District in Fujian waives high school tuition fees
A district in Zhangzhou, Fujian province, has announced it will offer free high school education beginning next month.
The Changtai district government said in a notice that it will waive the annual 1,200 yuan ($164) tuition fee for high school students in the district.
The move means that 12 years of free education — three more than the nine-year free compulsory education adopted nationwide — will be provided to every student in the district.
Changtai is not the only place in China to offer this benefit. Shaanxi province and the Xinjiang Uygur, Tibet and Inner Mongolia autonomous regions have also implemented similar plans.
Free high school education has also been offered to students in more affluent cities, such as Zhuhai, Guangdong province, and Nanjing, Jiangsu province. Changtai's announcement is the latest example of how affluent places are capable of offering more benefits to their residents.
However, the Ministry of Education has stressed on several occasions that free education can only be offered to students nationwide from primary to junior high school.
In a response to a proposal made by a political adviser in 2020, the ministry said the country did not have the ability to make high schools part of the nation's compulsory education policy.
It said China only introduced its nine-year policy in 2011, and improving upon it remains a challenge. Moreover, the foundation of compulsory education is still weak in some of the nation's underdeveloped regions, which need more input.
Some experts have also questioned the feasibility of offering free high school education for all regions.
Xiong Bingqi, director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said in order to realize free high school education, more investment is needed. He also mentioned other challenges with such a plan, including determining whether it would have a negative impact in areas such as the cultivation of teachers and the quality of education.
He said that what is more pressing than offering free high school education is to make preschool education, which costs several times more than high school, more affordable.
The exemption of high school fees has also been used to encourage more births. In January, Weifang in Shandong province decided to waive high school tuition fees for the third child born to families after May 31, 2021.
Chen Zhiwen, editor-in-chief of online education portal EOL, said that while the practice is a good one for the local governments, it needs to focus more on preschool education to encourage births.