Chinese Migrant Children Face Educational Hurdles
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Every year in China about one percent of the population moves from the countryside to the cities in search of work. In China, one percent of the population is 13 million people. Two new cities the size of New York have to be provided for in China every year in effect. You can sense the strain in this report from NPR's Anthony Kuhn on newcomers seeking schools.
ANTHONY KUHN: On the western outskirts of Beijing, children are romping around the schoolyard of the Fenghua Love and Hope Elementary School. The school is one of the few survivors of a recent clampdown.
This summer local education officials shut down many of Beijing's 300-odd private schools catering to the children of migrant laborers. The officials say the schools were unlicensed and substandard. At the Fenghua school, fourth graders crowd into a simple brick classroom to learn English.
Unidentified Woman: I saw. I saw. I love you.
Unidentified Group: I saw. I saw. I love you.
KUHN: School principal Liang Sau Fang(ph) is stoical about the prospect of being shut down.
Ms. LIANG SAU FANG (Principal, Fenghua Love and Hope Elementary School): (Through translator) We don't want to quit the education profession. We've sacrificed so much. But if the authorities can address the social problem so that parents are satisfied and kids can go to school, then I'll have no regrets.
KUHN: Beijing's closure of the migrant schools has stalled. Students from the closed schools were supposed to be channeled into local public schools, but most of these are already full. Principal Liang's school charges the equivalent of $100 annual tuition, which is about all most migrant families can afford. Most don't' have the residence and work permits that the public schools require either. Liang's husband, Sun Chu Chiang(ph), also a teacher, says that migrant's kids who do manage to get into public schools are often looked down upon by the locals.
Mr. SUN CHU CHIANG (Teacher): (Speaking foreign language)
KUHN: There is some discrimination, he says. The teachers may ignore you or they may not let you complain if there's a problem. They may just think you're a nuisance.
(Soundbite of traffic)
It's noon and 13-year-old student Ying Len Yu(ph) leaves the Fenghua school and heads home for lunch. She walks past farmers' vegetable patches in a new and spacious public school where the local kids go. Ying stops at a tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurant that her parents run. Ying says she likes living in Beijing but she prefers the public schools back in her hometown in eastern Anhui province to the private school she attends here.
Ms. YING LEN YU (Student): (Through translator) I feel that the character of some of the kids in the private schools is really awful. The big ones bully the little ones. They curse at them. The teachers tell the kids not to, but they don't listen.
(Soundbite of crowd noise)
KUHN: Despite all the youthful vigor at the Fenghua school, there's a feeling of transience and impermanence here. Each semester 30 percent of the school's students leave as their parents move on in search of new jobs. The school itself has moved five times in the past decade, unable to find a stable lease. Teachers say this all hurts the kid's academic performance.
The issue of schools for migrants has Chinese education experts worried. Speaking at a café at the Beijing Institute of Technology, Professor Hu Xingdou says that the more schools China builds for migrant's kids now, the fewer jails it'll have to build later.
Professor HU XINGDOU (Professor, Beijing Institute of Technology): (Through translator) If the government takes these migrants' children out of school, they may be left to society and put out on the street. They may come to hate society and hate their cities.
KUHN: Hu says that government policies that classify citizens and the benefits they receive according to their urban or rural status are unfair. Rural migrants are left in limbo, somewhere between the cities and the countryside. Yet the migrants keep on migrating. They may be scorned by city folk, but for most of them it still beats life down on the farm.
Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.