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February 17, 2014

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Home » Metro » Education

After-school classes give migrant kids more than just a place to wait

Doing homework and reading books at an after-school class while waiting for his mother to pick him up is all part of 10-year-old Ji Minwei’s daily routine.

Ji, who lives in a 7-square-meter room with his migrant worker parents, said he prefers to do his homework at school rather than at home because the environment is better, and if he gets stuck there is always a teacher on hand to help.

The children of migrant workers have benefited significantly from the reintroduction last week of after-school classes at public primary schools, as they provide a safe place where the students can wait until their parents finish work.

“Unlike local children who might have grandparents to pick them up after school, migrant children, whose parents are busy trying to make a living, would otherwise have to walk home alone,” said Ding Xia, principal of Zhangqiao Road Primary School in Hongkou District.

The school has more than 300 students, of which about 86 percent are migrants, and almost a third need after-school care, Ding said. The equivalent figure for schools attended only by local children is about 10 percent.

According to a notice by the Shanghai Education Commission, schools are required to provide after-school classes until 5pm, to make it possible for working parents to collect their children. Public primary schools usually end at 3:30pm on Mondays through Thursdays and at 2:30pm on Fridays.

“The classes are great, and they make life much easier for me and the other parents,” said Huang Cailian, Ji’s mother, who originates from southeast China’s Fujian Province.

She said only she can collect Ji from school as her husband runs a hardware store and has to be at work all day. Huang has a housekeeping job at a hotel, which ends at 3:30pm, allowing her just enough time to get to Ji’s school by 4:15pm.

“For couples who have no choice but to work eight hours a day, it’s impossible to pick their children up at 3:30pm,” she said.

Under pressure

In 2006, the Shanghai Education Commission canceled payments for teachers of after-school classes at public primary schools in response to complaints that youngsters were being forced to take extra lessons and were being put under too much pressure. But once the classes ended, many non-local parents were forced to rely on friends or ayi to collect their children from school as they were too busy working.

As Shanghai’s migrant population has increased, so too has the demand for after-school care.

“Where there is a demand, there is a responsibility,” Ding said.

Since 2006, teachers at her school have continued to provide after-school classes on a voluntary basis, because they knew how important they were to parents. Also, in most cases they provide a better learning environment for migrant children than is available to them at home.

It is very important for children to cultivate good learning habits at an early age, but that’s not easy for migrant children due to their poor living conditions. And even if they do study at home, their parents are often unable to help them if they get stuck, Ding said.

“I always feel powerless when my son asks me to help him with homework because I didn’t even finish primary school,” Huang said. “All I can do is to encourage him to finish.”

At the after-school classes, teachers are on hand to help with homework, Ding said. And once that’s done, they’re also available for play — it’s not all about work, she said.

“Students can choose to read books, play chess or cards, learn local songs or play computer games. And if the weather is fine they can go outside,” Ding said.

Migrant majority

In 2010, the number of migrant children living in Shanghai was 1.12 million, or about 40 percent of all the children living in the city. At most suburban schools, migrant children are generally in a majority.

The rapid expansion of the migrant population has driven demand for public services. As well as after-school classes, many social groups and communities now provide places for children to go after school.

“Many retired teachers have contacted us and offered to help look after children,” Ding said.

“There are many warmhearted people out there and with their help I think the after-class service will become more diverse and interesting,” she said.



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