School closures highlight migrant education issue

By Ren Zhongxi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, March 8, 2010
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30 private schools for migrant workers' children in Beijing are being shut down and bulldozed to make way for real estate developments. Around 15,000 children will be forced to find alternative schools or move back to their home towns.

The government says the closures are intended to free up land to develop the city. Campaigners call it naked profiteering. "The real reason the government grabs land from the people is that it can sell it on to real estate companies at high prices. And the people living on the land get nothing," Zhang Zhiqiang of the NGO "Friends of Migrant Workers" told

According to a January report on, land fees received by the Beijing government in 2009 amounted to 92.8 billion yuan (US$13.6 billion) – 45.9 percent of the city's fiscal revenue.

As far as can ascertain only Chaoyang district has made any effort to help the children find new schools, and this only after local media took up the issue. Other districts have taken no measures to help the children. The schools were informed of the closures either just before or during Spring Festival holidays when the children were on holiday. Most have quietly moved away.

Private migrant children's schools began to thrive in Beijing in the early 1990s. There are now 302 schools, mainly on the outskirts of the capital outside the fifth ring road. Most of them don't have official permits and run classes in rented accommodation. Although they were banned by the government in 2006, they stayed in business because of their low fees and the fact that they meet a desperate need.

But the city's real estate boom has become a new and potent threat to migrant children's education. Parents of migrant children cannot afford public schools. According to Zhang, a typical migrant family earns 15,000 – 20,000 yuan (US$2,197-2,929) per year. They spend about 1500 on rent and living expenses per month, and while the migrant workers' schools charge only around 500 yuan a term, public schools demand a "donation" of 1,000 to 10,000 yuan from parents without Beijing residence permits.

Zhang added that moving from school to school unsettles the children and disrupts their studies. "Migrant children feel abandoned by the city. They have no security," Zhang said.

In 2001, the State Council ordered local governments to take responsibility for providing public schooling for the children of migrant workers. But in practice, most public schools put insurmountable hurdles in the path of the children. Common tricks include demanding the children take difficult admission exams or making their parents supply dozens of copies of official work permits and residence permits. And many migrant workers are self-employed and have no documentation, said Zhang.

China's allocation of education funds is one reason for the unequal education rights of migrant workers' children. The central government allocates an education budget to each province based on child numbers. When a child moves to another province, the money that should be spent on him or her is not transferred. The provinces they move to refuse to provide them with education. "Of course they are reluctant to pay for migrant workers. If a teacher is paid to teach 10 students, then 10 more migrant children come, but their salary stays the same, they won't be motivated to work," Zhang said.

But another reason, according to Zhang, is that the Beijing government's policy is to drive out migrant workers. "The prices of water and electricity in the suburbs are 3-4 times higher than in downtown Beijing. The government should consider the rights and livelihood of migrant workers because the city cannot develop without them," Zhang said.

Zhang told that there is no law to protect migrant workers' rights. He is planning to invite lawyers and NPC deputies to hear the complaints of migrant workers at first hand. "I'm trying hard to organize it, but I don't know whether I will succeed. Children are the hope and future of a country. Those who damage education betray that future," he said.

Responding to criticism, the Beijing Municipal Commission of Education said on March 3 that it would find alternative places for all children affected by the closures and vowed that no student would be deprived of an education.

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