age.
When children enter primary school, their parents are forced to pay bribes, or “voluntary donations.” These voluntary donations ensure everything from a student’s admission into a certain school, to a closer seat to the blackboard. The bribes usually consist of cash and material goods. This creates a foundation for systematic and widespread corruption in the education sector. During the annual Teacher’s Appreciation Day in September, students are expected to bring gifts for their teachers. Chinese new media reports that teachers now expect gifts of “designer watches, expensive tea, gift cards and even vacations.”
Parents are forced to give gifts to ensure that their children do not fall behind in school and receive less attention from the teachers. Although public education in China is technically free of cost, parents frequently pay bribes to ensure admission to a top school or to receive sponsorships from professors.
Admission to a good Beijing middle school can cost up to $16,000 in bribes. The Chinese education system is best known for the rigorous Gao Kao, the single college admissions test taken during high school that will determine a student’s future. At some top high schools, students can buy extra points for their exam scores. At one Beijing high school, students will receive an extra point for each $4,800 their parents donate to the school.
It is extremely difficult to gather empirical data on the amount of bribes that exchange hands. Although anecdotal evidence demonstrates the widespread prevalence of bribery in the education system, it is difficult to prove with quantitative data. Testimonies from students and parents are almost always offered anonymously to prevent lash back from the school officials.
The systematized corruption is shrouded in secrecy and takes place behind close doors. Most families are reluctant to point fingers and expose the corruption that would ultimately end up hurting their own children’s futures. Throughout their education career, students will have paid bribes to elementary, middle and high school teachers, school administrators, professors, bureaucrats and various other government officials.
This system of corruption widens the gap between the rich and the poor. This financial burden is very demanding on poorer rural families who cannot afford to send their children to a good school. While the rich have the connections and the resources to contribute large amounts of bribes to the education administration and gain access to top schools, the poor have little to contribute and they become even more marginalized and unable to gain access to the services to which they have a right.
– Sarah Yan