CHINA - When the time came for Shen Jiaqi to start schooling three years ago, her parents bought an expensive apartment just to get the five-year-old a spot in a nearby elite primary school.
"If it were not for Jiaqi to have a good future, I wouldn't have bought a house here," said housewife Han Yumeng, 31, who bought the 3.5 million yuan (S$719,000) home in Beijing's Haidian district at twice the price of their previous home.
Like her, Chinese parents pay top dollar for homes, beg for favours or blow a few months' wages on informal "school selection" fees to better their child's chances of entering a top primary school.
While competition for places in branded schools also exists in countries like Singapore, it is more intense in China, which has a system of elite public schools called key schools (zhongdian xuexiao) that hog the best resources.
But key primary and junior high schools may be on their way out if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) carries out a pledge made at a top policy meeting earlier this month.
There have been attempts for years to do away with key schools but the Third Plenum of the party's central committee marks a deeper assault on them.
Among the plans approved at the plenum held from Nov 9 to 12 are steps to boost equality in education, reduce the stress of students and promote holistic development. In particular, the CCP has pledged to level the playing field by rotating principals and teachers from better schools to weaker ones.
Key schools were promoted in the 1970s and 80s to help China groom a pool of special talent to help with its modernisation and economic development.