Daphne Bramham: China cracks down on private schools

A Hong Kong group is warning that recent educational changes in China will dissuade debate and discussion and mark a return to rote learning.

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The Chinese government’s recent sweeping educational reforms give it far greater control over who owns private schools in that country, who is teaching and what is being taught, and further reduces any unwanted foreign influence on students.

Starting Sept. 1, private schools in China must “adhere to the leadership of the Communist Party of China, adhere to the direction of socialist education, adhere to the public welfare nature of education, strengthen the education of socialist core values ​​for the educated, and implement the fundamental task of establishing morality and cultivating people.”

The new law requires schools to have training programs for teachers recruited from abroad so that they can “receive corresponding ideological and political training and professional training.”

Educators using the Internet will also be responsible for policing it, as well as reporting any information prohibited by Chinese laws or administrative regulations to the authorities.


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Each school must have a supervisory agency that includes representatives from the local Chinese Communist Party organization.

Foreign textbooks must comply with “relevant national regulations.”

Chinese private schools will only be owned by Chinese nationals who live in the People’s Republic of China. And those owners/operators could be jailed for “harming the national interest,” “violating the national education policy, deviating from the direction of social school running or failing to ensure that the school party organization performs its duties,” or “infringing on the lawful rights and interests of the educated and causing bad social impact.”

They are subject to penalties under the Public Security Administration Law, which states that, “The people’s governments at all levels shall strengthen the comprehensive control of social security, shall take effective measures to solve social contradictions, enhance social harmony, and maintain social stability.”

The law offers both sticks and a carrot.

Social organizations (aka companies) or individuals that make “outstanding contributions to the development of private education will be rewarded and commended in accordance with relevant state regulations.”

For now, the more than 80 schools using Canadian curricula — 38 of them accredited by British Columbia — are exempt because the law only applies to kindergarten to Grade 9, and international schools only enrol Chinese citizens in Grades 10 to 12, or foreign students.


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But even at those schools, teachers have been censoring teaching materials to avoid problems with government officials. The Globe and Mail recently reported that teachers have torn pages out of textbooks, purged maps where Taiwan was not shown as a part of China, and put stickers over other content that might not conform to the Communist Party’s official views. In one case, a teacher said local officials ripped pages out of a Canadian textbook.

This has also happened at B.C.-accredited schools catering to Chinese students in British Columbia. Teachers at some have been urged to “tread lightly” on a long list of issues including the Chinese Communist Party, Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong’s democracy movement, Uyghurs, and Falun Gong.

China’s crackdown on private schools follows earlier changes made and suggested in Hong Kong. In February, the education bureau’s guidelines indicated that children as young as six should be taught the four offences under the National Security Law — subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces.

In April, the curriculum for four core subjects — Chinese and English languages, mathematics, and liberal studies — was changed. That resulted in the Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools warning that this will dissuade debate and discussion and mark a return to rote learning.

It may be a coincidence that as the PRC is doing all that it can to eliminate foreign influence on education, it appears to be expanding its educational reach.


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It may be a coincidence, but within a few weeks of the new private school legislation, the Chinese news agency Xinhua reported the release of the Analects of Confucius, a collection of the philosopher’s teachings in Arabic, Mongolian, Czech, Portuguese and Spanish — “the five languages for the ‘Belt and Road countries’.” (The Belt and Road Initiative aims to build a global infrastructure network, including in B.C., which signed a BRI agreement with Guangdong province in 2016.)

The Confucius collection is already available in English, Japanese, Russian, Korean, French and German.

Meanwhile, Canadian-affiliated companies such as Maple Leaf Educational Services are scrambling to understand what it might mean for them.

Maple Leaf, which is listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, operates 11 high schools, three international schools, 57 pre-kindergarten elementary and middle schools in China. It also has high schools on the campuses of Thompson Rivers University and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, another in Ontario, and still others in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia.

The company’s owner is Sherman Jen, a Canadian, currently living in Hong Kong.

It had already given notice last fall that it would be withdrawing from the B.C. offshore program in 2023, replacing the B.C. curriculum with the Maple Leaf World School curriculum developed in conjunction with Royal Roads University that it hopes to have accredited by Cognia, a U.S.-based, private school regulator.

“We are currently reviewing the new legislation and regulations to determine their implications for Maple Leaf schools and students,” the company said in an emailed response, adding that it plans to continue its expansion in China as well as other Belt and Road countries.

It seems Maple Leaf may be better positioned than some of its competitors and, perhaps, even prescient.


Twitter: @bramham_daphne


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