Rural migrant children at risk in city schools

20 January 2010
Two recent incidents have highlighted, once again, the dangers faced by migrant children in urban schools. On 17 January, a toddler died in a fire at an unlicensed kindergarten in Beijing, and yesterday Xinhua reported that the headmaster of a private school for the children of migrant workers in Nanning, Guangxi, had been arrested for beating a student and breaking his arm.

There are many private schools in China’s cities, run by a dedicated and caring staff, that provide a decent if limited education for migrant children, there are many others however that see migrant children and their parents simply as an economic resource to be exploited. Their primary concern is profit, and they pay scant regard to the educational needs or even the physical safety of the students.

As one teacher quoted in our research report on the children of migrant workers said:

There is one school that recruits students all year round. Every day, they go to the markets, sieve through streets and alleys, give away leaflets to recruit students… As long as you can pay, you can study. This school also fakes the students’ results … If only one student gets a good grade, others in the class are also given good marks… Students join gangs: bullying, fighting and extortion are all common.

Migrant children have to attend these substandard and often dangerous schools because, despite central government efforts to include them, many are still systematically excluded from the urban school system because their parents are not permanent residents of the city.

Shen Xiaoming, the mayor of Shanghai announced last month that this year all migrant children would finally be included in the city’s state school system. But Shanghai is very much the exception rather than the rule. In Nanning, for example, there are still 45 private primary schools and 47 middle schools catering for migrant children.

At the school under investigation, Xinhua said, management was lax, and its teachers, several of whom did not have a college degree, were poorly paid. Students would often leave in the middle of a semester to accompany their parents to a new town in their search for work.

The kindergarten in Beijing was a migrant family-run business that had just one member of staff on duty when the fire broke out. Officials said such businesses had developed in response to demands from migrant workers who could not afford or did not have access to public kindergartens in the local area – on the outskirts of the city.
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