BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - The school day has ended but class is not yet over for students heading for their local community center and a very different sort of classroom — one built from shipping containers.
The children, who are from China’s “floating population” of migrant workers, don’t hold Beijing residency, which means they do not have the right to access free education at public schools.
Migrant families who have settled in Beijing are now so permanent that city officials tolerate, but do not certify, about 260 private schools dotted around the capital specifically to serve migrant children. These schools are also often located on marginal land earmarked for other projects, and can be subject to sudden demolition.
This was why Compassion for Migrant Children’s Education has decided on the unusual solution of shipping containers for their latest community center, located in a grimy northeastern Beijing suburb called Heiqiao, where it runs after-school programs for children of migrant workers.
“In the event that we need to move because of urban development, we can just pick up these containers and move with the families,” said Yin Chia, the NGO’s Australian-Chinese manager.
“These classrooms, they are built out of shipping containers, they are completely renovated.”
The charity has already lost one community center to Beijing’s bulldozers as the migrant workers living around it were moved to make way for a shopping center.
All the programs and classes at the shipping container school are free, making the center popular. The after school program is limited to 200 students, though anyone can use the basketball court and sports equipment.
The evening is divided into hour-long sessions, with teachers spending the first hour overseeing homework, and sports and arts classes afterwards. The project aims to fill a gap for students who would otherwise spend their evenings home alone while their parents work.
“The homework the teacher gives us to do in the evenings is quite hard,” said 9-year-old student Li Jianjing.
“Here we can ask the teacher if we can’t do it. That is why we come here.”
The Chinese government counted 261.4 million “migrant” workers in 2010, mostly farmers from poor inland areas who have moved to the booming cities and coastal areas to find work.
Lacking the option of state-run schools, migrant worker parents— who earn around 2,000 yuan ($300) a month — have to spend at least a month’s salary to pay for private schools, where the standards are often lower.
Heiqiao’s local private school has more than 600 students and class sizes range from 30 to 50 pupils. Many children drop out when they reach the age of 14 or 15 to join their parents, working long hours for little pay.
“Often the class sizes in the migrant schools are very, very big, often resources are quite limited, and the children are often not receiving the attention that they need,” said Chia.
“Children love to learn and if you provide them with attention, you can do wonders with that interest for learning. With our after-school program what we are really trying to do is encourage interest in learning — and hopefully that will encourage them to stay in the education system longer as well.”
Editing by Elaine Lies and Ben Blanchard