Although sacrifice for a child's education and success is not an unfamiliar concept in America and Western Europe, according to The New York Times, parents in China assume a much more substantial physical and financial burden in order to make the dream come true for their kids. Nor does this trend appear to be reversing at the time when even a degree from the most prestigious universities in the country no longer guarantees a high-paying job upon graduation.
Chinese families regularly uproot themselves and scrimp on everything from holidays, to presents and even retirement, all in the hope of paying their kids' school tuition. This goal could sometimes seem unreachable when every year of student's education costs anywhere from 6 to 15 months of labor for a typical rural family.
The situation is not as dire in the United States, where tuition costs a similar chunk of an average worker's income, but where financial aid and student loans are more easily obtainable. Furthermore, with the part that remains, the American families can afford more than their Chinese counterparts can with their money.
It isn't just the cost of college that burdens Chinese parents. They face many fees associated with sending their children to elementary, middle and high schools. Many parents also hire tutors, so their children can score high enough on entrance exams to get into college. American families that invest heavily in their children's educations can fall back on Medicare, Social Security and other social programs in their old age. Chinese citizens who bet all of their savings on their children's educations have far fewer options if their offspring are unable to find a job on graduation.
The willingness to educate their kids at any personal costs is one of the reasons why China is now leap-frogging the United States in the number of college degrees earned by its young people. However, as the titanic economic growth that was similarly instrumental to the boom is slowing down, more and more experts are wondering if that kind of investment is worthwhile.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that students from rural and poor backgrounds typically end up paying substantially higher tuition rates than their peers from well-to-do families. The cause of this is China's notorious national college entrance exam which has the potential to make or break a child's future. Families with means can afford to hire tutors for kids to help them to higher marks and greater opportunities. Poorer families don't have the same luxury, and therefore their kids must rely exclusively on their own wits.
The reason is that few children from poor families earn top marks on the national exams. So they are shunted to lower-quality schools that receive the smallest government subsidies. The result is that higher education is rapidly losing its role as a social leveler in China and as a safety valve for talented but poor youths to escape poverty. "The people who receive higher education tend to be relatively better off," said Wang Jiping, the director general of the Central Institute for Vocational and Technical Education in China.