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December 28, 2011

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Public schooling for migrant children brings light

WU Yajing, 10, attends a free calligraphy class every week in a city art-training program that kicked off last week and is targeted at children of migrant workers, who often face financial difficulties in sending their children for art lessons.

Wu's father always wanted her to learn calligraphy but could not afford it. "My dad is so happy to see my writing improving so much," Wu said.

Shanghai became the first city on the Chinese mainland to provide free education for all school-age children of migrant workers last year. Now about 500,000 migrant workers' children receive free education in local schools.

In primary schools, non-local students in grades one and two now outnumber local children, education authorities said.

The city has invested heavily in building new schools and training more teachers to cope with increased numbers. In response to the growing number of babies, the city plans to build another 700 schools by 2015.

Moreover, the city has started a program to help the children of migrant workers learn art, benefiting hundreds of children.

Many local parents spend lavishly on piano, painting or dance lessons for their children, while migrant children have few such opportunities for financial reasons, said Li Jun, a staff member of the Shanghai Sunshine Community Youth Center, which launched the program. Wu, a Zhejiang Province native, is a typical beneficiary of the program.

She started attending a private school for migrant children in 2008. The school, which had poor facilities and few teachers, was closed a year later as part of a city campaign to include all migrant children within the free public education system.

She then attended a public school - Gongnong Xincun Primary School.

"I like the new campus," Wu said. "It's much cleaner and more beautiful."

Providing fair and equal education to migrant children is a big challenge in Chinese cities. How to help them integrate into city life has been another headache for schools.

"Many migrant children cannot speak Mandarin, and they speak dialects that other students can't understand," said Xue Wen, an official at Quxi Primary School, where teachers spend an hour after class on extra lessons for migrant pupils from poorer educational backgrounds to help them make up the gap.

Wu said she found it hard to keep up with her Shanghai peers when she started at a public school in grade two. Unlike many Shanghai-born contemporaries, she didn't go to kindergarten or preschool. "The teacher is very nice to me," she said. "Everyone gave me lots of extra help."


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