Lately, I’ve been pondering the value of my research. I understand that migrant education is a very prevalent issue, but after reading so much of other people’s research, I started to wonder if this is a topic that is no longer as pressing as it used to be. There has been progress made in terms of policy and social awareness, even though it has been slow.
It wasn’t until Emily and I met with the sister and brother-in-law of one of our colleagues that I was able to gain some more insight about this. Both of them are migrant workers from Jiangsu province, and they recently moved to Shanghai about a year and a half ago. They have a daughter in third grade who is currently being taken care of by her father’s mother.
Our colleague’s brother-in-law was very talkative, and he told us he’s thought about these issues many times. We discussed many topics over dinner, and he said that in his experience, most of China’s societal problems are a result of its large population. Other countries in the world do not have nearly as many people as China, and when you consider the fact that many are also richer, you see that other countries have a much greater capacity to cast a wider social safety net and help their citizens.
He told us that in his opinion, China’s three main problems are education, health care, and elderly care. Additionally, one of most effective ways for the government to target these issues would be to focus on children. By giving children more stability and certainty about their futures, he believed that parents would be able to rest more assured.
He also gave us advice on how we should proceed with our research. He emphasized the importance of talking to ordinary people, since policy from the central government often doesn’t reflect what is happening to the ground. To truly understand the issue, he said we should talk to as many normal citizens as possible who are actually impacted by the current social institutions and regulations. He advised us to find migrants from higher, middle, and lower socio-economic backgrounds to discover how the issues of health care and education affect them similarly or differently.
I was so glad that we were able to meet with our colleague’s relatives. I think speaking with them was an extremely useful way of understanding the schedules and lives of migrant workers, since we were having some difficulty finding migrant workers who would have time to speak to us. They also said that since they have not been in the city for long, they might not have the most comprehensive experiences with the problems surrounding hukou. They offered to introduce us to other migrant workers next week. We will also be travelling to Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, to understand how the problems of education and health care plague migrant workers in a provincial city that is smaller than Shanghai. I look forward to seeing what we will learn there.