Chinese Kids and American Private High Schools

March 29, 2012

Thumbs up for a great article in The Atlantic by Helen Gao entitled “How China’s New Love Affair With U.S. Private Schools Is Changing Them Both.” An excellent read that comes at the subject from the point of view of the schools, parents and students. The numbers themselves are eye-catching:

In the past few years, Chinese students have been flocking to American colleges, anticipating a better education, greater opportunities, and prestige. Last year, 157,588 Chinese nationals studied in U.S. colleges, a 23% increase from the year before.

[ . . . ]

According to the U.S. Department Homeland Security, only 65 Chinese students studied at American private high schools in the 2005-06 academic year. By 2010-11, the number had grown by a factor of 100 to 6,725 students.

[. . . ]

The Association of Boarding Schools, an organization with roughly 300 member schools, has partnered with a Chinese education consulting agency to organize large school fairs in Beijing and Shanghai. In six years, boarding schools like Deerfield and The Hotchkiss School in Connecticut reported a ten-fold increase in the number of Chinese applications. Each received less than 20 applicants in the 2005-2006 academic year and more than 200 in 2011-2012. If they were all accepted, the schools would be one third Chinese.

What’s even more interesting of course is what this all means to China. I was particularly impressed by the way Gao characterizes this trend, which involves sending young Chinese kids away for their studies, with the expectation that they will be back someday to participate in the Chinese economy. This is a really great line:

[T]hey seem driven by a combination of faith in China’s future and distrust of its present[.]

That sums this up very nicely.

I do worry, though, about what all this says about the continuing stratification of Chinese society. Sending the best and brightest away to school may be good for these kids, but are we looking at the seeds of a future ruling class whose life experience is totally at odds with the average Chinese citizen? Perhaps we’re already there.