China Takes Aim at Rural Influx

The New York Times notes the razing of some 30 schools for migrant workers’ children in Beijing over the summer, affecting over 30,000 students. The demolitions, justified by the government on health and safety grounds, highlight the gaping divide between legal residence holders and outsiders in China’s major cities, which threatens to become a dangerous faultline as urbanisation continues.

Though the quality of education they offer may be questionable, private schools like Red Star are often the only option for the children of low-skilled migrant laborers, who for the most part are ineligible for the free public education available to legal Beijing residents. Known derisively as “waidi ren,” or outsiders, the migrants are the cut-rate muscle that makes it eminently affordable for better-off Chinese to dine out, hire full-time nannies and ride new subway lines in places like Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen ….

To manage the huge population flows — and its own fears — the government relies on an internal passport and registration system dating from the Mao years that ties access to education, health care and pensions to the birthplace of a person’s parent. The hukou system, as it is called, has created a two-tiered population in many Chinese cities: those with legal residency and those without.

Though urbanization is a central tenet of the party’s latest five-year economic plan for the country, Mr. Chan says, the 250 million rural migrants who are expected to move to cities in the next 15 years could become a source of social unrest unless the hukou system is reformed. “Having that many second-class citizens in Chinese cities is dangerous,” he said ….

Resistance [to reform] comes from factory owners who want migrant laborers to remain insecure and cheap to exploit, and from urban elites who fear an even greater deluge of migrants from the countryside if it becomes easier to live in the city. But the most formidable opposition may be that of local governments, which worry about paying for the health care, education and other benefits that migrants and their children would qualify for as legal residents.

Meanwhile, Caixin reported that education spending in Beijing is soaring, with some middle schools charging up to 87,000 RMB a year, and parents spending an additional 30-80,000 RMB on private tutoring.

For more on the migrant schooling issue, see ‘Migrant School Demolished, Parents Furious‘ and ‘Yu Jianrong on Closing of Migrant Schools‘, via CDT. Internet cafés have become an unlikely alternative source of childcare for migrant workers, while also providing some opportunities for informal education: see Tricia Wang’s presentation ‘Sleeping in Internet Cafes: The Next 300 Million Chinese Users‘, also via CDT.

Yesterday it was reported that a staff member at a daycare centre for children of migrant workers in Shanghai had attacked eight children with a boxcutter.

Sources:

China Takes Aim at Rural Influx – NYTimes.com
Survey: Beijing Middle School Education Spending Soars – Caixin online

August 30, 2011 11:40 PM
Posted By: