01/10/2007, 00.00

As the Olympics approach, no schooling for children of migrant workers

In Shanghai, a school for migrant children is shut down and students are dumped in a building without teaching and dining facilities. The authorities turn a deaf ear to requests for an alternative location. Tens of thousands of children in Beijing and Shanghai are left without an education.

Shanghai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – After a school for migrant children was shut down, parents and teachers are scrambling to find a solution for the 2,000 “illegal” students in the big city. Such an incident reflects China’s plan to shut down thousands of schools that cater to migrant children as a prelude to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The goal is to beautify the cities by hiding their contradictions.

Yao Weijian, a teacher from Anhui who established the Jianying Hope School in 1996, turned to “the provincial government about finding a solution”. The forced closure of his school would create problems for the students, children of migrants, 80 per cent of whom come from Anhui. They would not know where to go because other schools either do not accept them or demand school fees their parents can ill afford.

The Jianying Hope School charges about 1,700 yuan a term. Other schools charge much more; some as high as 10,000 yuan per term.

Migrant children who are not resident are by and large denied the right to attend public schools and health care.

School founder and parents have turned to Shanghai authorities for help but were told to make their case to Putuo district authorities, where the school is located. Instead, they took the school's students to an unused building owned by the Chaoyang Elementary School. It is not clear how long they would be allowed to remain.

“Students just have bread to eat as the new school doesn't even have a canteen. Parents are worried about the situation, but it would be worse to send them back to their home towns or leave them to wander the streets,” one teacher said.

The school was shut down on Monday when some 300 police officers raided the building, interrupted lessons, and ordered children onto buses to be taken to another location.

One witness told the South China Morning Post that some teachers and parents were assaulted, while reporters from state media who tried to conduct interviews and take photos were detained. The authorities have denied the allegations, saying there was no violence.

District education officials started calling for the closure of the school last month, claiming it was not approved by the government and posed a safety threat to students. It also claimed that teachers were not qualified.

But Zhen Maohui, the school's education affairs director, said the local government wanted the land for redevelopment. “The district government wants to make it more convenient for the property developer,” he said.

The Putuo district government plans in fact to demolish a nearby chemical plant and, eventually, the school building.  Construction workers have already moved into some classrooms.

Mr Zhen said he was beaten by unidentified thugs last month when he tried to stop people distributing leaflets asking students to leave the school.

China’s big cities are home to millions of illegal migrants. It is on their backs that China’s real estate boom is being fuelled.

Ahead of the 2008 Olympics, the authorities want to eliminate shanty towns and any signs of migrants’ presence that might detract from China’s image of a rapidly emerging economic power.

Last year for instance, Beijing city government shut down as many as 239 schools that taught some 95,000 children from migrant families. Shanghai is following in the capital’s footsteps.

In December the central authorities announced that it would abolish school fees for 150 million students in rural areas in an attempt to bridge the economic gap between the poor rural regions of the interior and the rich coastal areas. However, this step does not include the children of millions of migrant farm workers. (PB)

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