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Vocational Education Key to Urban Integration
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The massive migrant population of millions of farmers-turned workers and their children requires a strategy for integrating these people into their new urban surroundings.


How to truly integrate them into urban areas is by no means an easy issue to resolve. This question and its potential answers involve a host of factors, including the decades-old domicile management system.


The absorption of these people takes time. So, their integration must be gradual.


One potential strategy for facilitating such gradual social integration is enhancing vocational education.


Census statistics show that China's urban areas contain 19.8 million migrant children younger than age 14, 74 percent, or 14.6 million, of whom have their roots in rural areas. And today, it is estimated that there are 8 million school-aged migrant children.


The latest sampling survey conducted by the China Children's Center indicates that the dropout rate of migrant children stands as high as 9.3 percent. Surveys made by some localities offer even gloomier prospects for these kids.


Consequently, schooling problems for these migrant children have become points of grave concern for all of society. In view of this, the State Council last year proposed that local governments should shoulder the chief responsibility for the compulsory schooling of migrant workers' children. The Council also proposed that regular elementary and high schools are obligated to enroll these children.


In practice, however, these propositions have met with difficulties.


First, many cities' educational resources are insufficient to accommodate migrant workers' children.


Facing the pressures created by limited capital and dislocated educational facilities, some schools have to charge extra fees for the enrollment of migrant workers' children. This forces their parents to turn to cheaper and in many cases, inferior schools.


The high volatility of migrant workers' movements throughout the country has compounded these difficulties.


Even if the question of providing compulsory education for migrant children can be resolved, bridging their educations with their future urban careers still remains problematic.


Consequently, the crux of the matter lies in the integration of elementary compulsory education and vocational education.


Fusing these could provide a prescription for a number of current complications.


To begin with, urbanization requires that the mobile population become truly settled down in cities. And it takes a few generations for this mobile population to really become integrated into these urban areas. So, when migrant workers' children become skilled workers through vocational education, they actually promote the process through which they become real urban residents and regular workers.


In addition, vocational education provides the children of migrant workers with the most, and best, possible opportunities for integration considering they are in a very disadvantaged position before their general secondary education, which is geared towards college enrollment.


The employment rate of those trained by general vocational education reached 94 percent in 2004, according to a sampling survey conducted by relevant departments. And the employment rate of those trained by advanced vocational education programs was nearly 70 percent.


Now, educators in schools oriented toward migrant workers' children are casting their eyes on vocational education. This is a good start.


Also, short supplies of skilled workers are creating an increasingly haunting problem for industry, as China's industry upgrades. The shortfalls, no doubt, are directly blamed on the fact that vocational education trails far behind the actual needs for it.


The ratio of migrant workers' children who have received vocational education is particularly low. According to the Research Institute under the State Council, 76.4 percent of the rural labor force has not received vocational education.


The vast majority of the farmers- turned workers go directly from junior high schools to factories. And pending their stay in factories as workers, they are still not enrolled in vocational training.


Although China's vocational education is currently showing signs of resurgence, it still fails to meet the needs of economic development.


In Guangdong, China's most economically developed province, for example, many skilled workers trained in other provinces have to be imported back into the province, because of the backwardness of its vocational education.


If both questions about schooling migrant workers' children and promoting vocational education are considered alongside each other, concerns about these children's integration and economic growth's hunger for skilled workers could be alleviated simultaneously.


Besides cooperation between various sectors, such as that between vocational educational institutions and enterprises, the State's educational appropriation should favor vocational education.


The author is a professor from the Sociology Department of Tsinghua University


(China Daily May 8, 2007)

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