Classroom crisis

Why Beijing’s closing schools

Classroom crisis

Wants to learn, now not able to

If you think raising children is a challenge, try to imagine the life of a Chinese migrant parent in Beijing. Two weeks ago, the government quietly shut down 24 schools for migrant workers in Daxing, Chaoyang and Haidian districts, forcing more than 14,000 students to drop out.

“I felt very sad when I heard the school will be shut down, I have to send my children back to our hometown in Henan,” 42 year-old waste collector He Zhongshan told Reuters, at a school closing in the Chaoyang district.

Education officials say they are confident that displaced students will be reassigned to public schools before the school year starts on September 1.

But Xinhua reported that several townships now require migrant parents to provide five sets of documents, including their temporary residential and work permits, in order to enroll their children. For many migrants, that’s a problem, as they do not hold the full set of permits.

The Economic Observer says that, of the 800 students in the New Hope Primary School in Haidian district, only 100 parents have all five documents. The students in question now face the risk of not being able to go to school, or having to move back to their home provinces without their parents.

Why are the schools closing? Education authorities say they are only targeting schools lacking the necssary operating permits. They also say that poor safety standards at many school buildings are another reason for seeking their closure.

Yang Qin, a local principal, told reporters that his school had never been singled out for safety problems during many government inspections, nor had it violated any of the local hygiene regulations.

Instead Yang reckons officials intend to flatten areas at existing school sites to build new housing, because of their relative proximity to affluent areas of the city.

Geoffrey Crothall, a director at workers’ rights group China Labour Bulletin, agrees: “The closure of migrant schools in Beijing is a cynical ploy by district governments to clear the land for property developers as land values in the outer suburbs continue to rise.”

Critics also warn that the shutdown programme is part of Beijing government efforts to force so-called low-quality migrants out of the city.

WiC has mentioned this issue before, with the Chinese capital desperate to alleviate population pressure.

An investigation last summer found that the city’s population (those living in Beijing for six months or longer) had topped 19.7 million by the end of 2009. Amazingly, this was 2 million more than official figures had previously suggested.

In response officials announced plans to close down the cheap accommodation often favoured by migrants (the commitment was to complete the process by the end of this year).

No one knows for sure how many people live in the shelters, bunkers and basements of Beijing, but estimates have been as high as a million, the majority of them migrants.

Now with the latest news of the schools closure plan, migrants can be forgiven for thinking they are being targeted by city authorities.

Even the better-off among the city’s outsiders have been hit. City officials have also been limiting the number of car licence plates issued this year to just one-third the number in 2010. To qualify, migrants need to have lived in the city for five years, with documentary evidence that they have a job and have been paying their taxes. The new rules also ban out-of-town cars from much of the city during peak hours.

Still, the migrants are not alone in protesting against what they see as discriminatory treatment. Even state media has pitched in. “There can be many reasons for a government to treat the rich, the middle class and the poor differently,” says a China Daily editorial. “But there is no reason for a government to deny children of poor parents the right to education.”

Netizens have also been weighing in on the issue, following reports that the China Youth Development Foundation – an organisation affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party – is planning to build 1,000 schools across Africa.

Many netizens were quick to draw the comparison between far-flung investment overseas, and the apparent lack of it in China’s capital.

“China is building 1,000 new schools in Africa,” one wrote on weibo. “Maybe its own citizens will have to emigrate there before they will be able to experience the love of their Party and government.”

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