Education for Migrant Children in China

Since coming to China, my husband and I have become interested in the lives of Chinese migrant laborers. Last semester we taught English at a school for migrant children and this semester my husband has an internship working with an NGO that helps gives legal advice to migrants and helps them adapt to life in the city. Working at the school was a wakeup call; the stark difference between the nice schools and well-dressed children around our neighborhood and the conditions in which the migrant children learn is astounding. Instead of wearing neat matching uniforms, the students wore matching neck kerchiefs. The building is old and drab and the classrooms have no digital capabilities. Each of our classes packed 70 children into the room, making it almost impossible to keep order and engage everyone. Our curriculum felt like a joke. It was not uncommon for us to teach one thing and come back the next week and find that the students were still on the same lesson. Their textbooks were badly in need of updating; I didn’t see the point of even teaching them terms like “cassette player”. As a disclaimer, I am talking about my experience teaching one subject in one school. I can’t speak for the condition of other schools other than generalities that I have read about in news articles.

This means that migrant children, both male and female, are limited because of their birth. Most come from rural towns where they have few opportunities. An article in the March 27-28 English China Daily discusses new research that shows that rural children are “three to six times more likely than city children to die before they turn 5.” They also have fewer educational opportunities. The problem, however, is that when migrant laborers settle in a Chinese city they are not considered residents of that city but still of their rural home. This has widespread implications for healthcare, education, legal issues, and more. Because education money is given to provinces based on their number of children and migrant children are considered residents of where they are from and not where their parents work, they cannot access the educational institutions of their city-born peers. To cover the needs of the children, unofficial or illegal schools sprout up but do not necessarily provide them with as good of an education. According to another article, “The only long-term solution is wide-ranging and systematic reform of the social welfare system and abolition of the hukou [registration] system.” That is huge and seems unlikely in the near future, although the article says demands for change are mounting.

This issue affects both female and male students. And when I think of the lack of education that rural and migrant children face, it does not surprise me that many of the tough issues for Chinese women are predominantly rural problems. Some examples include maternal and infant mortality and bride trafficking. We have discussed over and over at WomanStats that education for men and women is key in helping societies combat discrimination against women and until China confronts the education crisis that is happening all over the country, I am afraid that the same problems will continue to perpetuate themselves. And this breaks my heart when I think of our beautiful students and hope for their futures.

—by MIR


3 thoughts on “Education for Migrant Children in China

  1. GoodReason says:

    So sad! And 70 children to a classroom . . . what is the government of China thinking? How can this be good for the country?

  2. Jules says:

    Thanks for the first-hand insights. I am currently reading a book called “The Last Days of Old Beijing” – it is a memoir of sorts about an American living amongst the poorest of poor in China. He teaches at a school that sounds just like the school you were describing. I find that the lack of educational opportunities is a mixed problem, one is logistic, one is cultural. Logistically, the government has horrible laws on migration (it actually used to be illegal to migrate until recently). And secondly, the Confucian thought of “communal” rights puts rural migrants, children, and women on the outs. 70 kids to a classroom to the communist party seems fair.. they all collectively get an education. I have also done some research on migrant life of women in China … it is really horrible. Still so much work to do in China!

  3. sms says:

    Thanks for you insight into the lives of migrant children in China. It seems that they have made a conscious decision to create a “natural” hierarchy in their eduction market. Certain students are being selected against and will not receive the same resource commitment because they were preselected as being less worthy of the investment.

    Bringing this back to our own research it would seem that a country who believes hierarchy between men and women is ok and natural, will also use that template in other policy proscriptions as well. Perhaps what we are seeing here is a natural outgrowth of the strong male female hierarchies that exist in China as well.

    Thanks again for sharing.

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