Education Across Hong Kong/China Border so Bad Parents Need Mental Health Treatment

Chinese police arrest 46 after violent protest over schooling
CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/Getty Images

The South China Morning Post reported on Thursday that parents in Shenzhen, the Chinese technology hub bordering on Hong Kong, are seeking treatment for depression and anxiety because they feel the city lacks adequate educational resources for their children at a time when China’s big tech companies are planning to ramp up hiring and transform Shenzhen into a “model city.”

The shortage of schools in Shenzhen is so severe that less than half of the city’s children are admitted to public secondary schools. Only 35,000 applicants out of almost 80,000 children were accepted last year. Some of the parents checking in with psychiatrists to deal with crippling anxiety over their children are teachers themselves.

One such teacher told the SCMP she spent the equivalent of a hundred American dollars per hour on tutoring for her daughter, but her chances of getting into secondary school (essentially high school) are still 50-50 at best. Parents are pushing their children to join after-school programs and attend summer school to bring their grades up and improve their chances of gaining admission to secondary school.

Private schools are enormously expensive, China has some finicky rules about sending kids to other cities for an education, and the central government is trying to keep Chinese children from enrolling in international academies or schools established for the children of foreign residents.

Shenzhen has less than half as many schools as Chinese cities of comparable size, in part because the city grew so rapidly over the past few decades, swelling from a fishing village into a teeming hi-tech metropolis. The city grew so fast that officials claim there is not enough suitable real estate to build the huge new secondary schools that are needed. Real estate near the existing schools is becoming extremely expensive as parents fight to live near them to obtain preferred enrollment. 

“Half of the mothers of my boy’s classmates quit their jobs and became full time moms to help their children study and score well. I also felt sharp chest pains after hearing that someone bought a house in a school district. It made me feel guilty about [not providing for] my child,” one anguished mother told the SCMP.

Shenzhen’s already unmanageable growth could become much worse if the central Chinese government forges ahead with plans to make it a “socialist demonstration area” for China and present it as a model city for the entire world. Some observers took this as an attempt to replace unruly Hong Kong, or at least make it less important. Others speculated Hong Kong’s political unrest will thwart China’s plans for Shenzhen by destabilizing the region.

Part of this plan involves regulatory reform that would give Shenzhen some of the trade and financial advantages that make Hong Kong appealing to foreign businessmen. Shenzhen has long been part of a “special economic zone,” but Beijing is loosening the rules further, this week announcing new rules that will make currency exchanges much faster and easier.

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