Private school offers training to migrant students unqualified by hukou to apply for college

By Zhang Dan Source:Global Times Published: 2018/6/6 19:28:40

Students take baking, car repairing and critical thinking courses

Though most migrant workers' children can go back to their hometown to take the college entrance exams, a small group does not have the means to do so

A private school called Kedou School provides an alternative for this marginalized population

Students play basketball at Kedou School in Changping district, Beijing. Photo: Courtesy of Ouyang Yanqin

Over 9 million students across the country are sitting China's national college entrance examinations (gaokao) this year, which falls on Thursday and Friday, the Ministry of Education announced.

However, one group of migrant students in Beijing will have nowhere to take the exams. Their registered residence (hukou) does not allow them to take the exams in cities where they were not born, yet their migrant worker parents did not keep their children's names on the school roll in their hometowns to sign up for the exams.

A private school in Beijing called Kedou School provides an alternative for this marginalized population of students who may not have a chance to take the national exams. It provides students with vocational skills and creative courses such as critical thinking, baking and lamp-blown glass crafting over a three-year period.

Ouyang Yanqin, the founder of Kedou School, told the Global Times that, no matter what reasons those students cannot enter a higher school and take the gaokao, "they still have other options to enjoy a good life in this society."

According to the Ministry of Education, the number of gaokao candidates this year is the highest in the past eight years.

Every year, the high-stakes gaokao attracts national attention. Many Chinese believe it provides a platform that equalizes opportunities for students from all social classes, including those with limited educational resources, to compete together.

As the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) wrote in its report in 2015, China's large-scale population migration has and continues to affect children who are traveling with their migrant parents.

The population of migrant students was 13.94 million in 2016, according to the Ministry of Education. About 80 percent of them chose to study at public schools in cities where their parents are working; others studied at private schools for migrant children, such as Kedou.

A student at Kedou dismantles an abandoned vehicle. Photo: Courtesy of Ouyang Yanqin

Core needs

Ouyang herself used to be a migrant child in the city of Dongguan, South China's Guangdong Province, where her parents worked during the summer of 2001.

"On the first night we arrived, I encountered a temporary residential permit inspection," she said, recalling her fear of being a migrant.

In China, after a resident leaves the location where they are registered for six months, they become part of the migrant population. China's National Bureau of Statistics said the migrant population in 2017 reached 244 million, which means more than 18 percent of all Chinese are continually flowing from place to place.

But Ouyang was one of the lucky few who received a higher education. She went on to become an investigative journalist at China's financial media group, Caixin Media. Hoping to help other migrant children, Ouyang resigned in 2015 and founded Kedou in Dongguan, where her parents have stayed for 10 years.

Focusing on science and technology education, Kedou provides 63 migrant children with courses in woodworking, cooking and robotics.

Two years later, however, Ouyang found she still could not solve her own brother's education problem. As a result, Ouyang's mother had to take her brother back to their hometown and enroll him in a local boarding school.

Thinking about the core needs of migrant workers and their children, Ouyang became a teacher at a school for migrant workers' children in Beijing and tried to find an alternative for these students.

In the capital city, which boasts first-tier educational resources and the largest number of top universities in China, around 20 percent of migrant children cannot study at public schools due to their hukou restrictions, which means they cannot enjoy compulsory education for free in Beijing, Ouyang wrote in an article.

"Among them, 80,000 to 90,000 migrant children study at migrant worker schools that are mostly located in rural-urban outskirts. Because of this, many students choose to go back home at some stage," she added.

However, upon returning to their hometowns, some students find that they are not familiar with the local culture or pace of class teaching and may lose confidence in a very short time, which results in less desire to study.

Kedou School aims to help such students, especially those who wish to study hard but find it demanding, or who want to continue secondary education in Beijing and do not want to go back to their hometowns.

Oddly, the parents of these children are part of the problem. They hope their child can go to a university one day, but because they did not keep their children's names on the school roll in their hometowns to sign up for gaokao, these children cannot take the exams.

In China, where a university degree matters most in the local job market, Kedou is conducting an experimental education which cannot provide officially recognized degrees to migrant students. Instead, they teach practical techniques and humanistic qualities to teenagers.

For the current 11 students aged from 14 to 16 in Beijing, they can choose courses out of their own interests, including traditional subjects such as reading, English, math and physics, and more unusual classes like critical thinking, psychology and even sex education.

"Some students cannot follow the pace of public schools, some don't like studying and some cannot take the gaokao due to the hukou system," Ouyang said. "No matter what the reason is, they still have other ways out."

To achieve this, Kedou School teaches students vocational skills that are needed in creative industries, for example, crafts, photography and design.

Students learn lamp-blown glass crafting. Photo: Courtesy of Ouyang Yanqin


Different criteria

When Tianjin, which borders Beijing, started its talents scheme this year to attract intellectuals under 40 years old to contribute to its development, the municipal government had not predicted that 300,000 people would apply overnight.

Many did so simply to receive a Tianjin hukou. For a majority of the applicants, the higher probability for their children to enter a top university due to Tianjin's lower gaokao scores was a strong temptation.

Meanwhile, China Youth Daily reported about two students who studied in the same class in a middle school in Beijing, but faced very different destinies.

Chenchen's (pseudonym) father, surnamed Wang, is a doctor who received a Beijing hukou in 2000 due to a talent introducing program. He brought Chenchen from his hometown in Zhejiang Province to Beijing for an education.

Wang's colleague, surnamed Zhang, was anxious and worried about her daughter Lili's (pseudonym) educational dilemma. Even if Lili's grades were much higher than Chenchen's, Lili had to go back to her hometown to take the gaokao because her family did not have a Beijing hukou, which posed more challenges.

Even if China introduces new local policies that allow migrant students to take the gaokao in the cities where they are presently living, most migrant students in Beijing find it difficult to meet the strict policy criteria set by the municipal government.

Many families in Beijing encounter the same problem that Zhang had. According to the Beijing Municipal Education Commission, 63,073 students signed up for the exams, but only 309 migrant students were officially approved to take it in Beijing this year. Moreover, they are only allowed to enter higher vocational colleges, not universities.

Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, told the Global Times that private schools for migrant students do not have room for growth due to "student source, government policy and employers' demand for degrees."

But Ouyang said what she is doing will nonetheless help more migrant children have a good life. "I believe that, in my community, there will be more students like me who take part in contributing to the urban development and support their own community. They are not the burden of our city."

Newspaper headline: Marginalized migrants

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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