Zhang Zhengchuan had lived in Shanghai for seven years, but he was shocked to find that none of the city's middle schools would accept his 11-year-old son -- because he was the child of a migrant worker.
In despair, he had to send his son back to their native village in Anhui Province for an education.
"I fear neither hardship nor fatigue, and my only hope is that my boy can receive a good education and live the same life as other city dwellers," says Zhang.
Getting an education for their children is a real cause for concern for about 100 million rural migrant workers who pour from China's rural villages to cities.
Statistics from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security show about 94 million rural migrant workers are seeking work in cities and the number is growing by 5 million every year.
Authorities said tens of thousands of children from rural migrant workers' families had difficulty in getting into public schools in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, where their parents cannot the fees.
Under China's laws and regulations on education, a rural migrant child without a registered permanent residence in a city must pay much higher tuition fees in form of a donation than authorized residents.
Local governments only provide financial support according to the number of school children with permanent residence permits and so rural migrant workers' children receive no governmental subsidies.
Critics fear the failure to provide good education for rural migrant children will condemn their families to perpetual poverty.
"Children's rights to education must be guaranteed, whether they are from the countryside or cities," says Gu Xiaoming, a professor with Shanghai-based Fudan University. "They should enjoy the same rights as urban kids.
"We need to revise the laws on compulsory education in order to ensure the education rights of a huge number of children from rural migrant workers' families," Gu says.
The Law on Compulsory Education was adopted on April 12, 1986, when few legislators foresaw the massive movement of peasants into cities with the fast economic development of recent years.
However, the problem has aroused public attention as the revisions of the education laws and regulations have been put on the agenda of Education, Science, Culture and Health Committee of the 10th National People's Congress, China's top legislature.
The State Council issued a statement in September last year requiring local governments to guide and support private schools for migrant workers' children with funds, facilities and teacher training.
The government will lower the standards for schools of the children of migrant workers, except for teaching, safety and sanitation standards.
Beijing authorities have issued interim regulations targeting over 200,000 children from rural migrant families.
A rural migrant child must still pay 200 to 500 yuan (US$24 to 60) more than other residents every semester in Beijing's public primary or middle schools.
However, only 38.5 percent of Shanghai's 320,000-plus children of rural migrant families are admitted into the city's public schools while the rest are educated in small ramshackle schools especially for migrant children.
(Xinhua News Agency March 3, 2004)