School Sys­tem:

NewsChina - - POLITICS - By Li Hang and Du Guodong

Ed­u­ca­tional Di­vide

Af­ter an elite el­e­men­tary school di­vided its cam­pus with a steel fence to sep­a­rate its stu­dents from those of a re­lo­cated school cater­ing to stu­dents from mi­grant fam­i­lies, the back­lash from both sides fo­cused at­ten­tion on the im­bal­ance of ed­u­ca­tional re­sources

At 2pm on Septem­ber 2, 2018, one day prior to the start of the new school year, se­cu­rity guards were pa­trolling each floor of Qinxi Ex­per­i­men­tal Pri­mary School in Suzhou in East China's Jiangsu Prov­ince. In the con­fer­ence room of the cen­tu­ry­old school, lead­ers from the district ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­ity tried to pacify par­ents over the divi­sion of school premises to ac­com­mo­date 800 new ar­rivals.

Two weeks prior, Lixin Pri­mary School, a pri­vate school mainly cater­ing to chil­dren of mi­grant fam­i­lies – mean­ing peo­ple who had moved from an­other prov­ince for work, of­ten low-in­come work – was forced to close af­ter its lease ex­pired. Since chil­dren in China are en­ti­tled by law to nine years of free school­ing, lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties tem­po­rar­ily re­lo­cated these stu­dents to a va­cant build­ing in the cam­pus of the nearby Qinxi school.

To sep­a­rate the two schools, a steel fence was erected across the cam­pus, di­vid­ing the less well-off stu­dents from the wealth­ier stu­dents of Qinxi school. Thought to be a well-meant so­lu­tion to avoid in­ter­rupt­ing the Lixin chil­dren's ed­u­ca­tion, the move was soon mired in con­tro­versy and out­cry af­ter news of the school seg­re­ga­tion went vi­ral.

Seg­re­gated Sys­tem

Zhang Hainan moved to Suzhou sev­eral years ago to work in the jade busi­ness. He did not own an apart­ment in the city, nor did he pay into China's so­cial in­sur­ance fund. His two chil­dren could only at­tend pri­vate schools for mi­grant fam­i­lies be­cause most pub­lic schools re­quire both a prop­erty own­er­ship cer­tifi­cate and a hukou, an all-im­por­tant doc­u­ment in China which states where a per­son

was born, and which en­ti­tles them to so­cial se­cu­rity, ed­u­ca­tion and health­care in the area where they are from. For peo­ple mov­ing within China, whether they are low- or high-in­come earners, this doc­u­ment dic­tates what ben­e­fits they can ac­cess – and what they can­not – in the place they re­side.

On Au­gust 16, 2018, Zhang re­ceived a no­tice from the lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­ity in­form­ing him that Lixin school would be re­lo­cat­ing to the Qinxi cam­pus, five kilo­me­ters away. His chil­dren needed to reg­is­ter at Qinxi school for the new semester.

Zhang did not think the no­tice was a big deal. But four days later, Qinxi par­ents started to share the no­tice on so­cial me­dia chat groups. The com­ments were over­whelm­ingly neg­a­tive, as the wealthy par­ents that had bought ex­pen­sive apart­ments in the Qinxi school district to se­cure their chil­dren a place started bit­terly com­plain­ing.

Liu Gang, whose only daugh­ter is in first grade at Qinxi, thought the no­tice was fake when he first saw it. Ac­cord­ing to China's Com­pul­sory Ed­u­ca­tion Law, no or­ga­ni­za­tions or in­di­vid­u­als have the right to in­fringe on or dis­rupt a school's cam­pus or teach­ing fa­cil­i­ties, nor can they trans­fer, rent out or change the use of the school cam­pus, premises and fa­cil­i­ties with­out a le­gal process.

“I thought it was fake. On Septem­ber 19, the school or­ga­nized a par­ents' meet­ing and we weren't told any­thing, so when we saw the reg­is­tra­tion desk for Lixin school [at Qinxi], we par­ents got re­ally an­gry,” he told Newschina. “No school au­thor­i­ties ex­plained any­thing to par­ents be­fore­hand – we had no right to know any­thing.”

An­other par­ent told our reporter on con­di­tion of anonymity that he had called the mayor's hot­line and was told “the teach­ing build­ing was not rented to Lixin be­cause there is no Lixin any­more, and the two schools have been merged.” Some par­ents went so far as to put up ban­ners to protest the new ar­rivals.

“Ed­u­ca­tion it­self is un­fair. Whether the steel fence is erected or re­moved, it gen­er­ates new in­equal­ity,” a par­ent from Qinxi school told the Bei­jing News on con­di­tion of anonymity. “On moral grounds, it is un­ac­cept­able for those stu­dents to quit school sim­ply be­cause of the lack of a cam­pus. On the other side, par­ents of Qinxi stu­dents are morally hi­jacked be­cause our chil­dren were en­rolled [at Qinxi] af­ter we bought ex­pen­sive apart­ments in the school district.”

“For my part, I dis­agree with the erec­tion of a steel fence and the move to Qinxi. It is a kind of dis­crim­i­na­tion and both par­ents and chil­dren will feel in­fe­rior to those from Qinxi. It will def­i­nitely af­fect the men­tal de­vel­op­ment of stu­dents from Lixin,” a par­ent of a stu­dent at Lixin, sur­named Jiang, told the Bei­jing News.

An­other Lixin par­ent sur­named Luo ar­gued that the new cam­pus and class­rooms are much bet­ter than the pre­vi­ous ones but he hoped Lixin could se­cure a new cam­pus as soon as pos­si­ble. “Af­ter the com­ple­tion of the school term this year, I will con­sider send­ing my child back to our home­town for their school­ing,” he told China News Ser­vice.

In con­trast to the con­cerns of par­ents, Lixin stu­dents are quite ex­cited and laugh­ter is fill­ing the class­rooms. “The new class­room is much brighter and the cam­pus has so many trees,” said a third-year stu­dent at Lixin. An­other stu­dent pointed to a pro­jec­tor and told the China News Ser­vice, “I saw it at a good school in my home­town and right now I am happy to find that my class­room also has this ‘high­tech' gad­get.”

It turned out that the lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties had con­sulted with Lixin school be­fore a de­ci­sion was made to build the fence.

“The fence was erected to fa­cil­i­tate the sep­a­rate man­age­ment of two schools. We ex­pected some com­plaints but we never ex­pected such in­tense op­po­si­tion,” Jiang Li­jun, prin­ci­pal of Qinxi, told Newschina.

On the Move

Prior to this, Lixin had been re­lo­cated at least four times. The pre­vi­ous lease had ex­pired only on June 30, 2017. Be­cause the school failed to re­new the land lease con­tract or move out, Gusu Ed­u­ca­tion In­vest­ment Com­pany (GEIC), the land owner, sued the school.

“Ac­cord­ing to the con­tract, Lixin was not al­lowed to en­roll new stu­dents since 2014 be­cause it has no play­ground, not enough grass and trees which is man­dated for schools, and there are traf­fic prob­lems as it is in­side a small al­ley,” said Jiao Lu, head of GEIC.

When Jiao vis­ited the school, she was as­ton­ished to dis­cover that in­stead of the max­i­mum al­lowed 12 classes, Lixin had been run­ning dou­ble the num­ber. To make mat­ters worse, some stu­dents were be­ing taught in­side makeshift shel­ters. She added that the school had still en­rolled stu­dents in 2015 and there were more than 60 stu­dents to each class­room. She ordered Lixin to de­mol­ish the makeshift build­ings, but the school re­fused.

“The 1,500 stu­dents [at Lixin] are not al­lowed to leave the build­ing ex­cept to use the toi­let. There were no sports classes and no play­ground ac­tiv­i­ties at all,” she said. “Be­fore the lease ex­pired, we de­cided not to rent out the premises to the school.”

Fail­ing to se­cure a new place to ac­com­mo­date all its stu­dents, Lixin school was given the green light by the lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­ity to start the new semester in 2017. But by the end of 2017, GEIC de­manded the school pay for the rent, but the school in­sisted it would only pay if it were of­fered a new lease.

The court sided with GEIC. Xu Bing, prin­ci­pal of Lixin, told our reporter his school did not move out be­cause he failed to find other suit­able premises. Xu said the school was es­tab­lished in 2001 in­side a de­funct cam­era fac­tory in Suzhou to meet the de­mands of the grow­ing num­ber of school-age chil­dren.

In 2003, China re­leased its Law on the Pro­mo­tion of Non-pub­lic Schools, and Lixin then ben­e­fited from a string of pref­er­en­tial poli­cies. In 2008, Suzhou gov­ern­ment is­sued per­mits to over 70 pri­vate schools for mi­grant chil­dren, in­clud­ing Lixin. “We co­op­er­ated with the gov­ern­ment every time we had to re­lo­cate, and we never asked for any pref­er­en­tial treat­ment,” Xu said.

To date, Gusu District is home to only four pri­vate schools for mi­grant fam­i­lies and each has been re­lo­cated at least once. Xu ar­gued that apart­ment build­ings and pub­lic schools were con­structed on the for­mer lo­ca­tions, adding that the most irk­some prob­lem for pri­vate schools is to find a long-term lo­ca­tion.

Im­bal­ance of Re­sources

Xie Fang, of­fice di­rec­tor of Gusu Cul­tural and Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee, told Newschina that af­ter Lixin moved, a new pub­lic school would be built in their old lo­ca­tion. She said the district is short of ed­u­ca­tional re­sources and the lo­cal gov­ern­ment has set aside 50 plots to build new schools in the next five years, but con­struc­tion has only started on a few of them so far.

“It in­volves de­mo­li­tion com­pen­sa­tion as well as the change of land use,” she said. “It is dif­fi­cult to get hold of enough land to build pub­lic schools, let alone pri­vate ones. What's more, pri­vate schools can't re­ally af­ford the hefty cost of con­struc­tion.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­search pa­per on com­pul­sory ed­u­ca­tion for chil­dren from mi­grant fam­i­lies in Suzhou, part of the Blue Book of Mi­grant Chil­dren (2016), drafted by the 21st Cen­tury Ed­u­ca­tion Re­search In­sti­tute, it costs over 200 mil­lion yuan (US$29M) to build an el­e­men­tary school and over 300 mil­lion yuan (US$44M) to build a sec­ondary school. Mean­while, it has be­come a chal­lenge to pro­vide the rapidly grow­ing stu­dent pop­u­la­tion with qual­i­fied teach­ers. In 2014 alone, Gusu district re­ceived an in­flux of 7,000 chil­dren af­ter their par­ents moved in, and at least 450 new teach­ers will be needed.

Af­ter the school seg­re­ga­tion in­ci­dent, lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion au­thor­i­ties com­mu­ni­cated with par­ents of Qinxi stu­dents sev­eral times. The south gate of the school has been re­served for stu­dents from Lixin and the west gate is for stu­dents of Qinxi. Stu­dents of the two schools can use the play­ground at dif­fer­ent times. “The two schools have their own teach­ing staff, build­ings and school reg­is­tra­tion sys­tems,” Xie Fang said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Law on the Pro­mo­tion of Non-pub­lic Schools, when a pri­vate school is shut down, stu­dents have to be placed in other schools. Xie said Qinxi is the clos­est to Lixin which has three teach­ing build­ings and 48 class­rooms at the north­ern build­ing. Its south­ern build­ing and the sur­round­ing ar­eas were cleared as tem­po­rary teach­ing class­rooms for Lixin. When a new place is se­cured for Lixin, the premises will be re­turned to Qinxi.

For many par­ents of Lixin stu­dents in­ter­viewed by Newschina, erect­ing the steel fence is not a se­ri­ous of­fense. Par­ents of Qinxi stu­dents, how­ever, worry that the “in­va­sion” into cam­pus space and teach­ing re­sources are highly likely to af­fect the healthy de­vel­op­ment of their chil­dren.

Xu Bing is not sure whether he can find ap­pro­pri­ate premises to re­lo­cate to this time. Stu­dents from Lixin have only pre­paid meals and part of their tu­ition fees and nowa­days the school is vir­tu­ally oper­at­ing at a loss. “The gov­ern­ment is the last hope and I trust in the gov­ern­ment,” Xu said. At the time of go­ing to press, the steel fence re­mains. The only change is the ad­di­tion of many flow­er­pots.

A worker stands be­neath the steel fence at Qinxi Ex­per­i­men­tal Pri­mary School in Suzhou, Jiangsu Prov­ince, Septem­ber 2, 2018

The steel fence that sep­a­rates Qinxi school, which is be­ing tem­po­rar­ily used by Lixin school, and the rest of the cam­pus

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