Inequities in Education: A Study of Left-behind Children and Migrant Children
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In the 1950s, China’s household registration system (hukou) was set up to serve the planned economy, becoming in turn a vital tool to manage migration. After the launching of Reform and Opening policies in 1978, the planned economy receded yet the Chinese government refused to loosen control of migration due to the fear of instability, especially as millions of migrant workers began to enter the large cities in the late 1980s. Thus, the hukou system was maintained and continues to operate effectively today. The hukou system has resulted in circumstances where more than 288 million migrants reside in cities where they do not hold local hukou, restricting their access to public services such as education. At the same time local governments are unwilling to share the publicly funded educational resources that urban residents have enjoyed since the 1950s. National legislation making primary school education compulsory, together with a system of college entrance examinations linked to the hukou system, force migrants to choose between leaving their children behind in rural areas or taking their offspring to the cities where they will face difficulties in receiving adequate education. This entire institutional system has created the current phenomenon of China’s more than 100 million left-behind children and migrant children and resulted in inequitable access to education for left-behind and migrant children in comparison to urban-registered children. Aside from the institutional system, China’s central government and many local authorities have implemented various provisional policies intended to control migration during the past forty years. As the principle of migration control is prioritized over other policies, the system of restrictions has been strengthened and inequity in education has been further solidified. This thesis is based on documentary analysis supplemented by field research on the plight of left-behind children, conducted by the author through interviews of teachers and young adults who had been left-behind as children.