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Market Kindergarten Helps Migrant Children

A project launched on Monday in Beijing and Chengdu, in southwest China's Sichuan Province, will offer migrant children ready access to equal education and help them integrate into the communities where they live.


The project is sponsored by the National Working Committee on Children and Women and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. As part of the project, Beijing's Xicheng District is considering establishing more “market kindergartens” this year based on the model of Zhang Yan's.


Zhang, a professor at Beijing Normal University, set up the free, informal preschool near Sihuan Market last year. Cui Jingsheng, now four, was one of her first students.


Jingsheng, the son of migrant workers from Hebei Province, is no longer the wild boy who lived like a dirty pony galloping through 500 stands of muddy vegetables with a running nose.


"My boy has learned to say hello and goodbye to people and now knows to wash his hands before eating," said Miao Congge, Jingsheng's mother. "Also, I no longer need to worry about his safety while I'm working."


The kindergarten now has 24 children enrolled, all under the age of six and all the offspring of migrant vendors in the market. Citywide, an estimated 100,000 preschool-aged migrant children spend their days playing in the 1,000-odd street markets.


Like most migrant workers, Miao says she would be hard put to send her son to an officially operated kindergarten, which normally charge 400 to 500 yuan (US$48 to 60) a month.


Additionally, standard kindergartens open at 7:00 AM, when the vendors are busy transporting their goods and setting up displays.


Now Miao can take Jingsheng to the free kindergarten at 9:00 AM every day, where the boy learns through games and stories and takes part in various outdoor activities under the guidance of voluntary student teachers from Beijing Normal University.


Parents are asked to take turns as teachers in the afternoons and are provided with information on educating children.


Market manager Zhang Manhong said that the kindergarten benefits his operation as well. "The kindergarten helps stabilize the vendors and contributes to the market's development."


Zhang hopes to see the kindergarten contribute to the development of a culture of mutual support within the migrant community. She advises the communities to recognize and exploit their own resources as parents when providing education to preschool children.


(China Daily April 13, 2005)

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