Home schooling adopted by Christians in mainland China

“Since the beginning of the 2000s, a kind of home schooling providing children with Christian education has emerged in the big cities [of China], such as Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou,” writes Xiaoming Sheng (University of Cambridge) in an article published in the British Journal of Religious Education (online in June). The scarcity of research on this topic is not surprising, since practicing home schooling is illegal in Communist Party-ruled China. Sheng’s observations are based on in-depth qualitative research. Some parents had studied in the U.S. or the UK and converted to Christianity during their stay. After returning to China, they became the initial adopters of home schooling due to their strong religious beliefs as well as their disappointment with the Chinese educational system, with its emphasis on performance only and not on the development of the personality of the children—who often had started receiving education abroad and could not adjust to the Chinese system. Home schooling then spread through church networks, at the very time that Chinese parents had started looking for educational diversity.

There is always a correlation of home schooling practice with the parents’ religious beliefs. Transmission of religious values and norms appears to be the key motivation for some, while pedagogic factors are important for other people. Parents feel that home schooling prepares their children best, including for higher education abroad. The article describes different types of motivations and approaches, ranging from highly educated people with a foreign experience who import home schooling material from the U.S., to people who want to teach Christianity to their children or want to maximize their prospects. Before the Communist takeover, Christian schools had played an important role in China, challenging the traditional education system and creating some of the best schools in the country. While there is no direct legacy of this vanished educational system that was suppressed by the Communist authorities, Christian home schoolers mention it as a way to remind people how Christianity goes along with educational excellence. No statistical data can be provided with certainty, due to the clandestine nature of home schooling, but the author estimates that there may currently be some 5,000 children who are home schooled in the country. A majority of the parents are middle class and have a good educational background, and the mother is usually the teacher.

(British Journal of Religious Education, https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cbre20/current)