|Migrant Children Education in Beijing|
|Sunday, 19 April 2009 17:13|
The economic reforms of the late 1970’s transformed the Chinese economy, spurring it to miraculous rates of growth. However, the economic expansion has been accompanied by various troubling social issues, including the inadequacy and inequality of the current Chinese education system. Since the 1980’s, a massive flood of poor rural residents have migrated to the advanced coastal cities in search of higher income and a better living. Because of the restraints of household registration system (户口), many migrant families must pay a large “supporting fee” (赞助费) in order to send their children to the urban public schools. Simple private schools have emerged as a response to the migrants’ unfulfilled demand for education for their children. However, these under-funded and inadequately staffed schools are only able to provide low-quality education, condemning the future generation of migrants to unskilled, low-income jobs. The inequality of the current education system effectively perpetuates the tangible social barrier that prevents migrants from integrating into modern urban society. The migrant children recognize the unfairness and inequality of their situation, enduring great psychological strain and pressure.
This summer I joined Dream Corps for Harmonious Development International, an NGO that sends volunteers to rural and migrant schools in China. My team volunteered in Beijing at New Century School, a private elementary school for migrant children. Wang Yi, the school’s founder and principal, attended Beijing Normal University from 1994 to 1998. After graduation, he volunteered as a teacher in Guangxi province for a year. In 1999, Mr. Wang returned to Beijing and perceived the pressing issue of migrant children education. He established the school in August 1999 with his private savings. The school started off with 38 students and 3 teachers, and has expanded over the years to 385 students and 17 faculty and staff members. Although there are hundreds of these private migrant schools in Beijing alone, they have received neither legal recognition nor funding from the Chinese government. There is a tremendous need for government action to actually realize the policy of universal compulsory nine-year education in China.
The migrant community where New Century School is located seemed to be a separate world from modern Beijing. The streets were lined with shabby, dirty shops – all owned and run by migrants. Rotting heaps of garbage lay in plain view along the roadsides. We often had to walk around these heaps, although we could not avoid their stench. Many migrants had only one small room for their families and all their possessions. Perhaps 8 to 12 of these rooms were arranged as the three sides surrounding a yard, with the fourth side leading out into the street. There were several of these yards around the community.
The most striking aspect of the community was that, amidst the apparent poverty was a public elementary school, The Haidian District Number Two Experimental Elementary School. The school seemed very modern but out-of-place, with pink tiled buildings, a security-guarded gate, and an impeccable garden and courtyard. Almost no migrant children attend this school, where the students are almost all native Beijing residents who do not live in the area. These children are picked up by the school’s coach bus or driven by their parents each day. I tried to get an interview with the principal of this school, but was turned away. I had told the principal’s secretary that I was with an NGO and was working with migrants. The secretary immediately informed me that the principals was busy and would be busy well into the summer, with no time even for a twenty-minute interview. She also told me that, as exams were approaching, it was inconvenient for me to observe any classes or talk to the teachers. Her attitude and excuses suggested that she was trying to get rid of me and avoid my questions, and did not want me to interact with the public school at all. Perhaps the principal and teachers at this school realize their awkward situation in the migrant area, where they obviously have great and unfair advantages over everyone in the community.
I wanted to concentrate on investigating the welfare and mentality of the students and interviewed 25 fifth and sixth graders, including 15 female and 10 male students. These students ranged from 12 to 15 years old and have very diverse backgrounds and experiences. They were born and have lived in various provinces, including Henan, Hebei, Hunan, Hubei, Jilin, Anhui, Shandong, Sichuan, and Qinghai. Nine students have lived in Beijing for 2 years or less, thirteen students for 3-6 years, and three students for 7 or more years.
Most students expressed that they enjoyed going to school in Beijing. Many felt that the teaching methods at New Century School were quite different from those in the schools of their home villages. They said that the teaching methods in their home villages were too strict and inflexible. They were forced to memorize much of what they learned, which the students found unpleasant and boring. The students complained of the huge amount of homework they were assigned their home villages. Several students said that they had to complete these assignments before they were allowed to go home for the day. Some were even physically punished for not finishing their homework. Most students enjoyed going to New Century School, where the curriculum was more flexible and the teachers more lenient. There were a few exceptions who did not like New Century School. Two sixth grade girls who had migrated to Beijing in February 2005 felt that the students at New Century are too lively. One girl had been more lively herself in her hometown, but now feels very shy around students who already have friends. Both girls thought that the educational methods in Anhui were better, more flexible, and more relaxed. Both had lived in Beijing for the least amount of time out of all the students interviewed, which was perhaps why they felt uncomfortable in the city.
It was very interesting to ask the migrant students what they thought of the nearby public school, as they have seen the school and most of them must pass the school everyday on their way home. All the students acknowledged that the public school is materially superior to their own school, but most did not want to go to the public school. When asked why, some said that the public school was “not a big deal (没什么了不起)” seeming to imply that the teaching quality there was not much better than their own. Several students said that the students at the public school were uncivilized and ill-mannered (没素质). One migrant boy declared that most Beijing people are bad and unreasonable (不讲道理), and that he disliked them. Once on his way home, a bigger Beijing boy from the public school had stopped him to borrow money from him. He had never met the boy before and so refused to lend him money. Then the bigger boy dragged him into the woods, beat him up, and took his money. All of the migrant students feel or have felt at one time that the public school students look down on (看不起) them. However, the migrant students acknowledged that not all Beijing children are bad. They said that if the public school students did not look down on them and sincerely wanted to befriend them, they would also want to make friends. Perhaps organizing programs where migrant and urban children can get to know each other and make friends would be a step toward reducing discrimination and tension between the two groups.
There are many problems hindering the healthy development of the migrant children. Lack of government recognition and funding severely reduces the quality of education and the environment in the migrant community. Social and financial barriers give the migrant children a sense of indignant unfairness when compared to the Beijing children. Family situations are also problematic, as migrant adults usually work long hours in order to support the family and sometimes unintentionally neglect their children. Most importantly, if low-quality education, social discrimination, and government neglect continue, the migrants may become trapped in poverty. The problem of low-quality education can likely be solved with adequate funding and policies from the government, but the social barrier between migrants and urban residents is another story. Unless this problem is addressed, social tension and instability will have serious consequences for both the migrants and the urban residents in the near future.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 19 April 2009 17:13|