Education, the key to success

This month, the OECD released the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results. According to this research, Shanghai pupils ranked first in the world in mathematics, sciences, and reading. Western media express criticism over the validity of such a survey since it compares a city, Shanghai, to entire countries.

Of course, it is possible to be critical and negative of this survey, and argue that Shanghai is not China. However, this test does tell us that there has been a significant effort to improve the level of education in China. We can also observe that many Asian city-countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore or even Macau achieved high scores. It seems that urban centres enjoy better educational services than rural regions.

Shanghainese may be able to boast of their performance in this test, but which Shanghainese are we talking about exactly? Locals? Migrants?

In Europe, we see increasing inequality in education among pupils. Children living in suburbs where there are high levels of poverty and unemployment have greater difficulty in completing their studies successfully. Moreover, many of these pupils are migrants’ children. Until now, the government has tried to implement a mainstreaming approach to this issue, and state schools have attempted to reduce these inequalities and offer the same education to every child. This policy cannot be considered a success, since inequalities still exist.

China faces a similar issue with her migrants’ children. Because of the hukou, many migrant children cannot study at the local school and instead must attend special migrant schools.

In a paper published last year, two scholars showed that migrant children, in migrant schools, achieved lower academic results than local pupils in state schools1 . The authors advocated for public schools being more accessible to migrants. It seems that some changes are happening thanks to media exposure (see SCMP article), and more migrant children are being enrolled in public schools.

However, as usual, there is a conflict between policy for the short term and the long term. Yes, it is costly to provide a high degree of education to both locals and migrants. Yet, if these migrant children are not offered this education, what then will be their future? What about Shanghai’s ambitions to become a world class service centre? Can Shanghai afford to exclude the migrant population from a leading education system?

Cite this blog post
Sebastien Goulard (2013, December 30). Education, the key to success. URBACHINA. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from

  1. Chen Y. & Feng S. (2012). Acces to public schools and the education of migrant children in China. IZA Discussion paper No.6853, September 2012. Retreived from []

Sebastien Goulard

Ph.D. in political science (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in social sciences (EHESS, Paris); M.A. in international relations (IRIS, Paris), B.A. (Hons) in international political studies (ESE - Nottingham Trent University)

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2 thoughts on “Education, the key to success

  1. Kam Wing Chan

    This piece in NYT is very relevant to the above topic:

    Shanghai Test Scores and the Mystery of the Missing Children

    China’s restrictions on internal migration serve to drive migrant children out of the city as early as primary school, statistics show, and critics say that skews testing results indicating its education system’s equity and superiority

  2. Kam Wing Chan

    It’s great that you are pointing out other important issues behind the Shanghai PISA halo. I wanted to contribute more to this and have published a piece in Hong Kong’s Ming Pao in Chinese on Jan 3:

    Exactly three years ago, I also had an op-ed in English and I think the arguments still apply to readibg the latest round of Shanghai’s PISA scores, see


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