Parents are stressed. Schools are closed and no one knows when important end-of-year exams will take place.
Adding to the unsettled mood: late last month several provincial governments announced a change to the system that allocates places to high schools so that the children of medics fighting the coronavirus will be awarded extra points.
In Hubei, they were instantly granted an additional 10 points. The children of doctors from Shanxi who have been deployed to Hubei, will get even more – 30 points.
There is a logic to the decision. Doctors and nurses have worked tirelessly to contain the Covid-19 outbreak. Many have been infected themselves and at least 20 have died through the course of their work.
They have also stayed away from home for fear of infecting loved ones. Other relatives have been left to help their children keep up with their school work.
“The front-line medical personnel risking their lives in the rescue are a disadvantaged group in this special period. It is therefore in line with the principle of fairness to implement an appropriate preferential policy for them,” wrote Zhou Hongyu, vice president of the Chinese Education Society, in the Legal Daily.
But not everyone agrees.
Every extra point on the high school entrance exam (the zhongkao) puts a candidate ahead of thousands of other children. Ten extra points out of a maximum of 750 may not sound like a lot but, in reality, every little helps.
The new policies also promise to get the children of medics into better kindergartens – another major perk because the best kindergartens tend to feed the better schools, which boosts the chances of a child getting into a good university.
Ethnic minorities, children of police killed on duty and the offspring of so-called national martyrs already get extra points in high school and university entrance exams.
But any attempt to change the system always causes unrest because you are favouring some and disadvantaging others – even if those changes are well intended.
“Why reward the children, not the parents?” asked one of the hundreds of million weibo users to view online discussion about the topic.
“What about medical workers who don’t have children? Do they get nothing for risking their lives,” asked another.
Of course the fact that the provincial governments have decided to incentivise medical staff in this way speaks to the importance that families in China place on education.
It also helps explain the intensity of the reaction to the decision. In fact in recent years the government has been trying to reduce the role of bonus points as part of a move to make the system fairer.
One expert told the Legal Daily that provincial governments should have offered extra help with childcare to the medical workers, or paid for extra study for their children, instead of handing out additional points.
“Inequity in education can arise due to hasty policy introduction,” he warned.
Netizens also questioned why it was only the children of medics who have been singled out for special treatment. “What about children who lose their parents to the virus, or the children of the sanitation workers and community volunteers that are doing prevention work?” asked another irritated contributor.
“Children need to know they get ahead by their own hard work, not by small privileges accrued by their parents,” argued another.
It is not clear how many children will be affected by the new policies but according to the Wuhan Health Commission there are 40,000 doctors permanently based in the city and 55,000 nurses.
Not all will have been involved in treating the virus. Thousands of medics from other parts of the country have also been on the frontline, many of whom were shipped to Hubei to work in temporary hospitals there – in many cases voluntarily.
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