Migrant Education in China: Insights From A Teacher

As parents crowd outside the door, a classroom is full of excited six-year-olds ready to go home. The teacher passes out homework books for the students to practice their characters and mathematics. When the students leave, the teacher doesn’t have much time but to remind the parents and students to bring back the homework books the next morning.

It is a scene that plays out every day at this school, which is one of hundreds, and involved hundreds of thousands of students.  Students who have moved from the furthest reaches of China to Shanghai with their parents.  Now, as its urban population continues to increase from the influx of rural-to-urban migrants, China has a real opportunity to transform its education system to capitalize on its population’s innovative potential.

To do so, stakeholders can begin by investing in the children of the very workers who have contributed to China’s dramatic economic growth, and as part of our effort to understand the challenges (and opportunities) faced in educating China’s migrant youth, we visited a school and spoke with  a teacher to learn about the current situation.

Migrant Education

Q: What does the students’ normal day look like?

A: In the morning, the parents come to drop off their children to this classroom at 08:30 am. Throughout the morning we have different activities, like games and morning exercise. We have two 25-minute periods of teaching classes, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. After lunch, the children have an afternoon nap and snack before we start the next teaching period. Then, we review what we went over that day and I pass out homework books, and that’s pretty much the end of the day at around 3:30 pm.

Q: How do you contact the parents about how their children are doing in class?

A: Before every semester, we have a large meeting with all of the parents to go over expectations, and we have WeChat groups between the teachers and the parents. It’s very easy to contact the parents with that, and they are all very responsive as well. I’ve never had any complaints or fuss from the parents. They get to trust us as well because we go with the students as they go through the lower (小), middle (中), and upper (大) classes. They still prefer this system, because we can get to know their children’s personalities and habits better over the years.

Q: How much time are the parents able to spend with their children?

A: 90 percent of students here are children of migrant workers. The parents are all very busy, so some of them aren’t able to pick up their children. In that case, we see a lot of grandparents picking up the students. The parents still all very much care about what their children are doing, though, and make sure their children are finishing their homework. After all, they brought their children here because they want to be able to look after their education.

Q: What are the differences between a migrant kindergarten like this and a public one?

A: Even though there is some help from the Shanghai government, there are still lots of differences. At a migrant school, we must teach academic subjects, whereas at public schools, they don’t do that. At public kindergartens, they do a lot more creative things, like experiments, music and art. But as you can see, we simply don’t have the facilities for things like that. See, even that piano there is broken.

Q: Do the students enjoy the activities that the volunteers do?

A: Yes, volunteers come quite often, probably at least every week. They do activities with children’s songs and picture books, and since these are relatively unfamiliar to the students, they get really excited for something new. These are things that we can’t necessarily do here with what we have.

Q: Where are these students going to go after kindergarten?

A: It depends on where they live and what their family conditions are like. Some will go to public primary schools, and some will go to migrant ones.

Inspiring creativity from a young age is important in the formation of an innovative population. Since migrant schools still lack many of the facilities and resources needed to encourage creativity in their students, stakeholders have the room to step in to fill this gap. As businesses seek out new opportunities in a highly competitive world, China has the potential to find its path to sustainable development through investing in all of its human capital – urban, rural, and migrant children alike.

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