On Equal Education

A very close friend of mine has once told me, ” I believe in equal education opportunity for every child.” This blog is dedicated to her and many others who care about education. It only represents my shallow view about this hot topic in recent years. I will focus on higher education here.

Canada

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When I was studying in Canada, many complained about how expensive Canadian education is. On one side, students kept went on protests to prevent tuition from rising; One the other, teaching assistants go on strikes to ask for higher pay and better benefits.
Who’s the devil in the Canadian higher education system? I don’t think I can answer this question. But I can tell you that Canadian universities waste a lot of money just on electricity and water. So many times I walk by classrooms with full lights on and no student in them. And I asked myself, “who are paying for all these?” Neither student nor school staff care about this type of costs, but it becomes the devil in the long run.

I never openly opposed Canadian tuition hike. If you want the quality, you have to invest. Otherwise you will be running a Ponzi scheme, and let’s hope that can last. I do think there are areas Canadian universities can look into, to manage themselves more efficiently and cut operating overheads.

United States

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I jumped out of Canada after I graduated, and realized how awesome the Canadian higher education system is – some of my American colleagues and friends have huge debt out of undergraduate study. American graduates from middle class families usually have to repay $300 to $1000 a month for their educational debts, because they’ve accumulated between $30,000 to $100,000 worth of tuition debts. Rich kids would have none of that. Could you tell me if that’s what “equal education” should bring?

Many Ivey League schools claim “equal access” to students with different types of financial backgrounds. Don’t worry if you need to borrow $200,000 to go to one of these schools while some of your peers take their parents’ private jets to start the term. (Their parents are probably the ones who indirectly provide you the loan.) It probably won’t matter for those schools, because they have a large number of applicants every year regardless of who they take. There are always Chinese top politicians’ or businessman’s sons or daughters in the Ivey League. (Xi’s daughter and Bo’s son…) That market alone is big enough for the schools to sustain themselves.

I have a lot of sympathy for top private schools in the U.S. They have to give out quite a significant amount of money to fund researches, to feed professors, graduate students, and to support poor undergraduate students. However, they receive very limited funding from the U.S. government. (or none!) So who’s gonna fund them? Private foundations, alumni, and other private donors. Those are people who sit in powerful positions or sit on a pile of money. And would you not take their kids if they hand in the application? You have to. Although these schools are viewed as the devil factories for producing bankers who take away Americans’ money, they probably have tried their best to balance their incomes and costs.

China

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A recent article in China titled “Without the evil high school final exam, no graduates without connection would be able to attend top schools in China”. Despite the fact I hate using one exam as an evaluation for individuals to attend school, I completely agree with the message from that news piece. Come to think of it, how would poor kids have the money to hire top teachers to tutor them and help them improve Math/English/Physics skills to get into top universities? They don’t. You might think it’s a fair game, but it’s not, and it will never be. Kids from poor families would not have the same access to resources kids from rich families would have. They do not have an equal opportunity to attend university.

What happen if all the exams are taken away? Very few poor students with no connection will be able to get into those schools. There might be a handful that are used as touchy stories to attract donors, but schools will try to maximize their incomes by picking the rich AND well-educated. There are a lot of them out there anyway.

So there is no equality?!

No, there will never be equality. If you view schools as businesses, then do need to balance their books. Taking rich students are more beneficial to them than taking poor students. If you view education as a process beyond school, there will be even larger gaps between the rich and the poor. A rich kid could have been to more than 50 countries while a poor kid never got his/her passport. If you use the society as the evaluation sheet, rich students are definitely more well-connected to poor students, through their family connections and activity participation.

What could you do?

If you are a middle class students, accept this as a fact, and work on it. You neither want to be idealistic to think you could change all of this at once, or pessimistic to not making an attempt. You could be the lucky one. There are stories of people who made it from scratch. ( those stories are told so many times because they are uncommon…) You could be one of them. Once you are at the top, please make an attempt to help students who are at the position you were on years ago. Recently launched new projects such as Khanacademy and Coursera will help change the landscape a bit. To completely flip the system upside down, there is still a long long way to go.

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