19 March 2019
Pupils in Beijing pay their respect to Confucius on their first day of school. Photo: Bloomberg
Pupils in Beijing pay their respect to Confucius on their first day of school. Photo: Bloomberg

Splitsville sits on one route to better education

There are few things a mainland parent won’t do for the sake of a child’s education — and that includes divorce. At least one mother has reportedly signed on the dotted line in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, giving up joint benefits like a big flat and a car to make sure her son gets into the right school district.  

Like everywhere else in the country, Nanjing admits students to its primary and secondary schools depending on the child’s hukou — children can only attend schools in the same district as their household registration. 

Once a couple divorces, their child can have their hukou transferred to the district where her mother’s family lives. In the Nanjing couple’s case, the divorce is technically genuine but appears to be an elaborate workaround for the couple’s son to attend a better public school in another part of the city. That’s because the mother still lives with her ex-husband in their flat, as does their son.

China still maintains a sophisticated hierarchy in compulsory education — key schools always get preferential treatment in funding and allocation of other resources, and students from these elite centers stand a higher chance of going to a prestigious university.

Families in less-favoured education catchments can sometimes find a way around the rules to help their child secure a school place in another district.

Divorce is a well-trodden path to this end because municipal authorities allow a child’s hukou to be transferred after their parents split up. In this case, a father may surrender custody of a child as long as there is a good public school in the district where the mother’s family lives.

It was a lot easier less than a decade ago, when all hukou registrations were on paper files and public security bureau officials tolerated some shenanigans in return for some red pocket money. But things got complicated when Nanjing’s hukou system went digital and open to all district governments.

Observers are tipping an increase in divorce in the next two years as children born in the 2008 Olympic baby boom start their schooling.

Couples hoping to avoid separation do have another, albeit expensive, option — they can buy a home near the dream school to qualify for an admission quota. Nanjing media say the average price of a home near some of the city’s best schools now stands at more than 30,000 yuan (US$4,798) per square meter, even though many of these cramped homes there were built in the 1970s and 80s.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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