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School's out forever
Global Times | August 17, 2011 23:48
By Xuyang Jingjing
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Illegal schools opened years ago

There are an estimated 180 privately operated elementary schools for migrant children but only 50 are licensed. Most of the schools, including kindergartens, have been operating for many years and are frequently pressured by authorities who threaten to shut them down.

The leaders of the migrant schools say the city's policies are often confusing and inconsistent. In 2006 the city also launched a major crackdown on unlicensed schools and promised to transfer all kids to the public system. That plan failed as there were not enough places in the public schools to accommodate all the kids.

400,000 migrant children in Beijing

There are over 400,000 migrant children in Beijing and over 70 percent currently attend public schools, according to official statistics. The authorities say they intend to register 80 percent of migrant children in public schools over the next couple of years.

If that happens it would add an additional 40,000 students to Beijing public schools which are already operating at fullcapacity.

"They find all kinds of excuses, they just don't want to accept our kids," said Gong Weiqi, 39, from Shanxi Province. His 9-year old son attended Lüyuan School in Haidian, which was shut down last week.

The children of Beijing's migrant workers also face other social hurdles if they're lucky enough to get admitted into the city's public school system, "Even if he gets in, how is my boy going to fit in with city kids?" said Fang Lian. "They don't even dress the
same."

Forcing migrants to leave Beijing

"It's the government's attempt at getting rid of the migrant population," said Tian Kun, a Beijing-lawyer and advocate for the rights of migrant children.

"They are targeting the kids and hoping the parents will just leave the capital."

The latest population census show Beijing has over 19 million residents and about one third are from other provinces and regions. They are being blamed for worsening traffic congestion and rising housing prices. The city has issued regulations making it harder for non Beijing permanent residents to buy a house and a car.

Many migrants have spent decades building a life in Beijing after leaving their countryside hometowns that couldn't support them and offered few opportunities for their children.

"We have a stable life here, we can't go back and start over again," said Gong the father of a 9-year-old. He and his wife have lived in Beijing for five years and own a barber shop in Haidian. They earn a decent wage of about 7,000 yuan a month.

"The closing of the schools is going to cause kids to drop out of school or force them back to their hometown without their parents," said Principal Zhang Mingrui.

An estimated 58 million children have been left in rural areas while their parents work in cities, according to a report issued by the Ministry of Civil Affairs in June.

Won't let it happen to her son

Tiger Mom Fang Lian said she won't repeat the same mistake twice. When her daughter couldn't get into a school in Beijing she had to send her back to her hometown in Anhui despite the girl's protest.

The daughter's ailing grandparents were unable to care for the girl and she soon quit her rural school and went to work inGuangdong Province. She moved in with a boy and was pregnant at 18.

Fang has disowned her daughter. "I'm not going to let the same thing happen to my son," said the protective mother.

"They shut us down, but what are they going to do with the kids? They don't have a clue how to solve the education issue," said Xie Zhenqing, principal of Hongxiong School which was forcibly demolished.

Many experts agree the government hasn't fully realized that there's the need for schools for migrant children and forcing them to shut down is only creating a larger problem. "The parents voluntarily send their kids to such schools because they don't have better options," said Jia Xijin, a professor of public policy at Tsinghua University.

Jia said the government has made a good gesture offering to include more kids in Beijing's public schools. "But clearly this hasn't happened and that's why there's a demand for these schools," she said.

Fang, the determined, anxious mother is feeling backed into a corner as she worries about her family's future in Beijing.

"Unless the policy says all out-of-towners must leave Beijing, it's just not fair. Do we deserve to starve to death?" she asked.

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