This series of posts by Dr. Shibao Guo (University of Calgary, Canada) is a truncated version of an article (Guo, 2012) that appears in a recent special issue of the scholarly journal Canadian and International Education. Part 1 provides an overview of the present state of education for migrants and the curious and little known phenomenon of migrant teachers.
Migration is a term used to describe the movement of populations from one place to another. Economic globalization and modern transportation technologies have spurred and greatly enhanced the mobility of people across national boundaries. With its international focus, the current debate on migration ignores or overlooks internal movement of people within nation-states. China’s migrant population reached 221 million in 2011 (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2011), meaning that China is experiencing the largest internal migration in human history (Fishman, 2005). Another 300 million people are expected to move in the next three decades, most notably from rural to urban areas (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2011).
Migrant workers are typically imagined to be temporary workers from China’s rural areas (农工－nonggong) working in its urban construction industry, manufacturing, food and domestic services, and providing a source of abundant, cheap, and exploitable labour for China’s market economy. What is less recognized is that included among migrant workers is a large group of well-educated teachers—themselves migrants—teaching in schools for migrant children. Little is known about this group of teachers, and it is especially unclear how they fare as migrant workers in China’s market economy.
Where public schools are neither accessible nor affordable to migrant parents, a common option has been to enroll their children in unlicensed, under-funded, and inadequately staffed schools specifically established for migrant children (Irwin, 2000; Kwong, 2004; Woronov, 2004). There are between 200 and 300 migrant schools in Beijing alone (Irwin, 2000). While some proprietors of such schools are altruistically motivated to provide affordable education for migrant children, others are driven by profit or the need to make a living, or a combination of these reasons. Unfortunately, these schools lack the good conditions of public schools. Many are shanty schools housed in makeshift sheds, typically unsafe and overcrowded, with poor lighting and inadequate air circulation (Kwong, 2004; Zhu, 2001). In addition, pedagogical standards are low owing to inadequate equipment, books and other teaching materials, not to mention a dearth of qualified teachers. More importantly, they do not have governmental recognition or support because they are seen to encroach on government jurisdiction (Li et al., 2010). Furthermore, local governments are concerned that providing financial support for migrant schools might encourage a drastic expansion of the migrant population and create an even greater burden (Zhu, 2001).
Despite the recent proliferation of research on internal migration in China and migrant children’s education, none of these authors have mentioned the situation of migrant teachers. These are teachers, themselves migrants, whose job it is to teach in schools specifically built for rural to urban migrant children. The purpose of the study from which this series of posts is drawn was to explore the teaching and living conditions of these teachers under the market economy.
In part 2 of this series, I’ll look more carefully at a typical context within which migrant teachers work and live.
Li, X., Zhang, L., Fang, X., Stanton, S., Xiong, Q, Lin, D., & Mathur, A. (2010). Schooling of migrant children in China: Perspectives of school teachers. Vulnerable children and Youth Studies, 5(1), 79-87.
National Bureau of Statistics of China. (2011). Communiqué of the National Bureau of Statistics of People’s Republic of China on Major Figures of the 2010 Population Census (No. 2). Retrieved May 10, 2011, from http://www.stats.gov.cn/english/newsandcomingevents/t20110429_402722516.htm