Unless the system is overhauled, the progress made in education over the past 50 years will be undermined, say experts Workers' children are forming a new generation of illiterate migrants whose emergence threatens to unravel the progress made in education during the past five decades, experts warn. Duan Chengrong, of the People's University population institute in Beijing, said at least 450,000 children of migrant workers did not go to school, and millions were receiving an inadequate education. 'This is a very serious issue,' he said. 'These children will be illiterate adults. They will almost certainly stay in the big cities when they grow up and inevitably bring a negative impact and instability to the cities and the nation as a whole.' Last week, a representative of the Guangdong People's Political Consultative Congress was quoted in state media as saying that the Pearl River Delta would have to deal with the consequences of an illiterate generation unless the education and social welfare systems were radically reformed. More than 466 million Chinese were illiterate when the People's Republic was founded in 1949, but the number dropped to 230 million by 1982. The positive trend continued with the nation's opening up and there are now about 85 million illiterate people on the mainland. With more than 65 million of them above the age of 50, the problem was considered solved and the government has been widely complimented. But the plight of the migrant children indicates illiteracy may be staging a comeback. There are an estimated 120 million migrant workers on the mainland travelling to the big cities to find work. At any one time they would have up to 10 million children with them, experts believe. These children face discrimination in the cities and are generally not allowed into normal public schools as they do not have the required residence permit, known as a hukou. The standard of the education the children receive in special migrant schools is often poor, with overcrowded classrooms, untrained staff and inadequate facilities. And migrant families often cannot find these schools in the areas they are staying. Standard schools occasionally accept migrant children if they pay a 'sponsorship fee', which is generally much higher than what local children pay and beyond the reach of the average migrant worker. The central government has introduced policies urging local education departments to not discriminate against migrant children, but the regulation is having little effect. 'The schools believe that if they accept migrant children they will lose profits,' said Wang Dai, the director of the Ministry of Education's compulsory education department. 'But the ministry can do nothing to force them to treat children from outside the city equally.' A primary school teacher from the Tianhe district of Guangzhou summed up the attitude that seems to be prevalent in the educational system in the big cities. 'The migrant children don't actually don't belong here,' said the teacher, who gave his surname as Gao. 'So we don't have any responsibility to educate them.'