Migrant Children in State/Quasi-state Schools in Urban China: From Access to Quality?

Research Highlighted

Yu, H. (2021) Migrant Children in State/Quasi-state Schools in Urban China: From Access to Quality? London: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781003220596

Abstract

In China, over fourteen million children of compulsory education age are involved in the rural-to-urban migration. Over the past two decades the national and local governments have achieved great progresses in enrolling eighty percent of migrant children in state schools. This situation brings a new question regarding the quality of education: does enrolling in a state school mean that the migrant children can now enjoy equal educational resources and expect to have outcomes equal to the local children? Rooted in rich qualitative data from five Chinese metropolitan cities, this book highlights the changing landscape of urban state school sector under the pressure of recruiting a tremendous number of migrant children and examines the quality of education from different angles. It identifies the demographic changes in many state schools of becoming ‘migrant majority’ and the institutional reformation of ‘interim quasi-state’ schools under a low cost and inferior schooling approach. It also digs into the ‘black box’ of cultural reproduction in school and family processes, revealing both a gloomy side of many migrant children’s academic underachievement as a result of troubled home-school relations and a bright side that social inclusion of migrant children in state school promotes their adaptation to the urban life. The book concludes that migrant children’s experiences in state (and quasi-state) school turn them into a generation of ‘new urban working-class’. This book will be of interest to scholars, students, practitioners and policymakers to better address educational equality for migrants and other marginalised groups.

In China, internal migrants account for the main part of the migrant population. During the last three decades of urbanisation, millions of rural labourers have left their hometowns to work in urban areas. In 2019, there were 135 million rural-to-urban migrant labourers nationally (National Bureau of Statistics 2020) with 14.27 million migrant children of compulsory education age studying in schools (Ministry of Education 2020). In recent years, around 80% of migrant children are enrolled in state schools nationwide. For those migrant children who have enrolled in local state schools, many of them have achieved progresses in their social inclusion and academic performance, yet they still face challenges in terms of equal educational outcome if compared with their local counterparts. This book aims to examine the new question regarding the quality of education that migrant children receive in the urban schooling field: does enrolling in a state school mean that the migrant children can now enjoy equal educational resources and expect to have outcomes equal to the local children?

Putting the overall research question into the specific context of five Chinese metropolitan cities, namely, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Foshan, the empirical analysis in this book focuses on the kinds of schooling experiences that migrant children have after they have enrolled in state (or quasi-state) schools. As global metropolises, the five cities can present acute examples of common problems related to migrant children’s education in metropolitan areas in China. In addition, since Beijing, Shanghai and the Pearl River Delta region have different histories and differ in terms of socio-cultural, economic and political contexts, they can provide a useful contrast. The total number of participants in the five cities is 126, including: 16 government officers, 25 school leaders (including 19 headteachers, one chairman of the board of directors and 5 department heads), 20 teachers, 34 migrant parents, 17 migrant children, 8 local parents and 6 local children.

To describe each of the eight chapters in more detail:

Chapter 1 presents the research background and context by introducing the issue of Chinese internal migrant children’s schooling. Chapter 2 tries to conceptualise quality of education in a context of migration. It conceptulises three dimensions of educational quality in a context of migration and education, including accessibility, equivalence, responsiveness.

Chapter 3 focuses on the quality of education in state school, specifically the migrant majority state school, which is currently the predominant mainstream schooling channel for migrant children. It concludes with an identification of a ‘sandglass dilemma’ which restrains the improvement of educational quality of migrant majority state schools for migrant children. In Chapters 4&5, the focus shifts to the quality of education in another main schooling channel for migrant children, which is conceptulised an ‘interim quasi-state school system’. Chapter 4 elaborates the formation of three main types of quasi-state schools, including government-purchased private school, government-controlled private school, and senior secondary state school recruiting migrant children in junior secondary stage, respectively. Chapter 5 further examines three characteristics of the ‘interim quasi-state school system’, including belongingness to the state sector, offering quasi-state education, and interim nature. The whole system is treated as an emergency mechanism for solving the migrant children’s schooling problem, rather than as regular schools offering high quality education. While realising the children’s right to education, this system does not guarantee them a “good” education.

Chapters 6 examines the role of parental involvement in shaping the academic performance of migrant children in school. It examines how the intersection of rural origin, migration status and working-class identities shapes the parents’ habitus and their exertion of capital in the urban education field. Chapter 7 examines social inclusion of migrant children in urban schools. It further identifies three aspects of migrant children’s urbanized habitus and gain of cultural capital in the urban field of cultural reproduction, including their manner of speaking, ways of behaving, self-presentation, and their appreciation of extra-curricular hobbies. Empirical findings identify a well-integrated relationship between migrant and local children, which contributes to the production of a generation of ‘new urban citizens’, yet in the meantime reproduces the migrant families’ class status as low-skilled labourers.

Chapter 8 presents the concluding thoughts of this thesis. It highlights the changing landscape of urban state school sector under the pressure of recruiting a tremendous number of migrant children and examines the quality of education from different angles. It identifies the demographic changes in many state schools of becoming ‘migrant majority’ and the institutional reformation of ‘interim quasi-state’ schools under a low cost and inferior schooling approach. It also digs into the ‘black box’ of cultural reproduction in school and family processes, revealing both a gloomy side of many migrant children’s academic underachievement as a result of troubled home-school relations and a bright side that social inclusion of migrant children in state school promotes their adaptation to the urban life. The book concludes that migrant children’s experiences in state (and quasi-state) school turn them into a generation of ‘new urban working-class’.

Author Bio

Dr Hui Yu, South China Normal University, China

Hui Yu (PhD, IOE) is Associate Professor (tenured) in the School of Education at South China Normal University, China. As a Bourdieu-informed sociologist, Dr Yu’s particular research interests include sociology of education with a focus on policy processes and social class equalities in China. His ongoing research projects focus on education of rural-to-urban migrant children and parental involvement in urban China, adopting Bourdieusian theoretical resources.

Email: hui.yu@m.scnu.edu.cn 

ORCiD: orcid.org/0000-0002-9651-502X

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