Thursday, 18 August 2011

Denied a Better Future

New Hope School was razed to the ground in Beijing (Beijing News)

Apart from farmers, migrant workers (many of whom are or were farmers) have the toughest lives in China.
They uproot themselves from their ancestral hometowns and descend into the cities to find mundane or dangerous factory or construction work and in return they encounter culture shock, high expenses and being treated like second-class citizens.
They endure these drastic changes in the hopes of making a better living for their families and setting up a better future for the next generation.
Migrant children lined up outside a school in Beijing in 2007
Children are not supposed to come with them to the cities, but some do because there are no relatives to look after them, the parents don't want their child to be "left-behind children", or the child was born in the city. 
Now that I think about it these children have it worse.
Because their hukou or household registration is linked with their hometowns, even children of migrant parents born in the city cannot get access to not only social assistance and healthcare, but also education.
And so a few NGOs and individuals took it upon themselves to find places to set up schools for these migrant children at a modest cost, to give them some basic education to be able to function in such a rapidly developing society.
In my first year in Beijing I visited a school for migrant children in the outskirts of Beijing. It was a small run-down complex of rooms that looked into a courtyard. The classrooms were very small with a limited number of books, desks and chairs were old. The school also had rooms for the children to sleep in and they were crammed with bunk beds, sleeping as many as three or four to a bed. They carefully put their shoes outside the rooms, but they basically had to use basins to wash. Many wore dirty clothes and had dirty faces.
Nevertheless the children were so happy to see us as we celebrated Children's Day with them. We gave them presents of knapsacks with white T-shirts in them and we encouraged them to draw on them with coloured pens. We had thought we would play with them longer, but their teacher had already organized a trip to McDonald's which they were all excited about.
We gave them coloured pens to draw on white T-shirts
Despite being given access to some kind of an education, it is hardly enough to compete with children from wealthy families who go to good schools and can afford tutors and extra classes to increase the chances of better grades to pass the gaokao or university entrance exams to get into a good university.
And so I was even more disheartened to read that in the last few days, several schools for migrant children were demolished in Beijing, crushing their hopes for an education that could lead to a better life. The demolitions affect some 14,000 students who will either have to find an already crowded migrant school or go back to their hometowns.

One parent showed his dissatisfaction by lying on the road spread-eagled and shouted, "We make our contribution to Beijing too!"

The schools were knocked down because the municipal government either did not approve them or the buildings did not meet safety standards.

And if parents were to scrape enough money to bribe their child into the public school system it would cost between 5,000-20,000RMB ($770-$3,070). The average migrant worker barely makes 3,000RMB a month.

Wearing their artistic creations the kids thank us for coming
The razing of migrant schools goes against Premier Wen Jiabao's vow last year to improve the livelihood of migrant workers. In a work report he said China "will solve employment and living problems rural migrant workers face in cities and towns in a planned and step-by-step manner, and gradually ensure that they receive the same treatment as urban residents in areas such as pay, children's education, healthcare, housing and social security".

One has to wonder if officials in major cities and provinces really listen to the directives from above, because it seems they are more concerned about carrying out their own agendas than looking after its residents which include migrant workers.

In 2003 which now seems like eons ago, the premier visited a school for migrant children and wrote on the blackboard: 同在蓝天下, 共同成长进步 ("under the same blue sky, grow up and progress together").

Sounds poetic and inspirational, but what about the reality?

How are migrant children ever going to make any progress if their schools are demolished in the Chinese capital?

Can Wen be held accountable for what has happened to these schools? Why is he silent about this critical issue?

While China prides itself in education, the government seems determined to hold many back. While it wants to innovate, it still needs labour in the factories... who else is going to do it?

1 comment:

  1. it is a shame that the novo riche in china lining up at louis vuitton, having their own private jets and lamborghini.little resources are spent on educatiing the young. the neglect of the of pupils and schools is a great loss nurturing the future masters of the country.