03/13/2006, 00.00

Only NGOs take care of migrant children's education

Teachers' passion and donations are the only hope for millions of children neglected by the public school system. Beijing's Xingzhi School shows how difficulty it is to do good for free.

Beijing (AsiaNews/SCMP) – Xingzhi School in south Beijing's Daxing district was founded by a non governmental organisation and is still run by it. It teaches thousands of migrant children who cannot attend public schools but it got its official operating licence from the district education department not long ago.

Such schools have become a necessity in China, where 20 million children have moved with their parents in search for employment, because they are often discriminated by public schools which charge them higher registration fees or simply refuse them outright.

In Beijing alone, home to nearly 300,000 migrant children, the city government admits that more than 80 per cent of migrant children fail to attend secondary school (for 13- to 18- year-olds), and 70,000 receive no schooling at all.

Huang He, Xingzhi School's headmaster, opened his school in July 2001 (then called Pengpeng School) with 2,000 yuan of borrowed cash and 10,000 yuan in donations. His request for registration was denied and the school slapped with a closure notice.

Over the next three years, the school consistently failed to secure a licence and was forced to move five times, as the zealous local government shut down and demolished each new site in turn.

This is by no means a record. Another long-running migrant school, now in Haidian district, has moved 10 times since its founding in 1993.

Only in September 2004 was Xingzhi School's application approved by the local education department.

The school is now a quadrangle of squat brick buildings built around a former rubbish tip. Behind its walls run a fetid, rubbish-strewn river and a dusty road where farmers—some of them parents of pupils at the school—sell fruit laid out on grubby sheets.

Yet the school has 1,200 pupils aged six to 17, from 20 provinces, with 40 to 50 students in each class. It has a library of 20,000 books, most from Mr Huang's personal collection, and a technology laboratory with 40 computers.

The school has about 40 qualified teachers, none of them a Beijing native, who earn up to 1,500 yuan per month—less than teachers in Beijing's public schools, but more than they would earn in their home towns.

Mr Huang estimates that 15-20 per cent of the children will only stay for a few years, moving on as their parents find work elsewhere. But most will complete their education at the school.

Foreign individuals and organisations account for about two-thirds of Xingzhi's funding. But Mr Huang has earned nothing from his project, running up debts of 100,000 yuan and depending for his own livelihood on the salary of his wife, a psychology professor at Tsinghua University. None the less, TV and newspaper coverage have earned the school donations from listeners and readers. (PB)

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