Neoliberalism, globalization, and “elite” education in China

Education should face modernization, face the world, and face the future.

(Deng Xiaoping, 19831)

Pink balloons tied to stair rails were dancing in the wind, which signaled a big event at the international division of Sunny High School today. There was a continuous flow of parents and students walking upstairs to the school gym. The hallway on the second floor was covered with a bright red carpet. The carpet was extended to the gym door that was decorated as a “Gate to Adulthood” (Chengrcn Men, file Al J). On each side of the carpet stood 18 display boards that featured the pictures of the nearly 120 high-school graduates of the class of 2013 who had received admissions from foreign colleges, mostly from universities in the United States. Walking through this line of lovely pictures depicting lives from birth to 18 years old, female students with light make-up and in various formal dresses and male students in suits and ties stepped over the “Gate to Adulthood,” accompanied by their parents who were wearing formal casual attire. A professional photographer was invited by the school to capture the memorable movement when each of the students crossed the “Gate to Adulthood” with their parents. Many fresh flower baskets surrounded the gate as well as the stage in the gym. On the backdrop of the stage was written the theme of the coming-of-age and graduation ceremonies held by the international school, which is “Embrace the world; Make the Chinese dream come true.”

Accompanied by fine melody, the ceremony recalled many fond memories and abundant school activities that students experienced throughout their three years of high school. The speech from a parent representative and the blessings from school teachers (both Chinese teachers and foreign teachers) were warm and touching, and expressed their expectations of these students who will start their college life abroad this fall. After student actors demonstrated the adult rite of passage that was popular in ancient China, the principal of the international school Ms. Zhao gave an inspiring speech that emphasized the meaning of becoming an 18-year-old youth in contemporary China—to be a citizen who has rights and obligations. She explained that as citizens 18-year-old students should be responsible to themselves, family, and the society. The school gave each graduate a simple but dignified gift—the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China— which was handed over from the principal to the students.

After the three-hour coming-of-age and graduation ceremonies, highschool graduates gathered in the outdoor stadium and took their graduation pictures together with their teachers and school administrators. Some parents stood outside of the stadium and watched their children in lines. Their facial expressions implied their pride and happiness for their children. Some parents took pictures or videos for their children using luxury cameras, smart phones, or iPads, recording this important moment. When the picture taking was almost over, students threw their jackets into the sky or waved their hands, cheering loudly “World, here we come!”...

(Field note, May 31, 2013)

On May 31, 2013,1 attended the graduation ceremony of the international division of Sunny High School (pseudonym) in Moon City (pseudonym), a cosmopolitan city in China. Sunny High is a top-tier public high school in the city who is notable for academic excellence measured by its success in sending students to prestigious universities in China. Sunny High is elite in academic terms. In 2008, the school created an international program that is exclusively designed for Chinese students who seek to study abroad for university studies. The 128 graduates of Class 2013 are the third cohort graduating from the Sunny High international program. They all were admitted by top 80 U.S. universities, and 60% of them gained admissions to top 50 U.S. universities.

As of 2014, Moon City’s Municipal Commission of Education had approved 24 international high-school curriculum programs (IHSCPs) that were established by 20 Chinese high schools.2 Among the 24 government-approved programs, there were 18 Chinese-American high-school curriculum programs, 5 Chinese-British programs, and 1 Chinese-Canadian program. The majority of these emerging international programs were created by Chinese elite public high schools. Sunny High international high-school program is one of the Chinese-American highschool curriculum programs. It is the largest of the government-approved public international high-school programs in the city. The international program charges high tuition fees. The school fee in the 2012/2013 academic year was about ¥70,000 (approximately equal to $10,000) per annum.3 Such annual fees arc considerably higher than average annual Chinese family income. Thus, such international programs are unaffordable for the great majority of people in China.

The scenario described above offers a glimpse of newly established international high-school programs. Like the Sunny High international program, many IHSCPs have emerged in cosmopolitan and metropolitan cities in China (Lei, 2013; Li, 2015; Long & Wang, 2013; Xu & Gao, 2012; Yang, 2016). These programs hold similarly gorgeous graduation ceremonies for those students who choose to study in such flyover and who have gained college admission from universities in the United States and other developed Western countries. The graduation ceremony is usually held in late May or early June, when the vast majority of Chinese high school students who choose to attend Chinese universities are nervously preparing for the National College Entrance Exam, colloquially called the gaokao (rP^).

In contrast to their “local” choosing Chinese counterparts, seniors enrolled in IHSCPs have released their burdens from the gaokao, held in June 7 and 8 annually. Rather than waiting for college admission based on gaokao test scores which are announced in late June, these “global” choosing students have received college admissions from prestigious universities overseas in March, April, or even earlier than this.4 Their lives look much more relaxing in May than their counterparts who still suffer from gaokao test anxiety. Most of these privileged urban highschool graduates have received multiple offers from high ranking U.S. universities. For instance, data from the international division of Sunny High School show that 123 students in Class 2013, accounting for 96% of the graduate cohort, attended 99 U.S. prestigious universities, private liberal arts colleges, and fine arts colleges (such as Cornell University, John Hopkins University, Washington University in St. Louis, University of California Los Angeles, University of California San Diego, Boston University, University ofWisconsin-Madison, University of Illinois-Champaign, Purdue University, Ohio State University, University of Texas-Austin; Carleton College, Smith College, Vassar College, Dickinson College; and Parsons School of Design at The New School). Only five graduates went to best global universities in Canada, United Kingdom, and Australia, including University of British Columbia, University College London, University of Melbourne, University' of New South Wales, and Monash University.

Compared with their Chinese counterparts who compete for top universities in China, students enrolled in such emerging international high-school programs gain access to world-class universities and look forward to their study abroad experiences. The pathway from an international high-school program created by elite public high schools in China to United States prestigious universities not only differentiates socially elite students whose families are able to pay high tuition fees and academically selected elite students. It also has important implications for equality of educational opportunity for students to access elite universities and their associated life rewards in changing local, national, and global contexts.

Deng Xiaoping made the claim regarding education in the early 1980s, “Education should face modernization, face the world, and face the future,” right after the Chinese economic reform called “Reform and Opening Up” (Gaige kaifang, was implemented under his leadership.3 The past 30 years

have witnessed how Chinese universities and high schools are shifting toward being open to international cooperation through Chinese educational reforms. Xiaoping could not have possibly envisioned what is happening now to education. In the past ten years, the number of urban Chinese high-school students applying to U.S. universities has rapidly grown. Concomitantly, a growing number of key public high schools (zhongdiangaozhong, SAW41) in Chinese cities have established their IHSCPs, which are designed to prepare wealthy urban Chinese students for international college applications. Many students who want to apply to overseas universities, particularly those in the United States, have chosen these newly established international curriculum programs.

The IHSCPs created by Chinese key public high schools are commonly called gaozhong guoji kecheng ban (мФЕІІяНІИчУЯ), guoji ban (ISIfeiffi), or guoji bn (ЙИ’'1'ї'Я>). The programs arc often legitimated in the name of China’s New Curriculum Reform, which aims to cultivate quality talents called rencai (Azj", i.e., human capital) for a new century in order to be prepared to face international competition.0 These emergent international programs arc supported by the Chinese-Foreign Cooperation in Running Schools (CFCRS) policy, which emphasizes the collaboration between Chinese and foreign educational institutions in order to improve the quality of Chinese education (Lei, 2013; Tang, 2010; Tang, 2014; Xu, 2014; Yin, 2014). By utilizing the mode of CFCRS, the new programs arc expected to introduce quality foreign curriculum programs in order to promote Chinese curriculum reforms and diversify Chinese high-school education to meet different social needs.

The development of these international programs is also influenced by recent Chinese education policies such as the National Guidelines for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020) (abbreviated as The Guidelines). The GuidelineswAS released in 2010, proposing, for the first time, the goal of cultivating international talents. It states the requirement of educating a large number of international talents with an international perspective, who arc familiar with international rules and are able to participate in international affairs and competition (Gu, 2010; Yin, 2014). The promulgation of The Guidelines provides space for the development of IHSCPs because these curriculum programs are regarded to have the potential to promote the cultivation of innovative talents in China (Liu, Tao, & Zhou, 2014; Xu, 2015). By linking Chinese educational reforms to international education, the IHSCPs are expected to help Chinese education go global, become international, and cultivate “international talents” (guoji rencai, ElIvRA7Ґ, i.e., international human capital). These new educational phenomena are part of the grand narrative of how Chinese educational reforms work toward improving the modernization and internationalization of the Chinese education system, which Deng Xiaoping heralded.

Neoliberalism, Globalization, and “Elite” Education in China: Becoming International examines the practices and effects of emerging IHSCPs supported by China’s New Curriculum Reform and the CFCRS policy. Drawing on critical theory, the research project applies sociological and anthropological approaches to the study of the educational practices of such curriculum programs and the rising Chinese elite class, as well as educational policy (nationally and globally). Through analyzing a wide variety of data sources, the book focuses on exploring how changing local and global contexts have influenced and shaped the educational experiences and aspirations of privileged urban Chinese students who are able to attend these programs. This research project also explores how the Chinese education system addresses globalization and utilizes international education as a source of economic and political development to promote the cultivation of particular types of human capital through newly established public IHSCPs in China. The study aims to unravel the complexities of contemporary China’s becoming international as expressed through its educational reforms at multiple levels in connecting to the state, public schools, curriculum, and students. In doing so, the book is intended to define the problematics of the internationalization of Chinese education, which are complex and embedded in the process of modernization in China.

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