In May, hundreds of migrant parents staged daily protests at education offices in Chaoyang district in Beijing. Videos of one protest show burly policemen dragging off weeping mothers while the crowd chants: “It’s not right!”
Anger is particularly strong because many migrant parents paid into Beijing’s social security system following tightened regulations issued last year, only to be stymied by additional requirements announced in late April. Those include rental documentation that migrants crowded into temporary housing cannot provide.
The Beijing Municipal Education Bureau referred questions on specific policies to the district. The district bureau said it was too busy preparing for college entrance exams to answer the FT’s faxed questions.
At pick-up time at one Chaoyang district pre-school, parents exchanged notes. “I think it is unfair,” said Ms Zheng from Fujian Province, the mother of seven-year old twins who were born in Beijing. “Why should migrant children be separated out?” She declined to give her full name for fear of damaging the boys’ chances of somehow entering school.
Ms Zheng had hoped regulations would evolve to allow her twins to someday attend high school in the city. Currently, children can only take the university entrance exam where their hukou is registered, exiling city kids to provincial towns hundreds of miles away just as they hit their teenage years. Grades plummet and it is common for children who were decent students in the cities to drop out once they are far from their parents. Sexual abuse and delinquency are growing concerns.
Some desperate teens have made national headlines. In May a 12-year-old girl who had attended at least two years of school in Beijing before being sent back to a desolate village in Sichuan province killed herself and poisoned her grandmother with pesticide.
“It has a great impact on the children but our nation doesn’t think about this much,” says Prof Hu. “We say if the nation is unwilling to build an extra school in the cities today someday it will end up building an extra jail.”