“China’s economy, now the world’s second largest, still suffers from low quality of growth. The lack of innovation ability has been the Achilles’ heel for economic development.”
-President Xi Jinping, May 2016
Emily and I have been talking a lot about the purpose of our research and how it fits into the idea of community service, and I think I’ve finally been able to reconcile it with myself. I’m not sure if Emily has yet, though. We shared our concerns with our research manager Will, and I was a little relieved to hear him say that it was very normal for us to be doubtful, since he often was when he just started working at Collective.
I think for me, the end goal is to spread awareness about a very salient issue that many people outside of China aren’t even aware exists. Even though there has been a lot of progress made, there still are a lot of problems to be solved. I want people to be able to read my final product and understand why this became a problem, what types of challenges migrant populations face, what is being done to improve the situation, and how progress can continue into the future. I suppose it could catalyze action, whether in China or in my reader’s home country.
Ultimately, I think that all children should have equal and fair access to education. I am by no means saying that China is the only country that faces this problem because the United States also sees wide disparities in its public education as well, albeit in a slightly different form. I do believe, however, that one difference between China and the United States in this case is China’s sheer history of seeing education as the path to success. In a country that values education as much as China does, I think there is real potential for change in the education system.
As President Xi said last year, China is struggling to maintain sustainable growth due to the lacking cultivation of innovation within its education system. If the urban public school system cannot nurture innovation, then the migrant and rural schooling systems, which have less funding, resources, and support, cannot even hope to do so. Due to its hukou system, migrant children from rural areas looking for better opportunities cannot access public education in the cities, and are left behind to become an urban underclass.
As I continue my research, I must keep talking to migrant workers, children, and teachers, because only they have know the real picture. Central policy is important, but local implementation is the most accurate depiction of the situation. The law might say that it is a criminal offense to collect “sponsorship fees” from families who want to go to school in a place where they don’t hold local hukou, but Beijing schools can still require “donations” that migrant families must pay if they want their children to attend an urban public school.
If the problems still exist, then that means there is always an opportunity for more innovation.