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A hard lesson for migrant workers

By Wang Hongyi and Li Xinzhu  (China Daily)

08:59, September 08, 2011

A guard line is set up near a day care center where an attack occurred in August, injuring eight children. The line is meant to prevent people who aren't approved by authorities to be in the day care from entering. (Photo/China Daily)

Educating children in boom cities is becoming more difficult, Wang Hongyi and Li Xinzhu report in Shanghai.

Migrant workers face many obstacles when they move to big cities like Shanghai. Educating their children is one of them and it just gets harder.

Migrant workers often find themselves in a dilemma when they try to send children to kindergarten or preschool. They don't have hukou, official residence permits, that allow them to enroll their children in public kindergartens. Private schools are out of the question as they don't earn enough money to pay the fees.

The situation is exacerbated as the number of children of migrant workers dramatically increases in big cities.

According to research from the Shanghai municipal people's congress standing committee, Shanghai had 1,252 kindergartens at the end of 2010. Nearly 70 percent of these were public kindergartens.

By 2012, these kindergartens are expected to have 500,000 children, 200,000 will be children of migrant workers, a huge increase from the current 80,000.

In response to the dearth of education opportunities, entrepreneurs have taken to opening illegal or unlicensed day care centers or kindergartens. But rather than meeting these families' demand for schooling, such places often lack the resources needed to provide a good education and meanwhile are full of hidden dangers.

Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Institute, said the government does not put enough money into schools.

"Consequently, schools specifically established for these migrant kids have emerged," Xiong said. "Among them are schools that aren't qualified (to be teaching children) or that lack good teaching staffs. Unhygienic conditions and poor security only make things worse. These schools exist in the gray area of education."

Safety concerns in recent years have prompted cities throughout the country to close many of these informal schools and nurseries, which does nothing to help migrant parents find a way to educate their children.

Recent attack

Just how dangerous these institutions can be was made evident in August, when eight children were hurt in a knife attack that occurred in a day care center in Shanghai's suburban Minhang district. A woman worker at the center was later detained on the suspicion that she had committed the crime.

More than a week later, Li Xingfa said he still can't help shuddering when he imagines what would have happened to his 5-year-old boy had he been a victim of the violence. Li said his son was enrolled at the day care center that day but, at the time of the attack, was in a different room than the assailant.

"I never thought that this would happen," Li said. "It's so terrible."

Li said he began sending his son to the day care center at a cost of 300 yuan ($47) a month after someone from his hometown recommended it to him.

"The fees charged by other kindergartens are very expensive, so we decided to send my child here," Li said. "But who would have thought such a thing could happen? And who would dare to send their children to that center again?"

After the attack, Li said he took the advice of local education authorities and began sending his son to a private kindergarten. He said he can hardly afford the 600 yuan he must pay the school every month to keep his son enrolled there.

Li, who moved to Shanghai 10 years ago from Fengyang, Anhui province, makes less than 3,000 yuan a month working as a driver for a shipping company. His wife puts in more than 15 hours a day at a vegetable processing company, making 1,700 yuan a month.

Li lives in a shabby, 8-square-meter room with his wife and son in a village on the outskirts of the city and pays 100 yuan a month in rent.

To get his son to school every day, Li said he takes him on an electrical bicycle for a trip that lasts about 20 minutes.

When asked about the disadvantages, Li said they were unavoidable if he wanted to give his son a good education.

"I only hope this kindergarten will be safe," he said.

Li acknowledged that he could send his son back to his hometown for schooling. But he hesitates to do so because children there are not subject to good supervision, he said.

Li said he had once been a good student but eventually quit his studies because he was poor.

"I remember quite clearly that I couldn't afford the cost of going to school at that time," Li recalled. " I had to go out to make a living for my family."

"I hope my son takes a different path. I hope he can have a bright future like students in big cities. But it's hard to find a school that provides the good education you can get at the public schools here."

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Leave your comment2 comments

  1. Name

helen at 2011-09-08175.136.170.*
Rural Chinese are being labeled as "migrant workers" in a very negative sense by Chinese media. It is as if they are not Chinese.But then again, given the kind of treatment by Chinese leader, Chinese media and the urban Chinese, the rural Chinese will have to demand their rightful place in society. In fact those who liberated China and contributed greatly in the development of the manufacturing industries in China now, comprised mostly of rural Chinese and now the benefits of China development are denied to them.
Canada at 2011-09-0870.36.49.*
I checked, not sure, but it seems public kindergarten for children who turn 5 before Dec. 31 is not available to all children where I live either. Public education is free for children grades 1 to 12, but parents pay for school supplies, some other things. Lots of problems here too, including school closures, because of government cutbacks. Education past grade 12 is expensive, and many working class families can’t afford it. I hope China can find a way to make public education available for all children & improve the lot of migrant workers.

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