Migrants' children learn of education inequality

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 March, 2012, 12:00am


Zhang Shufu, a migrant worker from Gushi county, Henan, considers himself lucky that he did not have to send his children back to his hometown after their school in Beijing closed in 2010.

Zhang, 41, a father of three, was able to enrol his children - aged nine, 11 and 13 - at a public school in Beijing's Tongzhou district shortly after the Taoyuan School for migrant children closed. However, Zhang may still end up sending his children back to Henan after they complete primary school, as his family lacks the money to reserve a coveted spot at a public high school in Beijing.

As is the case with most migrant families, his children will probably need to return to where they have residency, in Henan, to attend senior high school and take the national college entrance exam, known as the gaokao. This means breaking up the family.

'If I want my children to stay with me in Beijing, I have to let them drop out, and they would end up being migrant workers like me,' said Zhang, who moved to Beijing nearly seven years ago. Even though they have lived in a major metropolis for years, migrant children such as Zhang's are still denied access to some educational opportunities because they do not have local household residency, known as hukou.

Inequality - in the form of very limited access to public schools for children from migrant families, and the large urban-to-rural gap in terms of access to quality teaching - continues to plague the mainland.

This is largely because of policy failures that include Beijing's inability to make 4 per cent of national gross domestic product available for school spending - a target it set more than 10 years ago.

Because of the urban-rural divide that has resulted from the controversial hukou system, about 58 million 'left-behind' children in rural areas are disadvantaged in terms of access to quality schooling, basic nutrition and separation from their parents who work in cities.

And children lucky enough to follow their parents to urban areas often face futures as uncertain as those of Zhang's children.

The Taoyuan School in Beijing's Chaoyang district was among dozens of schools for migrant children that were demolished in 2010 as part of local government efforts to enable property development.

Wang Hai , the school's principal, said more than 80 per cent of the roughly 500 pupils at the time of its closure were sent back to their hometowns by their parents or relocated to other schools for migrant children.

Only 10 to 20 of them were lucky enough to join other public schools.

Academics who spoke at a conference attended by migrant school principals last month say there are 160 remaining schools for migrant pupils in Beijing. That is despite several crackdowns on such schools, with the authorities usually citing safety concerns. The remaining schools cater to about 100,000 pupils.

Some critics, however, say that the closure of such schools is simply a tactic that the authorities use to expel 'low-quality' migrants from major metropolitan areas.

And as a freeze on operating licences for schools has been in effect since 2005, school operators would still be unable to get a licence even if their schools were subject to stringent safety and hygiene inspections by regulators.

'But [regulators] ... don't want to face the reality that there is a niche they've so far failed to fill, while we have been good at filling it,' said Cui Kezhong , principal of a school in Beijing that was demolished in 2010.