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.
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 cities. 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 behind.
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.
Image © Fuyang Zhou
This photo, which was taken by Chinese amateur photographer Fuyang Zhou in Jiangxi province, won the first prize at the Hamdan International Photography Awards. It shows what seems to be an improvised classroom, with a dirt floor and mud walls, which serve as a blackboard.
In many villages of inland provinces with high rates of outflow migration, only children and old people remain. Remittances from parents working in the cities are usually the largest source of revenues for the village. The incentive for urbanisation from the government often means schools in remote villages are closed and schoolchildren are sent off to boarding schools located in larger towns. However, many local governments lack the resources to build enough boarding schools. Many of them have serious hygiene and safety issues. Besides, the entry age at boarding schools is usually set at 6 years old. The most important problem is the shortage of good teachers. It is not only low salaries and heavy workload that deter teachers from moving to small villages, but especially isolation and the distance to urban areas. Thus, the teacher turnover rate is high. In spite of this, those willing to stay do not lack motivation and usually develop close bonds of friendship with the community.
For more information about the photo awards click here: http://www.hipa.ae/en/.
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 Lin 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.
Besharov, Douglas and Baehler, Karen, eds. (2013). Chinese social policy in a time of transition. Oxford University Press. 368 p. ISBN 978-0-19-999031-3
The story of China’s spectacular economic growth is well known. Less well known is the country’s equally dramatic, though not always equally successful, social policy transition. Between the mid- 1990s and mid-2000s—-the focal period for this book—-China’s central government went a long way toward consolidating the social policy framework that had gradually emerged in piecemeal fashion during the initial phases of economic liberalization. Major policy decisions during the focal period included adopting a single national pension plan for urban areas, standardizing unemployment insurance, (re)establishing nationwide rural health care coverage, opening urban education systems to children of rural migrants, introducing trilingual education policies in ethnic minority regions, expanding college enrolment, addressing the challenge of HIV/AIDS more comprehensively, and equalizing social welfare spending across provinces, among others. Unresolved is the direction of policy in the face of longer-term industrial and demographic trends—-and the possibility of a chronically weak global economy. Chinese Social Policy in a Time of Transition offers a foundation from which to explore those issues based on a composite snapshot of Chinese social policy at its point of greatest maturation prior to the 2007 global crisis.
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)
- Liu, Jing (2013) The development of inequality in public school admission : public discourses on ze xiao and practices in urban China, Ph.D. in international development, University of Nagoya, 331 p. Read the dissertation thesis on the Nagoya university repository
- W. James Jacob personal website