The new semester beginning this week brings more joy to many migrant workers and their children in Shanghai as local authorities have officially listed their schools as private-run educational institutions.
With this official sanction, government funds will for the first time arrive at these schools to upgrade facilities and subsidize each student enrolled. In the Pudong New Area, an average of 500,000 yuan ($88,230) is earmarked for each school’s facelift.
To people like Sun Jianhong, headmaster of Pudong’s Tangsi Primary School, the legal protection now for the school is a spiritual support. It means much more than just money, although those poor parents now no longer have to pay 550 yuan for books and tuition each semester.
With no official sanction before, many schools for migrant children were subject to harassment from the authorities. They could be randomly suspended or shut down for reasons ranging from a lack of license through inadequate facilities to unqualified teaching staff. As a result, many migrant children were without a school.
What’s happening in the new semester is encouraging. It came years after a State Council circular that ordered local authorities to grant equal education treatment to migrant children and financial support to their schools.
However, this is far from enough. Tens of millions of migrant children across the country still have no access to proper or equal education. Schools for migrant children are often poorly equipped and some are even located in idle factory buildings, warehouses or old apartments. These often crowded places have no playground, sanitation or guarantee of safety. Teachers, many without a license, are underpaid compared to those in public schools.
This means that migrant children and their schools are still being discriminated in our education system. And, these children have a greater chance of being left further behind during school years, compared to children in public schools.
Some cities still cite various excuses, such as a lack of government funds, to keep migrant children out of their public schools, while the money wasted on local official cars and banquets or a single vanity project in their cities far exceeds the amount needed to cover tens of thousands of migrant children.
This is absolutely unacceptable. As an already underprivileged group, migrant children deserve more care from both government and society so that they have a better chance to catch up with urban children. Regardless of being urban, rural or migrant, children are the future of our nation.
Schools for migrant children should also be a temporary phenomenon because its existence symbolizes a kind of discrimination and segregation.
Our government should give more attention and money to the education of migrant children. It could encourage and subsidize job-seeking college graduates to find a teaching career at these schools. This is as worthy as any great cause in reviving the Chinese nation.