The Chinese government has begun to implement a series of measures to provide education for its 3 million migrant children who accompany their rural parents to cities in search of a better life.
Thirteen-year-old Nie Mengling, from central China's Hubei province, has been in Beijing for three years while her parents make a living selling fruit.
Nie, who has got straight "A"s in her primary school graduation exams, said unlike her parents she would like to become a scientist when she grows up.
In Chinese cities, migrants who lack registration for permanent local residency do not enjoy the same privileges as other local dwellers in employment, education and social security.
Migrant workers have to pay extra fees if they want to have their children educated in public schools. If they cannot afford them, their children either have to go to schools run by other migrants, or simply get no schooling at all.
Huangzhuang Primary school, where Nie attends, is one such school run by migrants. Chen Enxian,the headmaster, said: "Migrant workers will try their best to send their children to school. They don't want them to become illiterate."
According to statistics from Beijing educational authorities, there are now 123 schools set up by migrants accommodating over 17, 000 children in the capital city.
These schools teach between 20 and 3,000 students each and charge about 300 yuan (US$36.1) each term.
When migrant children go to public schools, their parents have to pay 500 yuan (60.2 US dollars) in tuition fees each term, plus 1,000 yuan (120.5 US dollars) for selection of the school and 1, 000 to 30,000 yuan (3614.5 US dollars) as sponsorship.
According to statistics from Dr. Han Jialing, of the Beijing Academy of Social Sciences, the monthly income of the 31,000 migrant families in Beijing averages around 1,000 yuan. About 20 percent of these families get less than 500 yuan per month, while the income of about 43 percent of families varies between 500 to 1000 yuan.
Chen Enxian said: "The parents of some of my students are rich enough to have mobile phones and cars, but they prefer to send their children to migrant schools, because children are often laughed at by their urban peers and teachers in other schools."
"Migrant schools are cheap and affordable for migrant workers. And children here don't suffer from the discrimination they face in public schools, because they have similar family backgrounds."
Zhao Shukai, an expert with the Development Research Center under the State Council, said: "Their children, as the second generation of migrants from villages to cities, will have to face an unfamiliar world when attending public schools.
"For young and sensitive minds, unfair treatment may leave them indelibly scarred. Traumatic experiences may later turn in adulthood into hatred and alienation towards urban life."
"Without education, the second generation was likely to become illiterate and law-breakers, which would be disturbing."
Wu Qing, a representative of the People's Congress of Beijing Municipality, said: "Every child should be able to enjoy education and equality. It's their right stipulated in the Constitution and the government should look after their interests."
After a temporary regulation on compulsory education for migrant children was published in April this year, Beijing's educational authorities decided to cut charges for teaching migrant children in public schools in the upcoming school year.
Fees for primary school will be reduced to 200 yuan (24.1 US dollars) from the previous 500 yuan, and for secondary school to 500 yuan, a 50 percent drop from the previous charge.
Li Guanzheng, deputy director of the Beijing Education Commission, said three measures would be taken to improve schooling for migrant children. They would be admitted into public schools, special schools would be set up for them and the management of public schools would be entrusted to migrants.
Other cities have implemented more substantial reforms for migrants. Liu Qian, who immigrated from Henan three years ago to Shijiazhuang, capital city of north China's Hebei province, is one of the first to benefit from local reforms in residence registration policy.
Liu, who has just completed registration procedures for permanent residency in the city, said his child finally can go to a public school without additional fees.
Ningbo, a major port city in east China's Zhejiang province, has lifted the limit on rural people applying for registration as permanent residents.
Guangdong province in south China is preparing to register its residents according to where they actually live and abolish those policies discriminating between urban and rural dwellers.
Zhao Shukai said: "The problem of the education for migrant children is mainly a result of the out-of-date residency registration system and that of the segmented governmental management of education.
"The free movement of human resources is an inevitable response to the demand of the market economy."
It is estimated some 40 million rural workers in China will move to urban areas in the next five years.
(Xinhua News Agency July 10, 2002)