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Sunnier city life for rural children
( 2003-11-06 08:58) (China Daily HK Edition)

It's tough for the tide of young children of rural migrants who resettle in cities. But the resilient young easily adapt and are generally happy, a new survey shows.


In spite of the hardships they have to endure to get a foothold in cities, 82 per cent of the children surveyed responded that they were "fairly satisfied" with their situation, and only 12.7 per cent disliked their new lives in the city.

They were especially happy with the education situation in cities, the study showed.

The country's first-ever survey on children of temporary migrant workers was unveiled Wednesday.

The study took place between October 2002 and April 2003. Overseeing it were the Office of the National Working Committee on Children and Women under the State Council, the China National Children's Centre and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

A total of 12,116 temporary migrant workers with children, along with 7,817 children of migrant workers aged under 18 answered the survey in nine major Chinese cities. These included Beijing, Shenzhen of South China's Guangdong Province and Shaoxing of East China's Zhejiang Province.

"A friendly environment for temporary migrant children has emerged in China," said Christian Voumard, representative of UNICEF Beijing Office.

Shi Jinghuan, vice-director of the Education Institute of the Tsinghua University, who was also a leading researcher of the survey, said the results might be "surprising" to some people.

"Many people have become accustomed to complaints regarding the 'pathetic' situation of these children, but have overlooked one essential fact: that their lives have already improved over their older one," she said.

Moreover, Shi believed society has underestimated the children's optimism, tenacity and strong wills, which enable them to adapt and improve their lives. "Seeing the light of hope in the eyes of those children and hearing their laughter, I feel the great vitality of the Chinese people. It is this vitality that will help us overcome any hardship emerging in the transition of our society," she said.

Since the temporary migrant population will continue to expand along with the economic development of the country, which provides the necessary economic labour force while spurring the country's urbanization process, these children are receiving increasingly more attention, said Huang Qingyi, vice-director of the working committee.

Based on the fifth National Census in 2000, the research report holds the country's number of children of temporary migrant workers to be over 20 million, roughly 19.37 per cent of the country's total temporary migrant population.

"The migration of these children has blurred the old strict distinction between the city and the countryside in their hearts, and their experiences will decide their values and future life path, which will, in turn, directly affect the sustainable development of Chinese society," Huang said.

Therefore, she said the State Council will carry on with its efforts to ensure the equalization of the rights and interests of children of temporary migrant workers.

The State Council recently stipulated that equal educational opportunities must be provided for these children in urban areas.

Just as indicated by the name of the survey report - Let's Share the Sunshine - Huang said the government is obliged to ensure that these children share the same rights as other children in China to grow up healthy and happy.

Children seeking urban schooling

If you ask temporary migrant workers why they have taken their children along to go through all of the unknown risks and hardships of life in the city, the reply will most likely be that urban areas offer better education. Luckily, these parents and children have gotten what they came for.

According to the country's first national survey on the situation of the children of migrant workers, the results of which were announced yesterday, 81 per cent of these children manage to attend local public schools.

Correspondingly, 83.6 per cent of them have announced high satisfaction about their present educational situations.

Even most students who cannot manage attending public schools and are stuck in shabby makeshift classrooms of non-public schools meant especially for them express a clear-cut preference for their present schools, comprising 61.1 per cent of the total in the category.

"At least my teacher no longer has to be distracted by planting his crops," the report quoted an anonymous student as saying.

But what is alarming is that the percentage of children of migrant workers attending public schools is higher in comparably smaller cities. Only 77 per cent of children of migrant workers in large cities have gone to public schools, while the percentage can be upwards of 86 per cent in small and medium- sized cities.

Therefore, Shi Jinghuan, vice-director of the Education Institute under Tsinghua University who is also a leading researcher of the survey, said she has every reason to believe that insufficient facilities are not the excuse.

"The attitudes and policies involved matter a lot," she said.

For example, public schools always levy extra fees on students without local residential cards. And the fees can vary greatly from city to city. The fees collected in such large cities as Beijing and Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, can be 40 times that of the payments collected in the city of Jilin, Northeast China's Jilin Province.

The survey shows these high extra fees have become the gravest concern weighing on the minds of the temporary migrant workers who are trying to secure education for their children, and has become the chief factor leading to early drop-out rates for those students.

Luckily, things are improving. Even more children of migrant workers expect to have the chance to attend public schools and, more importantly, will be freed of the burden caused by these extra fees.

"We are seeing more positive moves in the regard. Except for central governmental stipulations demanding equal treatment of the children of temporary migrant workers, some big cities, including Beijing, are adopting more active measures to cope with the education of these special students," said Shi.

According to Shi, southern Beijing's Xuanwu District has already designated one middle school to especially take in these types of students, which is the first of its kind in that area.

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