Educating Migrant Children: The effects of rural-urban migration on access to primary education

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The Chinese state places serious restrictions on the ability of the children of migrant workers to access education in the city. To enrol in city state schools, migrant children need many official documents, which few have; are required to take entry examinations based on different curricula; and face strict quota systems. Most migrant parents therefore send their children to migrant-run private schools, the majority of which are unregistered and of dubious quality. Many are expensive and represent a significant burden to migrant parents. Furthermore, unlike in many developing countries, in China the state opposes the provision of private education to migrants, and frequently closes down schools. Some researchers have suggested that this is a deliberate tactic by the state to reduce long-term rural-urban migration by ensuring that migrants are unable to integrate into the city. This paper draws on six months of interviews with over 150 migrant parents and children, as well as teaching and observing classes in semi-legal migrant schools, conducted in Shenzhen in 2008. It assesses the impact of state policies on migrant children, by comparing their educational experiences before and after migration, and suggests that although the quality of education improved for those few children able to enter city state schools, for the vast majority of migrant children their education in the city is significantly worse than in their native villages. In addition, for girls, and especially those who are unregistered or have older siblings, there may be the added problem of later school enrolment in the city. This paper provides a counter to much recent research on adult migrants, which argues that migration is overwhelmingly beneficial.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSpotlight on China
Subtitle of host publicationChanges in Education under China's Market Economy
EditorsShibao Guo, Yan Guo
PublisherSense Publishers
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • China
  • Education
  • Migrants
  • Children
  • Migration
  • Schools


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