Education for China’s next generation has always been much debated. Although the country tries to provide equal opportunity to every child, it still isn’t reaching tens of millions of children, especially those of migrant workers. Many charities are stepping in, but will donations alone solve the problem?
These children growing up in the capital experience a different Beijing. Their school is on the outskirts of town. They live nearby with their parents, who toil in the city as migrant workers. The children seem content, but behind the smiling faces, are lives of hardship.
Shen Yue, Anhui Province said, "My parents get up at 1 in the morning and work until 3 in the afternoon every day to cook and sell breakfast. I help them collect the plates on weekend mornings, and by 11 o’clock I go home and do my homework. And then I help my sister cook lunch."
Many children here have to move around a lot, when their parents change jobs and cities. Their memory of home is distant.
Yue Haiyun, Hebei Province said, "There’re many mountains in my hometown. It’s very cold there. Trees don’t bud until summer arrives."
Compared with those born and raised in the city, these children grow up having a much tougher childhood. Their lives get interrupted with every forced move, and there’s a struggle, to truly feel like they belong anywhere.
By 2011, there were over 12 million such school-aged children who came with their parents to big cities. Eighty percent eventually get into local public schools. But the rest struggle to find their place, both in school and society.
Zhou Jian is chairman of the board of a foundation that aims to help such children. But unlike many other sponsors who concentrate on donations, he believes there’s something more important.
Zhou Jian, Board Chairman, Ganen Foundation said, "Those children usually feel lonely and find it difficult to have a positive self-image because they move through cities too often and the concept of home is weak. What they need apart from financial help is more long-term teaching projects to help them learn to better communicate with the society, so they grow up feeling confident and useful."
In a way, these kids are lucky because help is within reach. And no matter where home is, they at least have their parents by their side. Zhou Jian says it’s the 60-something-million children left behind in less developed areas that are in greater need of attention. They’re mostly left in the care of older relatives.
Zhou Jian said, "Family education is just as important, but the left-behind children are deprived of emotional communication with their parents, and there’s little direct guidance when their personality and world values form. And all these could potentially cause future and bigger issues when they become adults."
The foundation plans to reach out to more left-behind children next year with long-term teaching projects. Although a one-time donation would be easier, Zhou believes continuity is key to making a fundamental change.