Unfortunately, I got sick over the long weekend (for the Dragon Boat Festival) and ended up staying in our apartment yesterday morning to work instead of going into the office. However, I had previously scheduled a visit to a kindergarten for migrant children, and I was determined not to miss it. After lunch, I made my way over to the Minhang district, which takes about 80 minutes from Jing’an using public transportation. During the metro and bus rides, I prepared some questions for the students, parents, and teachers, hoping that I would be able to have a valuable conversation with at least someone.
I met up with the volunteers of HandsOn Shanghai that I had met last week, and we went into the kindergarten together. One of the administrators told us to go up to Class Zhong 7 (Middle 7). As we walked there, the children were just waking up from their afternoon nap and going to the bathroom, so it was pretty hectic. The students were also really distracted by us newcomers and asking us what we were doing there.
While we were waiting, I asked the volunteers a little about themselves. They were both Chinese Language and Literature students at East China Normal University and had been volunteering at this migrant school for about a year. One of them wanted to become a teacher, which was why she was interested in teaching reading classes to students.
After a while, everyone settled down, and the volunteers tried to begin their class. However, they needed to show something on the TV screen and the teachers were not sure how to help. While one of the volunteers went to the main office building to ask, the teacher put on a popular cartoon to keep the student occupied. Finally, the volunteer came back and they were able to figure it out. They started off with a children’s song about two birds and taught it to the students using one of the volunteers’ phones. Since there was no speaker system, the sound was pretty quiet, but it was just loud enough for all of the students to hear when they were quiet.
Next, the volunteers read a children’s story about a boy named Dawei who got into all sorts of trouble. It wasn’t exactly a fable, but it did end by teaching the students that their parents loved them no matter what they did. Therefore, they should try to make their parents’ lives easier by not doing dangerous things and tell their parents they loved them.
This pulled at my heartstrings a little bit because I knew these students were still too young to truly understand what their parents have sacrificed as migrant workers because they truly want the best opportunities for their children.
Next, the volunteers led an art activity, teaching the students to draw the main character Dawei. I went around to help, encouraging the children and suggesting ways for them to add to their drawings. I could tell that some of them really liked drawing, while others really did not feel confident in their abilities.
That was the end of the hour-long class, but I wanted to stick around to see if I could ask the teacher some questions. I lingered in the back of the class, and some of the students asked “Why are you still here? Aren’t you leaving with the other teachers?”
About fifteen minutes later, class ended, and parents started arriving to pick up their children. I took this opportunity to talk to the teacher, since she had to wait for everyone’s parents to come anyway. She told me that probably 90 percent of the students at this kindergarten were migrant children, and that migrant kindergartens were quite different than public ones. I noticed that all of the children took homework books to work on later at home, and she said that migrant kindergartens had to teach subjects like math and Chinese. However, public kindergartens don’t really teach anything, but instead do experiments, music, and art classes. These were activities that the migrant school couldn’t afford to do. The teacher pointed to the piano in the room and said, “We really don’t have the facilities to do anything like that here. See, even that piano is broken.”
This day was one of my most productive because I was able to understand more of the Chinese education system from a migrant school teacher’s perspective. I felt that I learned a lot from what the students and teachers about school quality and resources and communication between teachers and parents and gained a little more insight about the lives of migrant children.