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Illegal Schools for Migrant Workers' Kids Await Government Approval

At a primary school called Zhiquanin Changping, a suburb north of Beijing, about 1,000 kids are studying in small and shabby classrooms without heating. All of them come from families of rural migrant workers.


Huangzhuang Primary School, also holding over 1,000 children like them, is located 30 meters from a busy railway in Shijingshan District, a west Beijing suburb.


Not a word could be heard in the classroom when a train passed and the teacher had to stop teaching now and again at peak train hours.


There are about 400 underground schools for migrant workers' children in Beijing, which have no license or approval from the government.


The education authorities said their facilities are poor and not safe while teachers are not qualified.


"The school is not good but except here where could I send my son?" said Zhang, a mother who sent her child to Shuren School, also an illegal school in Shijingshan, for a new semester, "The (tuition of) public schools is too expensive. We can't afford it."


A child whose registered permanent residence is not in Beijing should pay 200 yuan more than natives every semester, according to the municipal education authority. But the cost can be far more than that.


In Nanjing City of east China's Jiangsu Province, a migrant worker Luo Yang was asked to give 8,000 yuan to his child's primary school in name of a donation every semester while many migrant workers earn no more than 1,000 yuan a month.


Xinhua and China Youth Daily sent questionnaires to 131 migrant workers early this year. Among the 125 valid ones, 54 said the tuition of public schools is too high.


“I am so sad to see the children of my fellows play in construction sites, bazaars and at streets when they should be in the classroom," said Qin Jijie, headmaster of Zhiquan School, who was a high school teacher in his hometown in central China's Henan Province.


"Our people left their poor hometown for cities not only to make a living. More importantly we hope our children will have a different life from us, for example, to receive more education," he said, "but they are still as far from a good education as they were back home."


Qin spent four years building a school covering 3,700 square meters with 37 teachers. He has to finance all the money by himself and without any other investment the daily cost of the school depends on the small amount of tuition. So far it has not got a government license.


In his bedroom, which also serves as the office, a stove was burning coal for heating. Most his students live in the same bunkhouses nearby.


Zhao Shengjie and Dong Qingyun, a couple running the Shuren School, have moved the school four times since it was founded in 2000.


The school moved for the first time because the houses they rented were pulled down by the government for a new highway.


The second time, the couple rented a bigger house due to the increasing number of students and the third time it was shut down by the municipal education authority.


"All tables and chairs were seized by the administration at that time. I had decided to close the school but what about the 400 students? No school would take them," Zhao said.


All the children held class on the ground for a whole week before the couple found a new residence for the school.


And now they faced the fourth move. Again the schoolhouse they rent will be pulled down for a government construction project.


This time the couple decided to go out on a limb. They financed 150,000 yuan to rent a patch of land and build a new school house with 30 classrooms.


"The new school house is much better and we have applied to the education authority for the approval," said Dong.


The State Council issued a statement in September last year requiring local governments to guide and support private schools for migrant workers' children in funds, facilities and teachers' training.


According to the State Council, the government will lower the standards for schools holding the children of migrant workers, except for the standards of teachers, safety and sanitation of schools.


"I am not sure whether the school will meet the criteria or not ‘cause they did not tell us what criteria are," Dong said.


(Xinhua News Agency February 20, 2004)


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