November 09th, 2011 | ECNS.CN Middle-class migrants, a force for education equity
If and when these migrants start a family, their children, the so-called “the second floating generation” must make the choice to either remain where they are registered or return hometown.
A Proposal for Migrant Children Access to College Entrance Examinations surfaced on October 29, written by parents living in Beijing without Beijing hukou, or permanent residence permit. The civil proposal recommends the hukou limit, that determines who can and can’t take college entrance examinations, be abolished, and that student status and parent’s residence be considered as qualifications for offsite college entrance examinations.
Five days earlier, 15 citizens delivered a joint letter to Premier Wen Jiabao, appealing for the cancelation of hukou restraints on prospective college students. Zhang Qianfan, a professor at Peking University, and other experts from tertiary education institutions, are among the petitioners.
Both events were bound to trigger another round of public discussions on migrant status issues, particularly surrounding the social implications of migrants’ offspring taking college entrance examinations. Some optimists voiced the hope that “letters from scholars” and “civil proposals” may lead to the dismantlement of the college entrance examination system, and even promote innovative alternatives to the hukuo, or residence registration system. However, the response from the education ministry is ambiguous: the proposal is “under investigation, but not on the agenda.”
Equal rights advance 200m migrants
Among the 220 million floating population, the majority are migrant workers attracted to developed areas such as Beijing, Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta. When the reform and opening up policy was launched over 30 years ago, migrant workers emerged as a social and economic phenomenon. Despite being politely described as ‘new citizens” and taxpayers in their locality, this floating population has been barred from the same basic services enjoyed by local residents.
Taoyuan is a migrant and an activist for educational equity for this class of workers. For now, she has accepted the reality that her child will sit the college entrance examination for the second time in her home town, but still, she contributes her efforts to the “civil proposal” mentioned above, “So others may not have to experience such sad conditions.”
Taoyuan and her husband came to Beijing for the sake of their careers in 1996, and gradually settled down after buying an apartment and a car there. Their child has been attending school in the city since 1999. Until March 2011, the child’s first semester of the third grade in junior high school, he has had to return to his hometown because he is not qualified to take college entrance exam in Beijing. The child failed the college entrance examination held in June 2011, because the textbook used by his hometown in Shandong province is different from that of Beijing.
Taoyuan’s son is now back in his hometown preparing for the college entrance examination of 2012, and his father had to quit his job to accompany him. The more than 400,000 migrant children who live in Beijing with their parents potentially face the same situation and choices.
Across China, the number is estimated to be 9.97 million such offspring. In China’s rural areas, around 58 million children remain in their hometown, separated from their migrant parents. The sixth population census shows 220 million people in today’s China make a living outside their place where their residence hukou is registered, and middle-aged as well as young people make up a considerable proportion. If and when these migrants marry and start a family, their children, the so-called “the second floating generation” must make the choice to either remain where they are registered or follow their parents to pursue their lives in another city.
However, families who remain together in cities inevitably face the same kind of dilemma when the children reach the third grade of junior high school: they can return home for the senior high school examination which guarantees their right to participate in the future college entrance examination, or continue to study in the parent’s working city but are then denied student status in their hometown.
If the children return alone, the family has to suffer the pain of a long separation, and children left alone in their hometown are already becoming a social concern. On the other hand, if the family returns together, the parents revisit the problem of how to make a living.
Counting on the middle class to safeguard rights
Seen from Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, the middle class has the ability as well as the strongest motivation to safeguard the education rights of the whole 220 million floating population. Low-income migrant workers have to leave their children at home, while the wealthier classes send their children abroad for a better education.
Evidence that Beijing’ increasingly prosperous migrants were prepared to fight for, and safeguard their rights, emerged in 2005 when the internet was much less developed. At that time parents began to file lawsuits and visit government departments, but they struggled as individuals.
In recent years, actions have become collective. They call themselves the volunteers for promoting education equity, and manage their own website devoted to the cause.
The volunteers’ routinely circulate petitions on the street or online, and submit regular written appeals to local and national education departments on the last Thursday of every month. To date, the public has rewarded their work with 51,000 signatures that back up the 16 appeal documents detailing their suggestions to the ministry of education.