A report in last week's Nanfang Weekend once again brought into the limelight the issue of education for children of migrant workers.
The story recounts the experiences of three children after their school, Nanyuan Xingzhi, was closed in February. The school, located in Beijing's Fengtai District, is non-government-run and was established specially for the children of migrant workers.
One of the three children featured in the article was eventually squeezed into a nearby public school after his mother made more than 80 visits, repeatedly implored the headmaster and handed over a not inconsiderable sum of money. The second child was transferred to another non-government school in another district, 15 kilometers from his home, while the third was forced to leave her parents and return to her family's hometown.
These youngsters are just three among several thousand children whose chance of an education was snatched away when a total of 16 non-public schools were ordered to shut after the Spring Festival. Fengtai's education department ordered their closure because they were built without the approval of the education watchdog.
The department was not entirely at fault and acted in line with its responsibilities to ensure proper school facilities, ones that comply with the relevant rules and regulations.
But its responsibility should not end simply with the closure of the schools. Its role as a guardian of education does not allow it to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the needs of anxious and helpless children and their parents.
These non-public schools are invariably shabby in the facilities they offer and lacking in high quality teaching. Local education authorities may list a thousand reasons to close them down, but when carrying out the clear-cut policy, they should also bear in mind the need to provide an education for the children affected.
Only a very few are fortunate enough to be admitted into public schools, which are already full to capacity and have closed their doors to children of migrant workers. Therefore, the closure of these private schools amounts to slamming shut the doors of education for many such children.
Education authorities are responsible for providing better conditions for these children to realize their right to an education, as stipulated in the Nine-Year Compulsory Education Law. The closure of these schools, however, should not, and was not intended to be, the ultimate goal.
Rough statistics indicate the number of school-age children of migrant workers stands at around 70,000 in Beijing. And these private schools came into being in response to the pressing need to educate these children.
Local education authorities are entitled to provide them guidance and help to improve the quality of teaching and facilities, but the brutal resort of shutting them down ought not to be the final answer.
A document issued by the State Council in January laid down just such requirements to education authorities nationwide.
The example of Fengtai is not unique, given the gigantic population of transient workers. But, in the future, when dealing with similar cases, local education authorities, we trust, will always treat as paramount the education of the children concerned.
(People’s Daily April 19, 2003)