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In China, Betting It All on a Child in College (nytimes.com)
92 points by awk 1347 days ago | hide | past | web | 67 comments | favorite

Very common here in India too. At least when I was studying it was all about, "Get your kid to do Engineering/Medicine and then every thing will take care of itself".

There is a big reason for this. Uneducated people get played for easily and there is that huge disadvantage in non-knowledge driven based jobs. Take for example the job of a cab/bus driver. Or some body like mason, the problem the money you earn is directly related to number or hours/quantity of work you get delivered. And since quantity is largely related to a physical activity in this case. It means you will do a lot of physical labor to earn more money. This is not scalable and becomes blatantly clear to a lot of people involved in this. Add to this that these kinds of jobs don't get much social respect.

My dad was a bus driver. And I know what it was for me as a kid. It was always to study my ass off or be doomed. And yes all other standard social problems apply. You are always considered poor and assumed to remain such till eternity. No one likes knowing that he being a educated white collar knowledge worker, his kids and the kids of a bus driver ultimately get the same destiny. I even had problems getting married. Coming from a low financial background creates big problems. People find it hard to accept if you win, and pass sympathies if you don't.

So the only way remains: Study and fight your way out of the situation.

My teenage through early 20's was the most stressful phase of my life. Because failure was not an option. No money to do business, So if I fail it will going back to same life.

I'm not saying life is rosy as a programmer. It has its own problems both financial and in other aspects of life. But yet its far better than what I saw in early parts of my life(Nothing I will tell you, can explain you what it feels to be in that place- I only hope no other kid goes through that). I don't feel sad that I can't buy an iPhone. But rather its satisfying to know I don't have break my back just to eat, wear clothes and live under a roof.

Its still same here in India for a large number of people. Education and a white collar job doesn't fix all problems. But it does fix enough problems in your life to make it livable.

I can relate to this. I was the eldest of six children and my father worked in an Aluminium fabrication factory. Things were pretty hard and early on, I realized that the only way to change things was to study hard, get to a good college and earn a degree.

Although I was a really good student at school, when I finished school, I was told by my extended family that it was the end of education for me and that I should go find a job (Masonry, construction, etc.)

I had to work hard to convince everybody that I would do well at college and they should bet on me.

Looking back, my family did make a risky bet on me as the amount of money they spent on my college education was way above what they could afford and they had to borrow a lot.

I worked my socks off at college and have been able to change a lot of things in my extended family.

>> Nothing I will tell you, can explain you what it feels to be in that place- I only hope no other kid goes through that ..

I can understand what you're trying to say, the problems, issues and challenges are on so many levels and there are so many layers that unless you experience it yourself there is no way you can put words to it ...

- first of all, parents are uneducated and to motivate them to educate their kids is the biggest challenge of all ...

- then double it with lack of resources (this includes time, money, energy, good schools, good teachers etc.)

- triple this with no free schooling in india, not even primary , there may be few government schools which are like good for nothing (although there might be an exception like one in million)

- then there is peer pressure for parents whose kids are not earning but spending time in school.

- then there is huge corruption and bureaucracy

- then there are other family responsibilities like getting your sister married (when u dont even have money for your kids school fees or even worst when you cant provide proper food, clothing and shelter) OR taking care of your elderly parents when you cant afford medicines OR someone died in the family and you have to burden the burial cost etc etc etc..

And the list goes on and on.....

SO I SALUTE to all those parents who won uphill battle by going against the tide and made sure that their kids are well educated ...

One of the very interesting aspects of Indian culture is that there is (or used to be) a very high social respect for a "well-educated" person. So if you have a PhD, then even if you don't make a ton of money, you get the same social status as a wealthy businessman. I don't know why this is so, but it has led to nearly everyone desiring their children to have a better education than they did and escape from the grips of poverty.

There is a paragraph in Richard Feynman's "What do you care what other people think?" where a carribean cab driver asks Feynman how is it that his Indian neighbor (presumably of the same economic standing) has a son studying medicine at Maryland? Which is when Feynman explains this hypothesis.

There are still parts of India where there is tremendous social respect for "well educated" people. This can be easily seen if you observe Matrimonial ads. It would be clearly mentioned that people are looking for someone with college degrees, post graduate degrees etc.

On a tangential, I have always found matrimonial ads a very interesting mirror on the Indian society. The way these ads show people's ambitions and fears is amazing.

I think China has an advantage here. While most Chinese have only one (or maximum two) children to support, the average number of children is higher in India. It chinese parents can afford to spend more money per child on education and I think on the long term this will result in a higher education for the average person.

That's a good point, but I think that present advantage will turn against China later on when all those only children find themselves having to support two elderly parents, a situation permeating the society on a massive scale.

As they say, China's the first country to "get old before it got rich".

Yes it is. It felt home reading the chinese family's whole story. It's common teachers and lecturers here do tell, that studying and getting a Job is everything for the amount of money paid.

"Youths from poor and rural families consistently end up paying much higher tuition in China than children from affluent and urban families. Yet they attend considerably worse institutions, education finance specialists say...The reason is that few children from poor families earn top marks on the national exams. So they are shunted to lower-quality schools that receive the smallest government subsidies. The result is that higher education is rapidly losing its role as a social leveler in China and as a safety valve for talented but poor youths to escape poverty."

So that's certainly true in America, and perhaps even more so in China. I think platforms like Coursera/Udacity can start leveling the playing field again for two reasons: first, if the technology is good enough (from personal experience, I would say so) and remains free, the studying-resources gap between rich and poor shrinks; second, even if you can't squeeze your way into a top school, you can still get a top-notch education for free. At the end of the day, i'm grossly oversimplifying things (i.e. the weight of credentials in Chinese society probably still far outweight actual demonstrated skill-set; or consider for a moment whether a family that lives on rice and a few vegetables a day can realistically afford a computer+internet-connection for their kids...), but i still think there's a sizable impact in here somewhere.

I can't believe the article didn't mention hukou (like an intra-country passport) discrimination at all. The problem is much worse than they make it out to be: not only do you suffer from poorer schools and more tuition than your urban counterparts, the score you need to get on the test to get into a good urban university is actually HIGHER than what the urban kids need.

Having rural hukou is a b*tch.

They did mention that urban kids don't have to score as much to get into urban schools. They didn't explain the mechanism by which is this is enforced.

Ah, I missed that. I think the article should have made a bigger deal about how Hukou prevents rural folk from truly becoming urban folk.

> or consider for a moment whether a family that lives on rice and a few vegetables a day can realistically afford a computer+internet-connection for their kids...

Only the absolute poorest Chinese won't be able to get internet access and a computer. The computer might cost ~1000 RMB (2 month's salary, for an extremely poor household). Maybe less, if they can put up with an old P4 getting tossed out by an internet cafe, which is now the color of a smoker's lungs. Internet will be ~50 to 100 RMB a month, and that's entertainment (and information) for the whole family. Getting access to online courses (which might rely on YouTube, which is blocked) might be tricky, as is the language barrier, but I'm sure China will have localised versions of the course. It's a major cost, but Chinese aren't starving, just poor. Once you have more than $2 a day, food isn't the only priority; healthcare and education is.

Migrant workers might be worse off than the poorest peasants, though, as they may not have a stable abode. You can't get your kid a computer if you're sharing a shanty-town room with 2 other families. Plus, getting a connection might not be possible. That's probably why migrant workers often leave their kids with grandma.

And yes, credentialism is an issue.

We are talking about mountain people in Guizhou or Jiangxi though. These people are likely to still be fairly rustic and traditional, they aren't worried about Internet so much.

> That's probably why migrant workers often leave their kids with grandma.

Not really the main reason. Without Hukou, their kids can't even attend school. China is almost a caste-based society these days, where caste is determined by your Hukou.

> language barrier [for online courses]

Well, not really, there is a huge part of online courses translated/subtitled to Chinese. That's my wife's job actually.

On behalf of all non-native speakers from all over the World, who are trying their best to catch up with this whirlwind of booms-bust cycles, forced obsolescence, eroding of ways of life, and many other hardships that I cannot remember right away, just to try to make a [better] life [if not for themselves] for their loved ones, I would like to thank people like your wife for helping them in whatever manner possible.

Well, they (the Chinese) already crowd sourcing their own subtitles for entertainment shows like Big Bang Theory. I don't see why that wouldn't happen in the courseware space as well, it is one of those things in China that is truly a creative commons.

Many of these subtitles were poorly translated/mistranslated.

That is true for India too. If one does not make top ranks to get into IITs, NITs or any other government subsidized college, they are forced to attend lower tier private institutions (Yeah, in India private colleges are at lower end) which cost at least 5-10x more than IITs.

government run colleges better and cheaper than private run money-machines? That is a system working as expected.

They are definetly cheaper due to govt. subsidy, but apart from IIT's and a few NIT's they aren't much different from private counterparts.

Remember that in India universities are not judged by the quality of their research, but solely on the "success" of their alumni. Since govt. colleges are cheaper, even though they might not be good, they do attract smart students. One thing that the Indian govt. did do right was to have a highly meritocratic system of admission, although that has recently suffered many setbacks

Here in rural China (on and off ~11 years), honestly the most educated and worldly person I spoke to in the last week or so was an exotic dancer from another province who had picked up some foreign language and was evidently far more intelligent and motivated than the majority of downtrodden graduates. She said she didn't finish high school. I thought to myself: "that's probably causation not just correlation".

> was an exotic dancer from another province

Do you mean rural china or a second/third tier city? I'm not sure what an exotic dancer would be doing in a village.

I was at a small Sichuan mountain village wedding a few weeks back. Several "exotic" dancers and the village drag queen and a magician. All locals. Great performances. The most fun I've had at a Chinese weeding ;)

Was it a Han or Zang area? Sounds very interesting.

For the record 4th tier town (县). That's how I roll. ;)

Here in rural China (on and off ~11 years), honestly the most educated and worldly person I spoke to in the last week or so was an exotic dancer

Playboy has articles, eh? :)

Obviously they are two kinds of educations /smarts: street and book smart. I have a feeling (could be wrong) that people in those parts of the world, maybe due to pressure, just lock themselves in a room and study /memorize, "day and night."

I can confirm this from my experience in China (~9 years), but would be a little more positive on the outcome for the graduates. It is still relatively easy to find a job and turn-over is high. In the companies where I have worked, in the university I have attended, I have seen some of these employees coming from very poor families: most are hard-working and clever, and usually can make their way into the higher strates of society (up to a level).

I've never understood that notion of social stratification applied to modern socities. What kind of classes are we talking about? Isn't it just a plain linear function of your income?

Why, no, certainly not. A scholar or a writer or an artist might be able to kiss a queen on the cheeks while having very low income.

The queen is just a humorous tradition in any modern civilized country. Your argument is quite stupid.

Humorous, but very real in some. Since the queen is at the zenith of social standing, his statement is quite correct

This is the current human mentality: no lower boundary for sanity. Any nonsense may be considered correct if it has support from stereotypes or prejudices.

To me using income as social scale is insane. It would give a very high position to cartel bosses, and these guys should be on the bottom.

If you'd need a social scale for some l practical reason, I suppose the only workable one is education level. it ids not fair to everyone but I think it is the last horrible.

When we humans see things clustered together in a multidimensional configuration space we often try to draw borders between the clusters and give them names.

To use a computer analogy, we divide laptops into clusters like 'netbook', 'budget laptop', 'desktop replacement', 'ultrabook', 'gaming laptop' and so on - based on their position in the screen size-performance-cost-weight configuration space.

These aren't clear-cut lines, there are border cases and people's opinions vary - but we can still tell an Eee PC from a Alienware from a Macbook Pro!

I would be interested to see some analysis as far as what these students are studying, not just in this article, but in all articles that attempt to account for career placement of college students in any way. Studying electrical engineering will provide a completely different likelihood of graduate employment than will studying humanities.

In this particular article these statistics I assume, would move the needle. I hope it's not considered "racist" of me to say so, but from my experience living in China and cross-studying in the humanities and computer science, Chinese students tend to study the hard sciences (engineering, science, accounting), whereas I never even saw a Chinese student in any of my humanities classes.

They point out in the article that these courses tend to be more like community college courses - in practical topics like logistics. You're looking at this from the Western point of view, where students are encourages to take absolutely any topic, just so long as they get a BA.

As did the article. There were a lot of stats about grad rates, but nothing specific to Chinese immigrants/students.

well, for a lot of Chinese students, they tend to study the courses that may help them get a job. These engineering courses are much more helpful than humanities course.

When I click this link to read, the page turns out to be not avaliable…… I should get access to it by ssh, I suddenly remind that I am just a junior studying in China.

What will happen when countries will start producing tons of graduates but not enough white collar jobs? I fear it will create very unhealthy dynamics in the society.

The linked article mentions how that's already happening in China ("young college graduates in China are four times as likely to be unemployed as young people who attended only elementary school, because factory jobs are more plentiful than office jobs"), and this earlier article goes into more detail: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/25/business/as-graduates-rise...

Rumours tell what's what happened in Cambodia before Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge.

Too many liberal arts & french classical literature graduates, no viable agriculture to feed the country without external help, help being cut.

I've never heard this before. I think that pre Khmer Rouge Cambodia had a tiny graduate population <1% and had no issue of agricultural production apart from the intrinsic vulnerability of subsistence farming to crop failure and famine. The disaster of year 0 was not the result of either external aid or poor education, rather it was a political decision supported by regional powers for geo-political ends.

http://arkhip.livejournal.com/341078.html This is where I took this from (You can use some translation service) And it states that most of Pol Pot's cabinet were graduates of universities, more than half of them Sorbonne.

And then it tells about previous ruler investing in education heavily without then caring about employment of graduates, all this on top of population surge.

I wonder how effective either MOOCs or peer to peer (Chinese person chatting online with a native English speaker) could be for language skills.

They describe a sub-project examining the DNA of people with IQ > 160? On the basis of 'one fact can slay a theory', I would suggest that the example of Richard Feynman (IQ at 124) indicates that this study may garner a rather small return on investment. Of course it depends on exactly what they are looking for.

According to wikipedia that figure for Feynman seems to be based on 1 IQ test he did in high school.

I'm assuming IQ testing practises have improved since then, it is also possible that his IQ raised significantly as he got older due to extensive study as it is also possible that his IQ test was simply poorly administered for whatever reason.

>>t is also possible that his IQ raised significantly as he got older due to extensive study as it is also possible that his IQ test was simply poorly administered for whatever reason.

Which is why an IQ is useless. If it can rise then it is not really measuring intelligence. Rather it is measuring what you know so far. Which explains why kids from better income families have better IQs.

And yet people treat IQ as a constant. Glad I decided never to let a single number define me. To all you that believe the IQ is important I say ...

I'm not an IQ expert by any stretch but I doubt that it fluctuates that much (in the population in general). Based on the limited reading I have done your IQ will tend to rise as you get older, however in general people will stay in roughly the same position relative to others.

Whilst you can probably influence your IQ by working your brain really hard every day or lower it by doing a lot of drugs I doubt it is really that meaningless as it does tend to correlate well with success.

However I'd be curious to know how it correlates with lifetime income once you control for family income. I assume this has been researched.

Since we are making anecdotal observations I'll posit that you could significantly increase your IQ if you focused on it. Just like if you wanted to play an instrument. You can increase your playing ability by focusing on it, or more specifically, by practicing. That is how I see IQ, as something that you can get better at by practicing, nothing more, nothing less.

Really recommend watching The Last Train Home. It's a documentary about a family that works in Guangzhou in order to pay for their children's education in their rural village. Deals with many of these same issues. And is a haunting and fantastic documentary. Also it's available on netflix

For those who cannot access netflix: http://documentarylovers.net/last-train-home/

Am I the only who feels like the parents mostly only care about themselves than their daughter? It sounded like that to me.

In traditional Chinese society each generation cares for the one before it. This assumes many forms - from mere social expectation to actual tithes of your income to your parents.

There is some incentive to maximize a child's success in order to ensure your own retirement - after all, if they can't make ends meet, you're even worse off.

This may seem strange by western standards, but I'd caution against extrapolating this to mean that the parents don't care for their child. The parent-child relationship in Chinese society is different than it is modern American society, but parents universally care deeply about the well-being of their children.

A big caveat to all of the above is that modern, urban Chinese society is very rapidly shedding this model. There remains a sticky issue of there being a massive "lost generation" who suffered financially caring for their own parents, but due to shifting societal mores, cannot expect the same from their own children.

> This may seem strange by western standards, but I'd caution against extrapolating this to mean that the parents don't care for their child.

It shouldn't be strange by Western standards. It was the way it was in the US before WWII or so. It also works very well because it frees up what might otherwise go into retirement savings, and this gets spent on helping the kids get established instead.

I am not in China, but my wife is Chinese-Indonesian and her mother is starting to get closer to retirement, and that system, while it has transformed in urban environments like Jakarta, is still very much alive at least among the Chinese diaspora here.

> In traditional Chinese society each generation cares for the one before it.

That goes for almost every society! Pensions a typically paid out from the earnings of the current generation to the previous one, it's quite rare to have pension funds hold on to 'your' money long enough that it gets paid back out to you. Instead they pay it out immediately and when it is your turn you get it from someone that earned that money the month before.

If only pension funds would be required to be able to pay out at a minimum what you put in then the world would be in lots better shape.

Despite the very strong Chinese cultural meme that encourages care of the parents, such care usually does little to continue one's genes. In contrast expending that same effort aiding the child usually increases the likely continuation of one's genes.

China will have a serious problem with their largely-unsupported elderly.

Alright, that helps me look at it from a different perspective. Thanks.

Right now, after the sanctions, in Iran a software engineer earns 500$ a month (It is a good salary right now in Iran). So seems china is not bad at all comparing to Iran.

You can't really compare salary without taking into account the cost of living there

It is amazing how many people do not understand this.

Believe me, I live in Iran and I understand this. First, cost of living in Iran is now really a pain in the ass. Prices in Iran are now raising with the speed of light but salaries in Iran are decreasing. I know people who can not afford their food in Iran. I understood the article and I completely understand people in china. I just saw that in the article, and it was just amazing for myself to compare economy in China with Iran. In Iran parents also work so hard to provide their children's cost of education. A term in a college in Iran costs about 400$ and a normal salary here is about 250$ a month. When you are living in a country with the one of the worst economies in the world, these things in an article gather your attention.

This seems a little off-topic for HN.

Not really. There's an education bubble: too many applicants; not enough resources. Coursera/Udacity...etc may change that significantly over time. This may significantly impact the very people this article talks about. I think it's good for HN to perceive from time to time the tangential impact of technology on everyday life.

HN do not have a topic.

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