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Kindergartens' closure reflects migrants' plight

Updated: 2011-09-02 21:44


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BEIJING - Zhang Yanbing is a skilled manual laborer, not a teacher.

He had no idea what to do to entertain or educate his five-year-old son after the boy's suburban Beijing kindergarten closed down this week.

"He stared at the computer screen at home all morning. I know that's no good for him, but I simply don't know what to teach him, " Zhang told Xinhua on his way to buy food and new toys for his son on Thursday afternoon, the day the new school semester began for millions of Chinese students.

Zhang and his wife came to Xihongmen township in southern Beijing's Daxing District from the country's northeastern Heilongjiang province. They both make a living doing odd jobs.

The boy previously spent a happy year at the Xiyangyang Kindergarten, or "Full of Joy" Kindergarten, in Xihongmen. However, the kindergarten was closed on Thursday because its operators did not have an ownership certificate for the buildings or an operating license.

By Thursday, 2,300 children, mostly from migrant families, were forced to go back home as 31 illegal kindergartens in Xihongmen were shut down by the government, according to Yang Min, vice secretary of the township's committee of the Communist Party of China.

Safety concerns lead to closures

The shutdown of the 31 kindergartens was part of an intense crackdown on illegal and unsafe structures, which was initiated after a fire in an illegal building in neighboring Jiugong township killed 18 people in late April, Yang said.

Most of the closed kindergartens were built without permission from local land authorities and others had become dilapidated, he said, adding that they also failed to meet safety standards.

"These kindergartens pose major hidden dangers. Some of them lack emergency passageways and some small ones are extremely crowded. There would be severe consequences if a fire or stampede occurred," Yang said.

The operator of the Xiyangyang Kindergarten, Pan Hongyan, said the kindergarten has six classrooms, each covering about 60 square meters.

Pan and his wife, Wang Xiaomin, took over the Xiyangyang Kindergarten a year ago, and invested more than 400,000 yuan in the renovation work.

A Xinhua reporter saw that every classroom was equipped with an air conditioner, a water dispenser and a dozen simple beds for the children's noon-time nap.

"We also purchased surveillance cameras and fire extinguishers, and hired security guards as ordered by education authorities. But now they have simply ordered us to leave," said Wang.

Wang said that they received a shutdown order in May, but she ignored it until a harsher one, which threatened them with demolition, came in late August.

"In the past three months, we asked the children to go home from time to time, but secretly resumed classes again and again at their parents' request," she said.

The kindergarten charged 350 yuan (about $54.8) per month for each child, including two meals every day. The cost is affordable for nearly all migrant couples who earn a few thousand yuan a month in Beijing.

"The kindergarten is open six days a week without summer and winter holidays. We know that migrant workers can spare almost no time to look after their children," Wang said, adding that the kindergarten had about 200 children and 12 teachers.

Applying for the operating license is an impossible mission for Wang, as that would require an ownership certificate.

"We rented the classrooms from someone else. He built the bungalows on farmland, which was prohibited by the government. But nobody stopped him at the beginning," Wang said.

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