Domestic Affairs

Education of migrant children should concern us

By Patrick Mattimore (
Updated: 2010-09-20 10:45
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There is a well-studied psychological phenomenon called sensory adaptation. What it means is that our responsiveness to a repeated stimulus lessens over time.

The principle explains why we no longer notice a particularly foul odor after we’ve been in our teenage son’s room for a few minutes and why the last bite of a tasty ice cream cone isn’t as sweet as the first bite. In layman’s terms, we get used to things.

Sensory adaptation is applicable to our perceptions of situations as well.

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We become complacent about repeated injustices in our midst. One example of such a continuing injustice is what is happening at the Jinghua primary school in the Cuigezhuang town, Chaoyang district.

On August 20, Jinghua primary school for migrant children began accepting money from parents for the semester’s tuition. Nine days later, a notice was placed on the school’s front gate that informed the school community that electricity and water supplies to the school would be cut Sunday, September 19 and that the school was being demolished.

Although some of the tuition money has been refunded and a staff worker with the Beigao village committee has said that efforts will be made to transfer students to other schools, those responses are inadequate. The children need to be guaranteed that they will be able to attend school somewhere close to where they live. Children of migrant workers should have the same public educational opportunities as other children living in Beijing.

The displacement of migrant school children is unfortunately a situation to which we have become inured because of the frequency with which it occurs. Last February in the same village, more than 4,000 children of migrant workers were put out of twelve schools that were demolished.

These demolitions occur throughout Beijing and make a mockery of the 9-year compulsory education law. Education Minister Yuan Guiren has said that the top task in the coming years is to guarantee equal access to education while enhancing the quality of education.

On Thursday, President Hu Jintao said that education must be a priority and that society must ensure people’s right to an education. That will require the government to become more proactive to insure that migrant families and their school-age children are not left without schools when their schools close. Every child has a legal right to an education. Before a school building is razed, it is the responsibility of the developers to find alternative educational resources for the children. As the sine qua non of any development project in which a school is destroyed, there should be contractual provisions specifying which school (or schools) the displaced children will be allowed to attend. Any additional costs to the children's families should be borne by the developers.

If middle or upper class families were told by authorities that their children would have no place to go to school, the government would likely have a full-scale insurrection on its hands. The government should treat the denial of education services to migrant children with urgency.

Patrick Mattimore is an adjunct professor at Tsinghua/Temple Law School LLM Program in Beijing, and a former psychology teacher.