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    Free school opens for migrants
Zhu Zhe
2005-09-27 06:08

Five o'clock in the morning is early for ordinary people, but every day at that time, 17-year-old Cao Qian has to get up and leave her suburban Beijing home for school.

She has to spend about two hours to and from the downtown school, changing buses twice. But her heart is full of joy, because, as a child from a migrant workers' family in the city, she finally has an opportunity to further her education. More importantly, the education is free.

"When my mum saw the notice in a residential area where she does some cleaning work, she could not believe her eyes," said Cao, who followed her parents to the city last September after finishing junior middle school in her hometown, in Gushi County in Central China's Henan Province.

"Our monthly household income is about 600 yuan (US$86), which cannot afford the high tuition fees of urban schools. In the past year, I helped my parents in a paper packaging factory, but I want to go to school."

Eighty-three other children are just as lucky. They are the first group of students recruited by the Beijing BN Vocational School, a school that was dedicated yesterday to providing apprenticeship and practical skills training for students from poor rural areas who reside with their parents. It's the first school of its kind in Beijing.

For these children who had no access to education in the city because of poverty, conditions offered by the school sound too good to be true: free classes, textbooks, uniforms and meals in the next two years.

Majors in home/property management, plumbing/air-conditioning, and technical maintenance/electrician are available.

However, to run a school like this is not easy. Yao Li, the school chairperson who quit her job as general manger of a property management company, said they need at least 1 million yuan (US$123,000) a year.

"Basically, we rely on donations of corporations. So far, we have received more than 2 million yuan (US$247,000)," Yao said, adding that the number of corporations willing to help has made her optimistic.

"We've noticed that there's a shortage for skilled workers in the city. Urban children are not willing to take such jobs. So we open the door to children of migrant workers who want to further their education and merge into the city."

Official figures show there are 235,000 children of migrant workers in Beijing, and 10 per cent of them have no access to education. "We're the start, and I hope there can be more schools like this," Yao said.

The educational team is highly professional as well. They are professors from top universities such as Tsinghua, or experts in their fields.

"We all work voluntarily," said Ji Rujin, vice-director of the Institute of Real Estate at Tsinghua University, who teaches property management two hours a week.

Ji rarely teaches outside the university, but he said: "We need to do something for these children."

The school accepts only 100 students every year, and they have to take selective exams in Chinese and mathematics beforehand. They are aged from 16-20, with parents working in Beijing with an average monthly income of less than 300 yuan (US$37) per family member. Junior middle school qualification is also required.

The first group of 84 students, who are from 21 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, are selected out of 150 who applied.

(China Daily 09/27/2005 page3)


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