Homes become less sweet when migrant children find themselves being disturbed by different schoolings. [File photo]
The memory of a sudden change when Yang Jiang returned to his hometown eight years ago still haunts the young man, who is now a 23-year-old senior student in a local university.
Born in rural Sichuan Province, Yang was taken along by his parents to coastal Jiangsu Province when he was 7 years old, leaving behind four grandparents and Yang's elder sister in the late 1990s.
As the economies in China's eastern coastal regions were beginning to boom about two decades ago, throngs of migrant people pressed by financial difficulties in their inland homes headed east. Yang's parents were among these hopeful migrants.
For the next eight years, Yang attended private schools in Jiangsu where the pedagogic curriculums and facilities were far more advanced than those of his hometown. But as a migrant child, Yang was not allowed to sit the college entrance exams in Jiangsu, therefore, he was sent home when he was in the second year of middle-school. However, the change in surroundings caused confusion and loneliness for Yang, who did not have good relations with his classmates and resorted to internet cafés to combat his depression.
"It was really hard to adapt to the new environment in the first couple of years," Yang recalled. "I didn't want to talk to my classmates and they didn't want to befriend me."
Although he gradually became used to his surroundings, the senior student insisted that he may have been more successful academically had he not been forced to leave Jiangsu.
Yang's experience has been repeated many times by children from Sichuan, one of the largest labor export provinces in China.
A report issued by the All-China Women's Federation in 2013 showed that children leading lives across provinces compose the second largest group following those moving among villages and towns. Therefore, when the migrant workers start to return from their workplace to home, it can be assumed that a large number of children will be forced to move away from the surroundings where they have been growing up.
This group of children attracted particular attention of Zhang Ye and Ye Xiang, two professors from the school of pedagogic science of Sichuan Normal University. They conducted research on seven migrant children returning home from other provinces and followed their ability to adapt to their new surroundings over half a year. Amid their exploration they found that the children had problems integrating into their new environments, especially when they were treated unfairly in schools.
"In the critical moments of children's growth, they are particularly in need of certain care. Otherwise, they'll be hurt emotionally," Ye said.
Due to the huge tide of returning migrant workers in 2008 and 2009, there were policies to ensure the schooling of migrant children returning homes with their parents, Zhang said.
"But in practice, the local governments only roughly accomplished the mission by securing sufficient berths for those young returnees, ignoring what kind of the schools they were attending and whether there were separated classes, unfair treatment or other specific needs of the children," he added.
Xiong Bingqi, deputy president of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said that school administrators should explore the best way to help returning children adapt.