An incomplete life at home or on the road
Children who follow their migrant parents to cities have little chance of getting a complete education but their lives back home under the care of their grandparents could be far worse.
The plight of rural children - many of whom have parents working in cities - is the focus of this year's Children's Day, which China observes today.
Many mainland newspapers yesterday marked the occasion by carrying a Xinhua report of a trip Premier Wen Jiabao made to a boarding school in Xiangxi prefecture in Hunan province last week.
Wen called for better care and nutrition for children left in the countryside by their migrant parents. 'We should be grateful to migrant workers and help them take care of their children,' Wen said. 'It is not just a problem for a village, but of all of society.'
He called for more rural schools to be built so children would not have to travel so far.
A survey by eight non-governmental organisations last month covering eight major cities found that nearly half of 396 pupils had no access to science lessons and many received only 45 per cent to 75 per cent of the required class hours for music, physical education and fine arts due to a shortage of qualified teachers.
Yue Yihua, from the Beijing-based NGO New Citizen Programme, which helped organise the survey, said the results pointed to a widening gap in the quantity and quality of schooling between children from migrant families and urban pupils.
'Our survey of many schools for migrant children found that it's very common for non-teaching staff and even drivers to teach music and physical education subjects part-time at schools for migrant children. But they lack the proper teaching resources.'
The number of children from migrant families had risen from 14 million in 2005 to 36 million by the end of 2010, while the number of children who could not follow their parents to cities stood at more than 29 million, the official China Migrant Population Development Report for 2011 states.
Seventy per cent of the city-bound children made the move before they had reached school age and more than half said they enjoyed living in an urban environment. But more than a quarter could not attend a public school in their new homes as they were not registered as local residents.
For migrant workers who decide not to bring their children to cities, the so-called 'left behind' children face an array of problems ranging from malnutrition, safety hazards and long journeys to schools.
The plight of such students was underscored recently when six pupils drowned in separate accidents in Guangxi and Hunan provinces on May 20.
Rural pupils can face long and hazardous trips to school by bus or on foot. Their schools are often few and far between as many have shut down in recent years as more families move to the cities.
Chu Zhaohui, a professor at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said boarding schools were a viable solution to address the hardships facing left-behind students, but government funding was essential to ensure such facilities had adequate dormitories and dining halls.
But Yue, from the New Citizen Programme, questioned the wisdom of splitting up migrant families, saying children had a right to be with their parents who had moved to the city for work, and keeping the family together was in their best interest.
However, in cities like Beijing migrant parents still face much red tape getting their children into schools.
'It's both unjustified and too much to ask for migrant parents, particularly those with menial jobs, to come up with five permits just to enrol their children in a public school designated for migrant children.'