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May 30, 2011

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Parents opt out as migrant kids arrive

AS he drove, Luo Xiaoyi, a 32-year-old Shanghai local, glanced at his rearview mirror at his seven-year-old son, sitting on the backseat of the Passat, engrossed in his iPad.

They were driving to a private elementary school for an enrollment interview for the boy, a trip Luo called "escaping from migrant children."

"Please don't call that discrimination, but I don't want my only son to study in an environment full of migrant children, spelling out dirty words and living in those slummy places," said Luo.

Luo is determined to use all his connections to find a private elementary school for his son so he can study with local pupils, even if tuition fees could reach 8,000 yuan (US$1,231) per semester.

He is reluctant to send his son to a public school after figures showed that for the first time in the city's public primary schools, non-local students in Grade One outnumbered local children this academic year, accounting for 54 percent of the intake.

With more and more migrant workers and their families coming to Shanghai, these figures reflect a rapid growth in numbers of non-local pupils at the city's public elementary schools.

But schools are also facing a situation where some local parents are reluctant for their children to be educated alongside migrant workers' children.

Some, like Luo, choose to send their children to expensive private schools, while some others who remain at public schools tell their children to keep away from migrant classmates.

Meanwhile, in the twisting backstreets of "South Street," a nine-year-old Anhui Province native named Dong Dong pointed out and read aloud to playmates the characters on posters for illegal venereal disease hospitals plastered thick on the walls of his neighborhood.

The boy, whose parents are migrant workers, had no idea what the words meant, but was eager to show off the reading skills he had learned in school.

Following Dong's cue, the words were repeated by a group of seven or eight-year-old migrant sons and daughters of butchers, vegetable vendors and pirated DVD sellers.

Each was trying hard to memorize the characters so they could show off their ability at recognizing words to their parents and younger children.

Dong was proud to be the only one among his young playmates who was studying at a local public elementary school alongside Shanghai pupils.

And he was the only one among the group who had learned how to read and write the words correctly.

As well as his reading skills, Dong was proud to wear the same uniform as local pupils and had good relationships with some, though he couldn't invite them home.

Home for Dong is a 15-square-meter "apartment," a makeshift structure built out of 10 wooden doors, in a rundown area home to more than 500 migrant families in suburban Changqiao Town, Xuhui District.

Dong's parents start work when he is still asleep and don't return home until the boy has gone to bed.

In Changqiao Town, the number of migrant workers exceeds 30,000, with 1,500 migrant children studying at public schools.

The growing numbers of migrant children have led to Changqiao Town locals placing their children elsewhere, citing as reasons the migrants' poor backgrounds, different studying levels and living habits.

Luo believes a local public school would hold his son back.

"A colleague told me that his son, a local boy, had learned to speak the Anhui dialect, but couldn't speak the Shanghai dialect because there were only five locals in his class," Luo said.

At the gate of Changqiao No. 2 Elementary School, where migrant children account for 80 percent of pupils, while local and non-local pupils are friends during school hours.

However, once classes end Shanghai parents can be seen ushering their children away from the migrants.

"It's fair that migrant children should have the same opportunities as local kids," said Ni Bingru, an education expert and senior teacher.

"But this is a new situation in the city and some local parents don't want to see their children mixing with migrants.

"They don't want their own kids to be used as guinea pigs in a new education landscape," said Ni.

And Cheng Lu, teacher at a local elementary school, told Shanghai Daily that the new education regime might be fair for the migrant children, but it was unfair for local pupils.

Cheng said migrant children came from a totally different education background to local pupils, which delayed the whole teaching process for a class and meant that local pupils had to learn at a slower pace.

There were also personal hygiene issues with a number of the children, claimed Cheng.

Meanwhile, latest studies by Changqiao Neighborhood Service Center show that migrant children studying at local schools are more likely to suffer from anxiety and feelings of inferiority.

In response, the center is now running a project that is aimed at bringing migrant and local children together at a summer camp.


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