All across Beijing, kids are gearing up to head back to the classroom, but a recent round of closures and demolitions has left up to 40,000 migrant children without schools to attend. A government crackdown on schools is raising concerns as other centers for migrant children face uncertain futures and renewing calls from frustrated parents to address the inequality in access to basic education.
Over the past week, several Beijing schools serving migrant populations have been denied permission to open; many have even been demolished. Though reports vary, it’s estimated that around 30 schools have been shut down and that anywhere from 5,500 to 40,000 children may have been affected. Considering that some of these schools had enrollments of over 1,000 children, the higher estimates may well be more realistic.
Officials have released statements saying that “schools were closed because they had not won approval from education authorities to meet the required standards, such as in quality of construction, sports facilities, food and other safety issues.” For these migrant schools, which are often housed in old village structures, building standards that require frequent renovations, expansive space or extra facilities are simply unrealistic.
Shutting down illegal schools for migrant workers’ children has become commonplace in Beijing. The most recent big crackdown took place in 2006 and resulted in the closing of 58 unauthorized private schools. According to the founder of Migrant Workers’ Friend, more than 120 schools have shut down since 2009.
These closures could affect one of Beijing’s highest-profile non-profit migrant organizations, Compassion for Migrant Children (CMC), which made headlines for recycling colorful shipping containers for use as community centers. The Dongba area (out by the East Fifth Ring Road), which has been affected by the recent migrant school shutdown, is also the site of CMC’s largest community center. At the moment there is no word on whether the closure of several schools near the Dongba center will affect CMC’s operations. (However, CMC is following this story closely; to see their extensive compilation of video links and Chinese- and English-language reports, click here.) The challenges created by frequent school closures were the very reason that CMC began to build portable community centers in the first place.
This latest high-profile shutdown of Beijing’s migrant schools is again putting the spotlight on the inequalities within the school system. A Beijing hukou (official residency status) entitles the children of a household to public schooling, but migrant children – outsiders by definition – are denied that access. Parents who find schools willing to make exceptions may find themselves paying bribes ranging from RMB 5,000-20,000.
New reports indicate that some schools are relaxing the rules on documentation and fees so that migrant kids are not completely bereft of options as the school year approaches. While this reform has benefited a few thousand children, it still leaves tens of thousands out of school and the larger issue still unresolved.
Read the original article on the Beijinger here.