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Migrant Kids Enter Urban School

Twenty million migrant children in China may have found a champion for their right to be educated.

China's top education body has proposed a change in the Compulsory Education Law which would guarantee a large number of migrant children a place in school.

The Ministry of Education is urging the law include a safeguard that emphasizes local State-run schools must take responsibility for schooling migrant children.

"We also suggest local governments should allocate compulsory education subsidies based on the actual size of enrolment instead of the number of registered residents," said Yang Jin, deputy director of the Fundamental Education Division.

However, some of these big cities have questioned the proposals which would pass the bill down to local authorities.

"The number of migrant children is growing at a speed of 40 percent annually in Beijing, which puts great pressures on local finances," said Zhou Yarong, an official with the Beijing Working Committee on Women and Children.

This year, the city authority has budgeted an additional 48 million yuan (US$5.8 million) to cover the tuition fees for transient children. Each district also puts money towards their education.

"It's a heavy burden for local finance," said Zhang Yuhui, who works at the Shijiazhuang Women's Federation. Zhang said the city has invested about 5 million yuan (US$604,500) simply to relocate and school children in the last four years, and will have to spend 900,000 yuan (US$108,000) every year.

"Moreover, in many State-run schools, the number of students in one class has grown to 60, or even 80," she said.

Many other cities such as Wuxi in east China's Jiangsu Province, Shenzhen in south China's Guangdong Province and Fuzhou in east China's Fujian Province have voiced similar views.

They suggest the central government should increase its educational subsidies in these large or medium cities, which receive most migrants.

Some are calling for a system to transfer subsidies from cities which export migrants to cities that import them. But Yang denies the flexibility of both suggestions.

"A major hurdle is the difficulty of collecting complete statistics of migrant children in each place," he said.

Plus, the migrant children issue is closely linked with some other social issues such as the social welfare system and rural area development, which makes the transfer of money far more unrealistic, Yang said.

However, Yang said the amendment will lead to a heavier input from central finance to under-privileged rural areas in western and central China in support of local education.

"That's among the possible provisions which aim to ensure a balanced development between backward and forward areas," he said.

Song Wenzhen, a division chief at the National Working Committee for Children and Women under the State Council, called on all local authorities to give priority to the establishment of a registration system for migrant children under 16.

(China Daily November 8, 2004)

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