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15,000 Children Facing Uncertain Future As Schools Close
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15,000 migrant school children face an uncertain education after 37 schools in Beijing's Haidian District were ordered to close their doors, leaving their students facing uncertainty with no certain places for the upcoming term.

The local education commission issued a circular ordering 37 schools catering to migrant workers' children to close due to safety concerns and a lack of qualified teachers.

"There are over 50,000 migrant children in our district and one third of them are studying in private schools. A lot of these schools are not well-equipped and are liable to suffer from food poisoning outbreaks, gas leaks, collapsed roofs, fires and traffic accidents," said Zhu Jianxin, section chief with Haidian Education Commission.

The statement came as a "major surprise" to Wu Jijun, a maths teacher at Hongxing School, one of the schools required to shut down.

"The Haidian Education Commission has checked on migrant children schools every year since our school was founded in 1999. They have only found some minor problems with the school in previous years and asked the schools to improve the facilities as best they could. No serious accident has been reported for seven years," said Wu.

The education commission's circular said the students will be allocated places in local public schools. To allay fears, the circular stated that all students affected would be allocated places in local public schools.

"Parents of these children will not be expected to pay extra tuition fees," said Zhu.

But the decision has riled parents and teachers, who believe the children will struggle to find places in public schools before the start of this academic year.

"Public schools usually charge migrant parents high fees," said Wu Jijun. Other public schools refuse to take in migrant children, citing a lack of space, according to a letter signed by 43 migrant parents last Friday asking the education commission for a solution.

Parent pressure has forced Haidian Education Commission to hold a public meeting today to deal with cases of migrant children being turned away by public schools growing ever more frequent.

"We have ensured them that their children will have a school to attend," said Yan, a commission officer.

Some public schools have been left with no choice but to refuse students. The principle of Yishi primary school, surnamed Wang, said that around 100 migrant parents have tried to enroll their children since August. Some class sizes have expanded to 45, almost exceeding the school's capabilities, he explained.

Social concerns are also obstacles to the relocation plan. "I will not go to a public school even if my school is actually closed," said 12-year-old schoolgirl Zhang Yue from Hongxing School. "My friends at public schools told me the local children don't want to play with them. The local children know we are not from Beijing and that we are not one of them so they treat us differently."

Xie Zhenqing, principal of Hongxing School which receives 1,400 students each year, is ignoring orders to close the school. She has promised parents the school will be open for the first day of the new semester today.

(Xinhua News Agency August 25, 2006)

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