(by Josh Chin, The Wall Street Journal.com, WSJ.com) – CHINA … Three Beijing districts announced this week, just days before the start of the school year, that 24 private schools serving more than 40,000 children of migrant workers are facing closure.

Some of the schools have already been bulldozed, according to media reports, while others have received notice that they will be demolished if they attempt to hold classes.

A Chinese father protests outside a school for migrant worker’s children that was demolished three days ahead of the new semester in Dongsheng county, in the suburbs of Beijing on Aug. 16, 2011.

Noting that the knock-down notices were delivered just days before the start of the school year, some observers have interpreted the campaign as an underhanded effort to force migrant families to leave.

“It’s the government’s attempt at getting rid of the migrant population,” Tian Kun, a Beijing lawyer and advocate for the rights of migrant children told the Global Times after news of the demolitions began to spread. “They are targeting the kids and hoping the parents will just leave the capital.”

Not all agree, however. Jonathan Hursh, founder of the Beijing-based nonprofit Compassion for Migrant Children, is among those who think the government is making a genuine, if imperfect, effort to find a solution to the problem of educating the city’s migrant children. The reason: Like California and other places in the U.S., Beijing’s economy is heavily dependent on its migrant population.

“Why after all these years are they still there? It’s because we want them there, we need them there,” Mr. Hursh recently told China Real Time. “If all the migrants were to leave, Beijing would grind to a halt.”

Of the 19 million people who live in Beijing, roughly a third come from outside the city, China’s latest census figures show. Many of those are migrant workers, brought in to work on construction crews, staff restaurants and do other menial jobs that most Beijing residents are unwilling to do.

At the heart of the schooling issue is China’s hukou, or household registration, system. Families without a Beijing hukou have a difficult time accessing social services in the city, including public education for their children.

Unable to attend government-run schools, many turn instead to privately run schools.

According to official statistics cited by the state-run Xinhua news agency, the city is home to roughly 437,000 school-aged migrant children, roughly a quarter of whom are enrolled in private schools.

The majority of Beijing’s private schools, which number around 400, are unregistered. The government contends that many of the unregistered schools, including those targeted for closure this week, are unsafe or provide substandard education.

At a press conference Tuesday, the Beijing Municipal Education Commission vowed that no student would go without an education, despite the closures.

While admitting that some of the private schools are substandard, many migrant parents and education advocates question whether the commission really plans to make good on its promise. They point to limited capacity in public schools, requirements that migrant families provide multiple hard-to-acquire documents to qualify their children for public education, and the “special fees” some public schools charge migrant children.

“The requirements for public school are too stringent,” said Zhu Dongliang, a migrant worker whose son attends the Dongba Experimental School, a private school on the outskirts of Beijing that’s slated for closure. “A friend told me it costs 20,000 yuan ($3,100) to attend public school.”

Mr. Hursh of the Compassion for Migrant Children nonprofit said he thinks the quality of private schools in Beijing has improved in recent years, thanks in part to competition, but he also said he thought migrant children would be better off if integrated into the public school system.

The model, he said, is Shanghai, which has managed to shut down all but a few of its unregistered private schools and shift migrant children into the public school system, in part by providing each child with a 1,900-yuan annual subsidy.

Beijing provides a subsidy of 80 yuan to migrant children in elementary school and 130 yuan to those attending middle school.

“The overwhelming majority of migrant children in Shanghai are now in the public school system,” Mr. Hursh said. “It’s an issue of political willpower.”

Whether that willpower exists in Beijing is very much up for debate. The city’s population is already bursting at the seams, with water in short supply, traffic clogging the roads and real-estate prices skyrocketing. Add in a fierce desire on the part of authorities to keep the capital free of any potential instability, and suddenly it doesn’t seem implausible that the city might want to send a few migrant families packing.

Indeed, eastern Beijing’s Chaoyang district, where a number of private schools are facing closure, announced plans last year to ask as many as 1 million migrant workers to leave, saying the influx of migrants had caused problems such as “social security and pollution.”

As Mr. Hursh noted, Beijing has closed private schools before, shuttering more than 70 in August 2006. A month later, the majority were allowed to reopen.

– Josh Chin. Follow him on Twitter @joshchin.

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. From the WSJ’s China RealTime Report.  Visit the website at blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2011/08/19/will-school-closures-prompt-migrants-to-flee.


1.  Describe the two opposite motives suggested as the reason for the government closure of so many private schools in Beijing just before the new school year begins. (see para. 3-4, 11)

2.  List the following statistics provided in the article:
a)  population of Beijing
b)  percent of migrant workers in Beijing
c)  number of school aged children of migrant workers in Beijing
d)  number of migrant workers’ children enrolled in private schools in Beijing

3.  Describe China’s hukou system.

4.  For what three reasons do migrant parents doubt the Beijing’s Education Commission’s promise that no student will go without an education, despite the private school closures? (see para. 13)

5.  The Chinese city of Shanghai has been able to integrate the majority of migrant workers’ children into public schools.  List the problems faced by Beijing that might prevent the Beijing government from having the same drive to also do so.

6.  Has this article affected your appreciation for the public school system in America?  Explain your answer.

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  • Education in the People’s Republic of China is a state-run system of public education run by the Ministry of Education. All citizens must attend school for at least nine years. The government provides primary education for six years, starting at age six or seven, followed by six years of secondary education for ages 12 to 18. Some provinces may have five years of primary school but four years for middle school. There are three years of middle school and three years of high school. (from wikipedia)
  • Hukou – The hukou household-registration system, adopted in the late 1950s to control population movement, is a system which limits rural migrant workers’ access to city services and restricts their ability to settle permanently in urban areas. (Read about criticism of the system at: studentnewsdaily.com/daily-news-article/china-editorial-urges-sweeping-change-to-household-registration.)
  • The People’s Republic of China, with a population of approximately 1.3 billion, is an authoritarian state in which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) constitutionally is the paramount source of power. Party members hold almost all top government, police, and military positions. Ultimate authority rests with the 25-member political bureau (Politburo) of the CCP and its nine-member standing committee. President Hu Jintao holds the three most powerful positions as CCP general secretary, president, and chairman of the Central Military Commission. Civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces. (Read more at the U.S. State Department website at state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2008/eap/119037.htm.)


For background on China, go to the U.S. State Department website at state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/18902.htm.

For a map of China, go to worldatlas.com.

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