It seems all the Chaoyang government has done to honour its promise so far is to put up a notice listing the township offices where parents who had yet to find a school for their children could register. However, when questioned by the media, neither parents nor the township offices concerned were even aware of this notice.
The Chaoyang “pledge” probably only came about because of mounting pressure in the wake of the opening of the National People Congress last week, and the publication, for a second round of public consultation, of the government’s Medium to Long-term Education Reform and Development Plan.
One of the main points of the Development Plan, which outlines education policies for the coming decade, is to make sure that migrant children receive a proper education in the cities their parents are working in – completely at variance with Chaoyang’s initial stance in which it refused to compensate migrant schools slated for demolition or accommodate the displaced children. Instead, it suggested that these children go back to their hometowns. Many children did in fact go back to their hometowns. One principal said 400 pupils from his school had already been sent back because their parents could not find new schools for them. According to the People’s Daily, a total of 13 schools in Chaoyang have been ordered to close by the government, affecting several thousand students.
What happened in Chaoyang is just one more example of how pledges made by the government to address inequality in education are not backed up by actual deeds. Since the mid-2000s, the central government has urged urban governments to provide migrant children with the same educational opportunities as urban children. However, neither the central nor local governments have demonstrated enough commitment in this regard. Rather than helping the children who most need social services, local governments give priority to children from better-off families. Point-systems are used to select migrant children whose parents have better skills, higher levels of education, and more money. While urban governments brag about their achievements in improving the quality of their cities, they do it at the expense of the next generation’s right to equal opportunity and development.
The government’s Development Plan aims to increase public expenditure on education to four percent of gross domestic product. But this pledge has been on the books for more than a decade, and in 2008 total government expenditure on education was still only 2.9 percent of GDP.