Center on International Education Benchmarking

Shanghai-China: Education for All

Overview  |  Teacher and Principal Quality  |  Instructional Systems
System and School Organization  |  Education For All  |  School-to-Work Transition

Student Support Systems

Shanghai has turned its attention in recent years to ensuring greater access to education for all students, as well as greater support for struggling students.  By 2020, Shanghai hopes to greatly reduce the student workload so that students are better able to thrive in the school environment, as well as create universal free preschool programs to give students a head start for primary school, or put them on even footing with children who attend private preschools.

The largest group of struggling students in China is children of migrant workers, who have not until recently been entitled to public education in the jurisdictions to which their parents migrate.  Roughly 20% of Chinese students are the children of migrant workers.  Two-thirds of those children live in cities with their parents, but the rest remain in rural villages without their parents. Ensuring educational achievement among this population is one of China’s main concerns.  In 2002, the Chinese government made it a policy that the education of migrant children is the responsibility of the city in which they live.  Shanghai has a large proportion of migrant people living and working in the city, which has contributed to its economic expansion.  Unlike the majority of other cities in China, Shanghai recognizes the importance of making sure that this large minority of students gets a quality education.  Therefore, Shanghai has adopted a policy of integration, allowing migrant children to attend public schools alongside the children of Shanghai citizens.

China’s schools also provide a variety of options to students with special educational needs. These include special schools and/or classes to provide extra help in mainstream classrooms. In 1986, the government mandated that students with special needs must attend school for nine years as do children without special needs. Because some regions do not have the resources to provide special schools or classes for these students, a policy of suiban jiudu has emerged, roughly translating as “China’s inclusion.” Under this policy, regular schools would formulate special classes and teachers would make efforts to serve students with special needs in mainstream classes as well. This policy was initially adopted in the poor, rural areas of China and continues in areas where special needs cannot be formally provided for. However, the policy remains largely informal and rural teachers are not actually trained to provide special needs education to these students. A 2004 report from China’s Ministry of Education indicates that in 1996-97 (the most recent year for which they provided data), 55.7% of students with special needs were educated in mainstream schools. This differs somewhat in Shanghai.  The Shanghai Municipal Education Commission is working to develop formal special education pathways in mainstream and special schools, including the development of separate curricula and teaching materials for students with special needs.  They have also formulated formal certificates of special education teacher training, and exempted special education schools from paying education fees or from paying for textbooks. In 2014, the Shanghai Education Commission announced plans to offer personalized education to children with disabilities who receive medical care. In this program, teachers and doctors work together to design a unique curriculum for each child based on their needs. Schools in this program are also assigned a community doctor who pays regular visits and offers help to the teachers and children who receive hospital check-ups, which are more comprehensive than those usually done in schools. Shanghai has 9,000 registered disabled students with conditions including blindness, deafness, autism, learning difficulties and Down’s syndrome.

Low-Performing Schools

The Chinese have a long tradition of “Key Schools,” or schools that receive greater resources than other schools, and are more selective. Because this system creates educational inequality, in the past few decades it has been on the decline. In the mid-1990s, Shanghai eliminated Key Schools by requiring students to attend their local school at the primary and lower secondary level, rather than compete for limited spots at local Key Schools. In response to parent concerns, this policy was modified somewhat by allowing students to attend schools in other neighborhoods if they were willing to pay a sponsorship fee. A new emphasis on neighborhood attendance has also had an impact on instruction; teachers were used to having fairly homogenous classrooms in regard to ability prior to this policy. Now teachers must undertake the more difficult task of teaching heterogeneous classrooms, and have stepped up to the challenge in most cases. Finally, neighborhood attendance has obviated the need for post-primary school exams, so students may spend more time learning and less time cramming in the early years of their education.

Shanghai has also been a leader in addressing the needs of low-performing schools. Several rounds of school renovations and restructurings have occurred since the 1980s; in addition to pouring in capital to fix buildings and purchase resources, the government has also sought to strengthen teaching staff and appoint competent principals and has eliminated tuition and supply fees for all students. Further efforts have included practicing positive discrimination in determining funding, transferring successful teachers to low-performing schools, and performing several rounds of renovations and school closings in order to bring all school physical resources up to an acceptable level. Finally, the Shanghai government has encouraged schools to take care of and learn from one another by establishing clusters of schools with different performance levels; creating pairs of urban and rural schools; requiring “good” schools to take over the administration of “weak” schools; and sending in hand-picked leaders and teachers to transfer “good” management practices.


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