City authorities have pledged to protect the education rights of migrant children by shutting down poor quality private schools that take advantage of their undocumented status and encouraging more State-run schools to enroll migrant students.
"We aim to eventually place all these students in local public schools and at a limited number of well-managed private schools," said Mao Fang, an official with the city's education commission.
China's residence permit system, which ties health, housing and education to the place a person is registered, means that local governments are only responsible for the compulsory education of locally registered residents.
Because of this, most migrant children are barred access to urban public schools due to high fees and their lack of valid identification. Many parents have turned to poorly run private schools.
"Most of the founders of these schools are driven by profits," said Mao. "What they really care about is the money they can make from the school, not the quality of education they provide."
To minimize costs, most schools rent abandoned properties, from warehouses to animal storage units in the suburbs, and employ anyone who is willing to teach, whether or not they are qualified, Mao said.
"They are endangering the lives and futures of these students," he said.
Following a central government decree that migrant children's education should be supervised by the governments where they live, Shanghai has worked to crack down on these shoddy private schools.
Officials have cut the number of private schools in Shanghai's Baoshan District, home to the largest number of such schools, to 60 since last April.
Li Guohua, an education official in Baoshan, said the closings are necessary to protect children from dirty, unsafe school environments.
"By closing poor schools, we hope to focus our efforts on well-managed private schools that offer quality education and a safe environment. We are also encouraging more public schools to accept migrant children," Mao said.
A drop in Shanghai's birth rate has left many schools with fewer pupils. Enrolling migrant children means that the schools can be filled to capacity, he said.
The city has also worked with some public schools to help them accept migrant children and charge reasonable fees, he said.
"We expect to see the proportion of public schools go up and eventually play a dominant role," Mao said. "With the declining number of local primary school students, most migrant children will be studying in public schools in three to five years."
Of 240,000 migrant students studying in Shanghai, 100,000 have been accepted by public schools. The remaining 140,000 are studying in about 500 private schools scattered in the outskirts of the city.
At the moment, he said the government cannot simply shut down all poor quality schools, as the public sector cannot handle such a large number of children from outside the city.
"We will support good private schools, including granting them legal status," Mao said.
(China Daily July 15, 2001)