New Schools Offer Hope to Children of China’s Migrant Class

In China, a system of government registration as well as residency permit requirements keep most people tied down to the location of their birth, be it an urban setting or the rural one. But with the country’s economic resurgence over the past two decades has come a small but increasingly growing group of migrants. They live outside of the regimented hukou system because they think that this mode of living presents the best set of opportunities for their kids’ futures.

Christina Gallagher, writing for NewsObserver, explains that government services are frequently not available or are not as generous in rural villages around China as they are in urban centers like Beijing or Shanghai. However, to take advantage of all those services, a very hard-to-obtain city permit is required, something an overwhelming majority of migrants have no chance of ever earning.

Some villages that surround big cities and where migrants most often reside have taken steps to help. Jiufeng village on the outskirts of Shanghai has opened a new state-of-the-art kindergarten specifically targeted at migrant families.

Once a farming village about 25 miles from the skyscrapers of downtown Shanghai, Jiufeng is now home to migrant workers who’ve left their villages to seek prosperity in the city.

Some of them spend nine-hour days transforming planks of wood into material for boats, others work on the hundreds of construction sites in Shanghai and still others subsist by collecting trash from the streets to recycle for money.

Tucked in the heart of the tiny village, the 2-year-old Aiyou Jiufeng kindergarten is a different world. Cooks prepare lunch for more than 120 smiling students in a stainless steel kitchen, an in-ground pool sits next to a playground for summer swimming, and teachers stand behind newly constructed chalkboards to teach their students Chinese characters and simple math equations.

Although Aiyou Jiufeng was one of the first ones to open its doors, according to its principal, similar schools are opening up in villages all over the country. So popular are they that getting a slot in one can be almost as much of a challenge as getting the coveted residence permit in the city nearby.

Unlike government-provided education, these schools charge tuition, and even those who do get in can find themselves unable to pay the fees.

But for the lucky few, these kinds of institutions could be a first step in putting the children of migrants on more solid footing than their parents.

Fortunately for Xie Bing, a 43-year-old migrant worker who left his home in rural Anhui province to take a job with a storage company near Shanghai, Aiyou Jiufeng is close to his home. If it weren’t, his 5-year-old daughter, Dina, wouldn’t be able to show off her powder-blue Mickey Mouse coat to her classmates during recess.

“I wanted to choose the closest kindergarten,” Xie said. “I want to make (Dina) better developed for education.”