But poverty doesn’t mean hopelessness.
Tucked in the heart of the tiny village, the 2-year-old Aiyou Jiufeng kindergarten is a different world. Cooks prepare lunch for more than 120 smiling students in a stainless steel kitchen, an in-ground pool sits next to a playground for summer swimming, and teachers stand behind newly constructed chalkboards to teach their students Chinese characters and simple math equations.
The kindergarten employs qualified teachers, and it has bunk beds for naptime, classrooms with hardwood flooring and a playground for recess.
Kindergartens such as this one are in higher demand, its principal said. The trend is catching on because of the emphasis the government has placed on education in the past 20 years, stressing a vigorous curriculum for children who are preparing to take China’s grueling college entrance examinations.
Fortunately for Xie Bing, a 43-year-old migrant worker who left his home in rural Anhui province to take a job with a storage company near Shanghai, Aiyou Jiufeng is close to his home. If it weren’t, his 5-year-old daughter, Dina, wouldn’t be able to show off her powder-blue Mickey Mouse coat to her classmates during recess.
“I wanted to choose the closest kindergarten,” Xie said. “I want to make (Dina) better developed for education.”
Location is a key factor for migrant workers. If a migrant school isn’t near a family’s home, parents struggle to find one for their children.
Aiyou Jiufeng’s enrollment quadrupled to more than 120 students in its second year. About the same number are expected to enroll for the next school year, the principal said.
Jin said the school was funded through tuition and corporate donations. Most parents are more than willing to pay, as each payment brings them closer to the dream that their children will move on to brighter futures.
The reality is still daunting, however.
At one of the country’s top colleges, higher education is available mostly to the wealthy as little financial aid is offered. At Shanghai’s elite Fudan University, officials estimate that less than 5 percent of students need financial assistance for tuition payments. The university doesn’t track the socioeconomic backgrounds of its students, so there are no official statistics.
“All want to have a higher education, but it can’t be guaranteed,” Jin said.
Most Fudan students have parents who also attended college and hold high-paying jobs. Few, if any, have parents who worked in construction or repaired furniture in migrant villages.
For migrants’ children especially, poor education leads to dead-end jobs. That’s a lesson that workers such as Deng Yungbo learned the hard way.
Deng, 26, is a migrant from the countryside who never attended kindergarten. He came to Shanghai to work for a furniture company, in hopes that his twin 1-year-old daughters will have it better than he did.
“I just can’t make a good living,” Deng said. “I just want my family to have one.”