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Joyce Wang Examines Discrimination against Migrant Children in Mainland China

Watching Andover students interact frequently with staff members and custodians at Paresky Commons made Joyce Wang ’15 wonder whether she had ever conversed with the maintenance workers back at her old school in Beijing, China.

Wang realized that many of the workers at her old school were migrants from rural villages of China, prompting her to begin investigating the lives of the migrant families and notice the numerous struggles they faced living in the urban areas.

After conducting thorough research, Wang presented her final analysis as a Barbara Landis Chase Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) scholar on Friday night in Kemper Auditorium.

“I always knew that migrant workers came from rural villages and had a very hard life, but I never cared to get to know them… I had completely ignored a group of people who deserved attention and help,” said Wang.

“This issue is so personal to me now and so important to my country… I think that we all have the responsibility to show care and concern for those who need our help, and I wanted to raise a social awareness about this issue in China that is not as talked about in this community,” said Wang in an interview with The Phillipian.

During the presentation, Joyce discussed the cultural and social discrimination migrant children faced daily while living in the Beijing, focusing primarily on the lack of educational opportunities available for these children.

“Similar to their urban counterparts, migrant children grow up amongst skyscrapers, fancy cars and the newest electronics. But in reality, they have little in common with the urban children. The migrant children face all sorts of inequalities, just like their parents, and the most visible form of the inequality is the education they receive,” said Wang.

In addition, Wang mentioned that many of the migrant children’s statuses as students do not qualify for them to attend the public schools because they are not from the city. As a result, many rely on education from private schools (unassociated with the government or the Ministry of Education in China) that often have poor facilities, untrained teachers and a lack of support for the children.

Wang emphasized that the constant increase in school fees coupled with workers’ low wages makes it extremely difficult for migrant families to financially support their children’s education. Consequently, many migrant worker children end up dropping out of school at an early age.

Joyce said that it is necessary to look beyond the migrant schools and further examine the governmental structure of China in order to relieve the inequalities faced by migrant families everyday.

“Migrant schools are simply one phenomenon rising from a bigger issue….simply regulating or eliminating migrant schools is far from enough to guaranteeing migrant children’s better education. It is important to look beyond migrant schools and find the roots of social barriers which lie in China’s complicated social and political structure, marked by an ineffective government,” said Wang.

Wang’s presentation was followed by a guest speaker, Richie Zhang ’16. As a founder of Student Alliance for Assisting Migrant Worker Children (SAFAM), Zhang spoke about the mental health of migrant children.

“Due to the complicated environment that many migrant children are faced with, they receive a lot of pressure from society, from their schools and also from their parents. That, added together, brings a lot of psychological pressure,” said Zhang.

Zhang has previously travelled to migrant schools himself as a volunteer to teach migrant children in camps. His organization, SAFAM, currently also partners with nongovernmental organizations such as Teach for China and Peking Union Medical College (PUMC).

Likewise, Wang has spent her past summer in Beijing, China, interviewing and connecting with migrant families. She added that working hands-on to get to know these people was her favorite part about the research process.

“My part of the fieldwork was interviewing scholars from both China and America, visiting different schools, volunteering at the camp, interacting with migrant children and their parents and visiting their homes. This was definitely an educational experience, and it really made me feel the intensity and severity of this academic issue,” she said.

Although her research as a CAMD scholar on this issue has come to an end, Joyce hopes to continue being involved in nongovernmental organizations to help alleviate the situation of the migrant families in China.