Neoliberalism, globalization, and “elite” education in China: becoming international

It is worth noting that in addition to the IHSCPs approved by the Chinese government, there are many unregulated international programs that focus on preparing Chinese students for international college applications. It is worthwhile studying those unregulated international high-school programs. But for the purpose of this research project, I focus primarily on the government-approved IHSCPs for several reasons. First, the intent of studying these legitimated international curriculum programs is to investigate a new kind of official knowledge. Second, given the fact that Chinese elite state high schools often establish these international programs, focusing on such new curriculum programs helps explain the trend of school and educational reforms in China. Last but not least, the Chinese government wants to regulate nongovernment-approved international high-school programs and close those programs which are judged to be of poor quality. This tendency makes it crucial to study the officially accepted IHSCPs in China in order to follow the Chinese government’s educational experiments in international curriculum programs.

The regulated IHSCPs have four key features. First, they are supported by the CFCRS policy. Second, these programs are created by Chinese elite public high schools in big cities through supposedly cooperating with international education institutions. The new programs are actually schools within schools, whether located within the campus of elite state high schools or with an independent campus. Third, the new programs arc designed to prepare Chinese students for the U.S. college application process by exposing them to an internationalized curriculum—an integration of the Chinese national curriculum with various imported international curricula, such as A-Level, AP, and GAC. Fourth, these emerging IHSCPs require expensive tuition. Officially, these international curriculum programs are ostensibly public. But students who are able to choose these new programs have to pay high tuition. The tuition usually ranges from about ¥60,000 to ¥120,000 (approximately S10,000-S20,000) each year, which is far more expensive than that of any state high school as yearly tuition for these institutions is approximately ¥800 to ¥2,000 (equal to $128-5320). All the above characteristics, in particular the issue of expensive tuition, make the emerging international curriculum programs contentious sites that are in need of in-depth and critical analysis. This book reveals that these fee-charging “public” programs exclude disadvantaged students and create unequal access to internationalized curriculum and international education. This situation is a new phenomenon in contemporary China, given its history of merit-based student enrollment measured by test scores. The book highlights that this change in school access promotes the marketization and privatization of education in China.

As I have mentioned before, the emerging international high-school programs are legitimated by the Chinese government. The state sees these programs as promising ways to improve the internationalization and modernization of the Chinese education system and to foster students who will gain international perspectives and a cross-cultural understanding for Chinese economic development (National Guidelines for Medium and Long-term Education Reform and Development (2010-2020), 2010). According to Beijing’s Mirror News, as of 2014, there have been about 90 such high-school programs approved by the Chinese government. The large scale of these 90 programs makes it significant to investigate these new international programs. As shown in the book, the unique institutional structure of the CFCRS policy brings private education companies into the development of international programs for profit making. This book points out that the interventions of private institutions into Chinese public education reforms are tacit business practices.

The book also uncovers that these new “public” programs/schools become key sites where the interests of the state and other stakeholders converge with the private interests of the wealthy Chinese parents who attempt to push their children toward international education as a form of capital conversion (Bell, 1980), and where unique schooling is “implicated in the making of particular sorts of people as well as the making of educational and social exclusions and inequalities” (Youdcll, 2011, p. 1). The confluence of the marketization and privatization of education contributes to the emergent international education paradigm, which is embodied in the newly established Chinese international high-school programs. Therefore, examining the educational experiences and subjectivities of the privileged Chinese students who study in the internationally oriented schools not only helps us understand how these new programs make particular kinds of elite students but it also reveals how the Chinese international highschool programs create social exclusions and inequalities.

In summary, Neoliberalism, Globalization, and “Elite” Education in China: Becoming International examines two interconnected issues, that is, the complexities of Chinese students’ choice to attend newly established international high-school programs and their concomitant schooling experiences. This study focuses on exploring the motivations, experiences, and perspectives of Chinese students who choose to attend the internationally focused public high schools in China and who hope to study at U.S. universities. The purpose of my study is threefold: (a) to develop a greater understanding of the complexities and profound implications of students’ choice of these schools; (b) to explore the politics of the students’ subjectivities by examining how they negotiate schooling in the process of preparing for U.S. college application; and (c) to make visible the ideology that undergirds the prevailing discourse of China’s process toward internationalization. The guiding questions in the book are as follows:

  • 1 Why did IHSCPs emerge at a particular time in China? How were these curriculum programs constructed?
  • 2 Why do Chinese students choose to attend particular types of internationally focused Chinese public high schools? What is their decision-making process in selecting a high school?
  • 3 What are Chinese students’ educational experiences at their chosen international public high schools in China? How do these students perceive and interpret their experiences?
  • 4 How do their choice processes and schooling experiences shape the way these Chinese students think about who they are; what education is for; their sense of belonging; and their own goals, challenges, concerns, and struggles?

In international and comparative education research, my interests are organized around the idea of how privilege is produced and maintained in educational settings in a new social order that is characterized by the increasing international mobility of capital, labor, media, technology, and ideas. Neoliberalism, Globalization, and “Elite” Education in China: Becoming International involves examining how wealthy Chinese families use emergent international high-school programs in China as a resource to mobilize different forms of capital in their efforts to guarantee that their children study abroad in world-class universities abroad. This book extends the current literature on elite studies that focuses exclusively on Western countries. It also adds to the literature on international schools by examining a model of international school emerging in China.28

In addition, unlike research on the construction of advantage that only examines capital conversion strategics used by privileged parents, this book extends such research by going inside schools in China and bringing to light how advantage is manufactured at school and how curriculum and pedagogy actually prepare students who plan to study abroad. The book points out that socially elite students have access to a differential curriculum that differentiates them from non-elite students. By linking the schooling experiences of privileged Chinese students to their family educational practices, this study will not only demonstrate the way conversion strategies work globally but it will also help us understand the (re)production of social advantage in education in a globalized context.

Employing multisited ethnography, this study explores how social, cultural, political, economic, and global contexts of education influence and shape these students’ educational experiences and aspirations through analyzing an assemblage of data sources. For example, I investigate the complexity and contradictions of the international education discourse. In doing so, the book informs knowledge of how elites tactically deploy global education discourses to their advantage, which is essential to fully understanding inequality and fomenting social justice through education. The research approach employed in this research project makes a methodological contribution that challenges “the structure/agency split” (Ortner, 2006; Weis & Fine, 2012). Given my focus on examining how the students negotiate schooling in the neoliberal assemblage (discourses, practices, and policies) across a range of macro, meso, and micro levels, this study will contribute to documenting the very processes and effects by which these new neoliberal subjects are made.

China’s entry to the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 2001 has promoted the internationalization of Chinese higher education and subsequently high school education. However, less research has been devoted to understanding how the WTO as an entity that “instantiatefs] neoliberalism as a global set of rules” (Harvey, 2007, p. 23) influences the internationalization of Chinese high school education, a recent educational reform in China. Neoliberalism, Globalization, and “Elite” Education in China: Becoming International works to fill in this gap by exploring a new educational order in relation to the global, national, and local neoliberalization of the socioeconomic and political order. Through examining the limits of what is currently defined as international education, the book has the potential to contribute toward the possibility of establishing alternative forms of international education programs that can benefit all of Chinese society, rather than only specific elite segments of Chinese society.

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