Sep 09, 2014 06:55 PM

Gov't Again Cracks Down on Schools for Migrant Workers' Children

(Beijing) – Many budget kindergartens in rural Beijing mostly catering to the children of migrant workers were ordered to close ahead of the new school year, with some citing safety concerns, but once again local governments did not tell parents how else to educate their offspring.

Teachers and administrators at the schools said they started receiving notices from local governments in May requiring them to close. Some have followed the order, but others were defying it.

Wang Xu, owner and principal of a private kindergarten in the northwestern district of Changping, tried to stay open, but the school was forced to close when a group of men raided it on August 26. The men cut electrical wiring and removed furniture from classrooms and offices, he said.

Wang repeatedly disobeyed the order of the Xiaotangshan Town government to close. A nearby private kindergarten has shut its doors as ordered, Wang said. Parents of children enrolled in his kindergarten received a letter from the government on August 25, saying the school would be shut soon due to safety problems.

Another private kindergarten in Changping that opened more than a decade ago was told in July to close. The government said the school was too crowded because it is too small; Beijing requires all kindergartens to cover at least 2,000 square meters.

By that standard, most private schools for migrant children stand no chance of getting government approval, a teacher at the kindergarten said.

A document from the Changping government that Caixin has seen shows that eight of the 20 private kindergartens in the southern part of the district have been rated C by inspectors recently, meaning that they do not meet requirements and must be closed.

This is not the first time officials have closed schools primarily serving the children of migrant workers who do not hold a Beijing hukou, or local resident permit. Several hundred kindergartens were ordered to shut in 2011. The government said they were poorly managed and unsafe.

The government's reasons were sound, critics said, but the move still amounts to discrimination against migrant workers. The government has essentially put the children out of school or forced them to separate from their parents by returning to their hometowns, they say. Schools backed by the government are much more expensive and many do not accept students without a Beijing hukou.

Public opinion compelled the capital's government to say in May 2011 that some previously unauthorized kindergartens could accept students. Experts say a great many more schools continued to operate in the shadows because they are too small.

Unauthorized schools exist in large numbers in Beijing because migrant workers need them, said a woman who works for a private budget kindergarten in Beijing's northern district of Huairou.

Her school has more than 100 students and charges each of them 1,200 yuan every semester.

"The public ones require 2,000 or 3,000 yuan every month, which most migrant workers cannot afford," she said. "Public kindergartens normally do not accept children without a local hukou anyway."

When the kindergarten was set up in 2001, the government praised it, she said. It even helped the kindergarten hire security guards and install surveillance cameras in 2010.

One out of 27

It is unclear how the government intends to deal with the students who attended the kindergartens that were closed. Migrant children can attend a Beijing public school only if their parents can present five documents proving their employment and temporary residency in the capital. In practice, few migrant workers can gather all the paperwork.

In Beisicun, a shantytown area in northwestern Beijing where some 90,000 low-income workers live, the shutdowns have affected many families, said a woman who runs a rural kindergarten. Some parents have sent their children back to where they came from, while other simply told them to stay at home.

The kindergarten she manages was ordered to close in June, but is still open, she said. On June 9, the local government posted a letter on the school's gate, telling parents not to send their children to the kindergarten because it was unauthorized and had problems ranging from fire hazards to unlicensed teachers.

The kindergarten used to have about 90 students, and about half of them have left since the announcement, the woman who runs a kindergarten said.

Private kindergartens have difficulties meeting the government's requirements, such as in teacher qualifications, she said. Failure to present documents proving the right to use properties has also prevented many private schools from being endorsed.

Only one of the 27 private kindergartens in her community has met all requirements and been approved by the government, the woman said.

The government of Doudian, the town where her kindergarten is located, warned her in June that it would forcibly close the school the next month if it does not stop operations by then. The deadline has come and gone, but the government has not acted.

The woman said she is still worried. Although the school could make improvements, the official requirements for kindergartens are too strict for many private schools serving the children of migrant workers, she said.

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