These photos were taken in December 2013 in Anshun city, Guizhou province. They show two school diplomas granted to the two daughters of a family who finished first and second in their class. The two unframed photos hanged on the bare walls of the living room.
Earlier this year, Holly H. Ming (senior researcher at the Youth Foundation, Hong Kong) published an interesting book on migrant children’s education in China.
This book is actually adapted from her PhD dissertation that she prepared at the Harvard Kennedy School.
This book is structured in four parts. Each of them starts with a migrant’s story and educational aspiration. The author has chosen to adopt an empathic tone; it is clear she cares about these people and their issues. It would be misguided to think that her approach is not academic enough. Actually, Holly Ming’s demonstration is backed with strong references, and she conducted numerous interviews to prepare this book.
She first introduces readers to the status of migrants and their children in cities, and then in a second part, described migrant children’s quest for identity. Most migrant children do not remember their early life in their mother province, but still need to find their own place in their host city.
In a third part, the author studies the career decisions of migrant students and the obstacles they face in pursuing their professional ambitions.
According to her findings, some progress has been made toward the integration of migrant children in public schools (although migrant schools – private schools for migrants delivering low quality courses – still exist in several cities). Several host municipalities reduced paperwork and so more migrant children can attend these schools. But the persistence of the hukou system still prevents many of them from taking the senior high school entry examination. Most migrant children have to choose between taking this exam in their home province, where the syllabus is different from the one followed in their host cities, or leaving school and searching for low-wage jobs, repeating their parents’ fate.
She ultimately presents several policies that could help second-generation migrants to get the education they deserve.
After reading this book, written with heart, we can argue that China does not properly nurture talent. This second generation of migrants faces too many obstacles to succeed. Without proper policies, they will suffer from the same social exclusion their parents experienced.
These children and their families show an incredible thirst for education; they know education is the key to social advancement. More funds and programmes need to be allocated to migrant children to reduce social inequalities and insure a real meritocracy where second-generation migrants and fuerdai (富二代) (the second generation of the upper class) will receive the same education and compete for high social status.
Chan, Bernice. The musician who became a champion of migrant workers. South China Morning Post, 1 July 2014. Retrieved 2 July 2014 from: http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/article/1543617/musician-who-became-champion-migrant-workers
Like many young people on the mainland, Sun Heng left his hometown to pursue his dreams. He loved music and had vague ideas about travelling across the country to sample different ethnic sounds and becoming a performer. He achieved that goal, forming the New Worker Art Troupe, a band which gave a voice to the country’s millions of migrant workers.
In the process of making music, Sun, now 39, became their champion: he set up a school in Beijing for the children of migrant workers who were not allowed to attend public institutions, a community centre, a museum and, in 2009, a centre where workers can go to pick up skills that could lead to better paying jobs.
Particularly concerned about second-generation migrants who were born in cities but stuck in low-paying jobs because they had little education, Sun and his friends figured one solution was to provide practical courses in areas such as computer literacy and graphic design.
“Once they begin working in a factory, they rarely have a chance to retrain in new skills, so we founded this training centre. It is not a formal academic university, but rather a social knowledge platform,” says Sun.
Founder of NGO the Beijing Migrant Workers’ Home, Sun was invited to Hong Kong in May by Oxfam to help raise awareness about the plight of the estimated 263 million mainland migrant workers whose contribution to China’s remarkable growth in the past 20 years is rarely acknowledged.
It wasn’t quite the role Sun envisaged when he arrived in Beijing about 15 years ago.
Two weeks ago, I published a review of a Ph.D dissertation written by Guo Lin on migrants and left-behind children that suggested that inequalities were greater between rural and urban children than between left-behind children and children with their parents. Although this study looked at the education, the health and the workload of left-behind children, the author did not analyse – as it was not the purpose of the paper – the emotional and behavioural consequences on being left behind by parents. In 2009, the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin released a paper on children and migrations in China looking at both left-behind children and those migrating with their parents to cities1. Even though this article was published five years ago, its findings are still current. According to a recent research, at least 61 million Chinese children are left behind2.
This report highlights the distress of these left-behind children, who can spend years without seeing their parents.
In addition to the issues they face at school and at home because of missing parents, many of them are also victims of sexual assault or harassment. They are also more likely to have accidents at home because of poor adult supervision. The authors argue that many of these left-behind children also suffer from emotional disorders.
Authorities are well aware of this issue and have launched several programmes to improve left-behind children’s wellbeing. One of these policies is the promotion of “stand-in parents” that will look after these left-behind children. Another is the creation of boarding schools that can host these children and provide them with proper supervision from responsible adults, but many of these boarding schools are poorly financed by local governments, and, consequently, do not offer adequate living conditions. The authors rightfully argue that all these measures do not address the underlying cause of the left-behind children problem, which is the challenge migrant parents face in bringing their children to the city because of the strict hukou policy. If this issue is not addressed properly, China will pay the price in the future with a poorly educated workforce and adults suffering from social disorders.
- Aris Chan (2009), Paying the price for economic development: the children of migrant workers in China, China Labour Bulletin, 2009, November. Reteived March 20 from http://www.clb.org.hk/en/files/share/File/research_reports/Children_of_Migrant_Workers.pdf
- April Ma (2014), China raises a generation of ‘left-behind’ children, CNN, February 5. Retrieved March 20 from http://edition.cnn.com/2014/02/04/world/asia/china-children-left-behind/
Several studies look at the well-being of migrants and the issues they face in the cities. What about their children? We know that many migrants’ children do not have access to adequate education in cities because their families lack an urban hukou, and therefore cannot attend urban schools. So, many migrants choose to leave their children in their hometown where they will be able to receive an education.
How precarious are the lives of these “left-behind children”? That is the question Guo Lin1 attempts to answer in her Ph. D. dissertation.
She studied the different dimensions of children’s well-being based on their education level, their health and health coverage, and their daily activities.
According to her results, left-behind children and rural children living with both parents have a comparable level of education. Also, she notes there does not appear to be a large difference between left-behind children and other children in terms of health, but left-behind children are more likely to be covered by health insurance. Her findings also show that left-behind children are more likely to help with household chores. Based on this research, the overall conditions of rural left-behind children are no worse than those of rural children living with their parents.
Guo Lin recognizes that there needs to be further study the left-behind children phenomenon, not only by using samples provided by the China Health and Nutrition Survey, but also by conducting interviews. But for her, it is also crucial to look at the well-being of rural children in general. There are disparities between urban and rural children, which are partly caused by hukou. Guo Lin’s research shows that gaps in terms of education and health coverage are greater between rural and urban children than between left-behind children and other rural children.
We can go further and argue that China’s future greatly depends on the present health and education of rural children.
- Guo Lin (2012). Migration and the well-being of left-behind children in China. Ph.D. thesis, State University of New York, Albany
Sanford Mason, Charlotte (2013). On the anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s “Three Fors”: thirty years of school reform in China. (Occasional Papers on Asia 3). Boston: Boston University, Center for the Study of Asia, December 2013. 12 p. Retrieved 28 January, 2014, from http://www.bu.edu/asian/publications/occasional-papers-on-asia/
In September 2013, China celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of Deng Xiaoping’s “Three Fors,” a document that launched educational reform in China. The document states, “Education is/should be for modernization, for the world, and for the future.” What made it such a revolutionary, inspirational, and visionary declaration is the broad interpretation of its stated ideas by China’s educators. During the celebration teachers and officials expressed pride in the progress inspired by Deng Xiaoping, confidence that they will solve ongoing problems, and faith in the “Chinese dream” of an ever-brighter future. Despite the simplicity of Deng’s words in the “Three Fors,” his successors’ broad interpretation of it has set an ambitious course for continued school reform in China. In its sights, not yet achieved, perhaps to be articulated at a fortieth anniversary of the “Three Fors,” are universal K-12 education, including special education, and improved access to quality education for children of migrant workers, minorities, and the rural poor. Looking at the distance traveled in a mere thirty years, it is clear that education in China shows remarkable momentum, achievement, resilience, and promise, its goals aligned with those of other world powers.
Working in big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou has been the goal for many Chinese graduates for a long time. However, in recent years, with an increasing number of graduates, employment has been decreasing correspondingly. In 2004, the number of college graduates in China was around 2.8 million; it is expected that in 2014 this number will rise to 7.27 million, while three hundred thousand students who studied abroad will also return to China to find a job. China Central Television recently did a survey on the graduates’ preference for employment and found that more and more students are willing to work in second- and third-tier cities. This shift shows that the rising cost of living and the limit of hukou in big cities have been pushing graduates to move to second- and third-tier cities. This mobility of talent may on one hand reduce the pressure of graduates who are eager to find a job and start a career, while on the other hand it may boost the urbanisation process of the second- and third-tier cities in China.
More information about this survey: http://www.crtv.org.cn/a/crtv/sz/jrgz20140106732.html
Frontiers of Education in China is a fully peer reviewed international academic journal, which publishes original papers. It aims to connect Chinese and international perspectives, and create a platform for a deepening understanding of the global significance of Chinese education. It will enable readers around the world to explore the genuine meaning of Chinese educational traditions and contemporary patterns in a global context. Through promoting a multi-dimensional understanding of Chinese education, this journal seeks to enrich the theory and practice of education.
Volume 7, Issue 1 is on full access.
This month, the OECD released the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results. According to this research, Shanghai pupils ranked first in the world in mathematics, sciences, and reading.
- See the post recently published by Sebastien Goulard, Education, the key to success.and the article on An Exploration of Reasons for Shanghai’s Success in the OECD Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2009 in Frontiers of Education in China 7, 1.
This month, the OECD released the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results. According to this research, Shanghai pupils ranked first in the world in mathematics, sciences, and reading. Western media express criticism over the validity of such a survey since it compares a city, Shanghai, to entire countries.
Of course, it is possible to be critical and negative of this survey, and argue that Shanghai is not China. However, this test does tell us that there has been a significant effort to improve the level of education in China. We can also observe that many Asian city-countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore or even Macau achieved high scores. It seems that urban centres enjoy better educational services than rural regions.
Shanghainese may be able to boast of their performance in this test, but which Shanghainese are we talking about exactly? Locals? Migrants?
In Europe, we see increasing inequality in education among pupils. Children living in suburbs where there are high levels of poverty and unemployment have greater difficulty in completing their studies successfully. Moreover, many of these pupils are migrants’ children. Until now, the government has tried to implement a mainstreaming approach to this issue, and state schools have attempted to reduce these inequalities and offer the same education to every child. This policy cannot be considered a success, since inequalities still exist.
China faces a similar issue with her migrants’ children. Because of the hukou, many migrant children cannot study at the local school and instead must attend special migrant schools.
In a paper published last year, two scholars showed that migrant children, in migrant schools, achieved lower academic results than local pupils in state schools1 . The authors advocated for public schools being more accessible to migrants. It seems that some changes are happening thanks to media exposure (see SCMP article), and more migrant children are being enrolled in public schools.
However, as usual, there is a conflict between policy for the short term and the long term. Yes, it is costly to provide a high degree of education to both locals and migrants. Yet, if these migrant children are not offered this education, what then will be their future? What about Shanghai’s ambitions to become a world class service centre? Can Shanghai afford to exclude the migrant population from a leading education system?
- Chen Y. & Feng S. (2012). Acces to public schools and the education of migrant children in China. IZA Discussion paper No.6853, September 2012. Retreived from http://ftp.iza.org/dp6853.pdf
Following a spate of demolitions of migrant children schools in Beijing in 2011, Bao Caolin (报曹林), a journalist of the China Youth Daily commented:
“Beijing has shut down some 30 private schools for migrant children. In contrast, nearly all the officials’ offspring have access to top quality kindergartens, primary and middle schools. They probably will never understand the predicament of the migrant workers’ children after their schools were closed. Why are all the affordable and accessible schools for migrant workers’ children illegal? Why are all the legal ones unaffordable and inaccessible?”
When the Ministry of Education announced a plan this year to allow migrant students to take the national university entrance examination (gaokao – 高考) in the city they reside, it sparked a heated debate.1 At the moment, most migrant children have to return to their hometowns to take the test. Very few are able to take the entrance exam in the city they live in as they need to meet strict criteria. Parents of children with local hukou oppose the plan fiercely and fight to maintain the status quo. They argue that opening the exam to rural children would put more of a strain on local education resources (according to the national census approximately 7 million migrant workers live in Beijing, accounting for more than 35% of all residents).
The exam has already been criticised for its bias in favour of urban children (chengshi qingxiangxing – 城市倾向性). Students who take the exam in Beijing and Shanghai can qualify for entrance with lower scores than those who take it in other places. In 2010, rural students represented just 17% of total students at Tsinghua University. The proportion of rural students gaining admission to Tsinghua and Pekin University oscillated between 15 and 22% on average during the 1990s.2
The Constitution guarantees primary education for all citizens (article 19 and article 46). Article 9 of the Education Law establishes that “citizens shall enjoy equal opportunity of education regardless of their nationality, race, sex, occupation, property or religious belief, etc.” Whatever the law says the reality is that migrant children suffer institutional and non-institutional discrimination. If the aim of the central leadership is to promote urbanisation of migrant workers, then it seems essential to facilitate migration of the family as a whole. Children left behind in the village often lack emotional support and care from their parents. They only have the chance to reunite once or twice a year. Migrant workers integration and identification with the host city would be easier if their children travelled with them. In order for that to happen, migrant children need to be given the same opportunities for education as their urban peers.
- Karita Kan – La nouvelle “generation perdue” – Perspectives Chinoises 2013/2
|秦继杰 (Qin Jijie)《我是谁》
|Who Am I12
|If you asked me who I am
|before I was ashamed to answer
|because I was afraid，
|I was afraid city kids would make fun of me.
|drive them to school
|while I go to school on a tricycle,
|that doesn’t even have an engine
|If you asked me who I am,
|before I was ashamed to answer
|because I was afraid,
|I was afraid city kids would make fun of me.
|Their classrooms are bright and spacious,
|the playground has a running track, a football field, a pommel horse,
|yet mine is small and dark
|like a birdcage, trapping our free and lively minds.
|If you asked me who I am,
|before I was ashamed to answer
|because I was afraid,
|I was afraid city kids would make fun of me.
|They are eager for 2008,
|their music teacher even wrote it into music,
|their English teacher translated it as “very good”
|yet I can only add and subtract
|to calculate that I won’t be 18 by then.
|If you asked me who I am
|now I can answer (proudly),
|because my father builds very high buildings
|and my mother sweeps very large avenues.
|The just opened NPC
|wants the Constitution to guarantee education.
|The teacher says migrant workers and urban kids
|we are all our motherland’s blossoms,
|we are all China’s children,
|we all live under the same urban roof.
Many things have changed since Qin Jijie wrote this poem in 2004, notably the expensive cars that many urban parents drive. The school for migrant workers’ children (nongmingong zidi – 农民工子弟) he opened in Beijing in 2000 now has more than a thousand children enrolled. Local governments have introduced some policies to guarantee better access to compulsory primary education for migrant children. However, the hukou system continues to act as a stumbling block for access to public schools in cities, as well as a social stigma that thwarts migrant’s urban integration.
Since the children of migrant workers don’t have a local hukou, they are not taken into account by the local government when calculating the education budget. Therefore, public schools continue charging additional fees to migrant parents. On top of the temporary student fees (jiedu fei – 借读费),3 migrant parents have to deal with extra fees such as the “school selection fee” (zexiao fei – 择校费) that for some popular schools can be as high as 230,000 yuans.4 Although not exclusive to migrant parents, it puts a lot financial pressure on low income households. The zexiao fei is still widely used by public schools to increase revenues. It refers to activities parents undertake to gain entrance for their children to the school of their choice.
Moreover, migrant parents have to produce some official documents such as work permits, proof of residence, temporary residence permit, or household registration booklets, a requirement that effectively leaves many migrant children excluded from public schooling. Since many parents are self-employed, it is very difficult for them to obtain a work permit. In some places, a tax certificate can replace it, making this hurdle easier to overcome. Apart from the difficulties in getting access to public schooling, the discriminatory hukou represents a social stigma. According to a survey in 2012, among the approximate 2500 migrant children who responded, 86% of them said they did not mingle with local children5.
Those migrant children left out of the public school system have to attend private schools. Private schools are affordable but lack proper facilities and even the necessary licence. According to a report carried out in Beijing from 2011, out of 300 schools surveyed, only 63 had a licence.6. The demolition of unlicensed schools has been commonplace during the last few years. Sometimes it is carried out without prior notice and migrant children find themselves without a place to learn from one day to the next. Many children end up enrolling at private schools located far from where they live or are sent back to their hometowns.
- This is the original version of the poem, not the edited version recited during the broadcast of the Chunwan（春晚）of 2007
- Author’s own translation
- Although this fee has been banned by the central government, some local governments continue to charge it to migrant parents under a different label.
- The Children of Migrant Workers in China. China Labour Bulletin. May 8, 2009. http://www.clb.org.hk/en/content/children-migrant-workers-china-0. Last accessed November 4, 2013.
- Zhuanjia cheng lianghao jichu jiaoyu shi liudong ertong jiankang chengzhang de guanjian – 专家称良好基础教育是流动儿童健康成长的关键. http://www.chinanews.com/edu/2012/12-18/4418208.shtml. Last accessed November 4, 2013
- Migrant Workers and their Children. China Labour Bulletin. June 26, 2013. http://www.clb.org.hk/en/content/migrant-workers-and-their-children. Last accessed November 4, 2013
Liu, Jing and Jacob, W. James (2013) From access to quality : migrant children’s education in urban China. Educational Research for Policy and Practice 12:3, pp. 177-191. DOI: 10.1007/s10671-012-9136-y
An increasing number of migrant children are involved in public education due largely to the policy for migrant children education outlined by the Government of China from the late 1990s. In this article, we describe the unique and often difficult situation rural migrant children face after they enter urban public schools. Drawing from the Theory of Inclusive Education and data collected at two public junior high schools in Beijing, we provide an in-depth analysis on migrant children’s education from their own viewpoint and from the perspectives of their parents, teachers, and school administrators. Our survey results identify the need for further adjustments of the existing education system which can help improve migrant children’s education in China. Findings also highlight the dilemmas regarding how to best meet the needs for teachers, migrant parents, and migrant children who attend public schools. In order to provide a quality education for migrant children, we conclude by arguing that there must be a three-pronged partnership to best accommodate the unique education needs of migrant children in urban China.
Read the article online (restricted access or purchase option)