Gongyi Xiqiao is a frontier outpost on Beijing’s southern fringe, a cluster of highrise apartment blocks grouped around the last Line 4 subway stop before the city dissipates into dusty outlying villages. Take a cab ride twenty minutes further south and you reach a low-rise strip of shops along a pitted two-lane road. Only an incongruously colourful iron gate fronting a disused factory distinguishes the street from thousands of others skirting the capital. Welcome to Dandelion, Beijing’s sole officially recognized high school for the children of migrant workers.
Unlike the countless other private schools on Beijing’s periphery catering to migrant children, Dandelion only employs qualified staff to teach a state-approved curriculum to around 650 students from years seven to nine. The school was able to gain official accreditation from local authorities soon after opening, making it the only recognised educational facility of its kind in the city. Students are charged around RMB 3,000 a year, which includes text books and tuition, a bed in a dorm, and three meals a day.
Even this small sum is beyond the means of many, and headmistress Zheng Hong, a quietly spoken woman who looks much younger than her 60 years, says fees are waived for around 25 per cent of the students who come from particularly impoverished backgrounds. Local authorities also provide a miniscule annual subsidy of RMB 100 per student.