Channel NewsAsia

China migrant workers' children face unequal education opportunities

Policies to control the huge influx of migrant workers in Beijing and Shanghai may not give equal education opportunities to their children. Yet many would rather tolerate the unfair treatment than face the prospect of returning home.

SHANGHAI: Policies to control the huge influx of migrant workers in Beijing and Shanghai may not give equal education opportunities to their children. Yet many would rather tolerate the unfair treatment than face the prospect of returning home.

Called the "generation of no return", this next batch of Chinese migrant workers born after the millennium are also more likely to only settle down in the cities.

15-year-old Zhang Qingyao is skipping high school.

He was born in Shandong, and does not hold a Shanghai hukou (household registration), which allows him to pursue his tertiary studies in the city.

He can choose to return to Shandong, where he is qualified to take the national college exam.

But that will mean starting classes afresh since the tests are different, and Qingyao only knows the Shanghai syllabus since he has been living and studying in the city since he was five.

His only real option is to attend a vocational institute in Shanghai.

Qingyao said: "I have to think about how to continue my studies at the vocational high school, and put in more effort to improve my marks. It's extremely difficult. It would be much easier if I could just go straight to high school here and take the national college exam."

Shanghai started a new policy this year allowing migrant workers to accumulate points based on their education levels and contributions to social security.

Getting the full 120 points will get them a Shanghai hukou and allow their children access to the city's gaokao (national exam).

But reaching that mark seems almost impossible for Qingyao's parents, even though they have been working in the city for a decade, running a computer maintenance shop.

Qingyao’s mother Zhang Xia said: "We can't collect enough points because we have farmer's status and no educational background so we have very few points. Under normal circumstances, without hukou differences, vocational schools are for students who don't do well in their studies, since they're not old enough to work. Inevitably, these children are mischievous and I'm worried my son will get bad influences in that environment."

Restricting access to education for children of migrant workers is one way mega-cities control the massive influx of migrant workers.

Rapid population growth has been blamed for pollution and traffic problems in mega-cities like Beijing and Shanghai.

Shanghai's population soared to nearly 24 million in 2012, with 40 per cent made up of migrant workers.

But with lack of opportunities back home, children who followed their parents to the cities are most likely to stay put, even if it means tolerating unequal policies.

A 2010 survey on 20 million migrant workers found that 61 per cent of those aged below 20 want to stay permanently in the cities, compared to 21 per cent for adults aged between 40 and 50.

Hu Suyun from Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences said: "They would rather their parents fork out the money to buy a house in a nearby town and they move there. But they'll not return to the village. So if they can't cut it in Beijing or Shanghai, they'll choose to move to towns or cities near their villages."

This is part of China's next urbanisation phase - developing third- and fourth-tier cities to accommodate the next generation of migrant workers.

Qingyao’s father, Zhang Zhenwu, said: "Our individual capability (to change) is small. So we can only rely on the public environment, adapt to it and try to find our own platform to innovate - then there's hope."  

Tweet Photos, Videos and Update on this Story to  #cna