Migrant families in Beijing forced to educate their children at unlicensed schools

Beijing's migrant families must pay for their children to attend unlicensed private schools as they can't get approval to attend free public schools

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 March, 2013, 4:30am

Wang Hui and his wife have lived in Beijing for more than a decade, but they, like many other migrant parents in the capital, remain dismayed that the local government does not adequately address the educational needs of migrant children such as his son.

Wang Lele is an 11-year-old, second-year pupil at the Xiangyang Primary School - a private school for children of migrant families in Beijing's Daxing district.

His father would like to send the boy to a public school, but his family has been unable to obtain the necessary documents for enrolment.

As a result, Lele is left with little choice but to attend Xiangyang , at a cost of 2,200 yuan (HK$2,700) a year, to receive an education that would otherwise be free if the local government allowed him to attend a public school, or if his parents left him behind to attend school in his hometown in Henan .

"I know this school is by no means desirable, and on top of that we have to pay for it, but at least I have a place for my son to receive schooling here," said Wang Hui, who works as a truck driver; the boy's mother is a housewife.

The couple's inability to enrol their son in a public school is a complaint shared by countless migrant families in Beijing. Adding to their confusion and frustration is that the central government has said local governments are responsible for providing adequate schooling to children from migrant families - meaning the Beijing government is failing to comply.

As tens of millions of rural families seek jobs and new lives in cities, in an unprecedented urbanisation drive on the mainland, they are often torn between whether to bring their children along and incur the added expense of schooling, or leave the children behind without proper parental care.

I know this school is by no means desirable, and on top of that we have to pay for it, but at least I have a place for my son to receive schooling here

Wang Hui could not afford to bring both of his children, so he left his 12-year-old daughter behind with his ageing parents.

Founded four years ago, the Xiangyang school has an enrolment of about 700 pupils from migrant families. The school's principal, Luo Chao , said the school receives no financial support from the local government because they have not been able to obtain an operating licence from local authorities. In 2006, a freeze was placed on the issuance of licences for schools that cater to migrant children, but the schools are still allowed to exist and are even subject to safety and hygiene inspections.

Already struggling to keep the school open with a lack of public funding, Luo said he must charge pupils very low tuition rates because most of their parents are low-income migrant workers. He said the school charges students just 130 yuan a month for lunches, even as inflation pushes food prices higher.

"We know we might not be able to meet [education] standards, and pupils would be better off at public schools or government-funded schools," Luo said. "But the fact is, we're still sought after by parents. We've done the government a favour by providing pupils with the schooling that they have failed to deliver."

Zhang Gezhen , the principal of Beijing's Mingyuan School for children of migrant families, said that uncertainty about the status of his school and others is the biggest challenge, because it makes it impossible for school operators to create long-term development plans, or to invest in their facilities and improve the quality of teaching.

Government crackdowns on unlicensed schools for migrants have forced Zhang to relocate his three schools multiple times since he opened his first one in Beijing 18 years ago, even though they have tried to comply with regulators' demands, such as installing fire alarms and surveillance cameras.

Zhang's three schools, located in the Chaoyang, Daxing and Haidian districts, cater to more than 2,400 pupils from migrant families in Beijing, and the one in Chaoyang district faces imminent closure.

Zhang, who also serves as the director of a subcommittee that oversees schools for migrant pupils, operating under the Association for Non-State Schools in Chaoyang district, said there were more than 140 unlicensed schools for children of migrant families in Beijing.

In terms of providing education to migrant children, the nation's capital lags behind other major cities. In Shanghai, pupils from migrant families can receive nine years of compulsory education for free, in line with the country's Compulsory Education Law, as they can be enrolled in either public or private schools that receive government subsidies.

He suggested that the Beijing municipal government licence and subsidise existing schools for migrant children if there are not enough openings at the existing public schools. "But what we're seeing is that students from migrant families have no place to go for schooling besides our schools, and even worse, they have to pay for it," he said. "That's because the local government has yet to do what the law requires it to do."