Tongxin Experimental and New Citizen’s Jinghua: Beijing’s Migrant Schools Meet Different Fates

China Development Brief, No.55 (Fall 2012)

中文 English

The author, who goes by the pseudonym, Zhong Shiwu, discusses how one migrant school was able to survive a rash of school closings in Beijing by going public rather than engage in behind-the-scenes negotiations. This summer saw yet another series of migrant school closures, affecting four schools and thousands of students.

Ultimately, the Tongxin Experimental School (同心实验学校) was the only one to remain open and continue enrolling new students. Of the three school closures, the most unfortunate was probably that of Chaoyang District’s Jinghua Hope Primary School supported by the New Citizen Program (新公民计划支持的朝阳区第一新公民学校 (京华希望小学)),. The closure of this school is most regrettable and an injustice. [Editor’s Note: The New Citizen Program is supported by the Narada Foundation, one of China’s best-known foundations know for its support of grassroots NGOs.]

Two months have passed, and I have been fortunate (and also unfortunate) enough to have had the opportunity to observe this debacle from the beginning. ,  Now that things having calmed down, I can look back on the events and ask why the fate of these two schools was so different. I have always had a very strong intuition: perhaps the different fates of  Tongxin and Jinghua were the product of different circumstances and choices.

On June 19, Tongxin, along with the other three schools that were later closed, all received a closure notice from the Chaoyang Jinzhan Village Education and Health Section for “not complying with safety and hygiene requirements, and also for not obtaining the proper qualifications for running a school.” At the same time, the notice also required each school’s principal to sign a document, promising to stop classes and relocate their students before July 16.

Tongxin’s principal, Shen Jinhua (沈金花),resolved not to sign her name from the very beginning. She understood that if the public saw the news afterwards and demanded an explanation from the government, the government would then have justification to close the schools. However, Jinghua reportedly signed the letter of commitment, knowing the school was to be shut down. Even after repeated contacts with the government, they still saw no improvement in the situation. These talks appeared to be a delaying tactic, but upon closer inspection seemed to be more like a last ditch effort to prevent the inevitable.

In fact, as early as May 30th of this year, Jinghua had already received a verbal notice from the village government regarding the closure.  At that time, other than the principal and several others, none of the students or faculty were aware of the situation, and the details had not been disclosed to the public. Shortly before that, the school came up with more than 400,000 yuan to improve campus safety and hygiene, and was prepared to welcome the government’s assistance in undertaking these improvements.

Then Secretary General Liu Zhouhong from the Narada Foundation (南都公益基金会), Jinghua’s largest sponsor, paid a visit to the village government and the district Education Commission departments concerned with the management of private schools, but both the village and district refused to accept  responsibility. Ironically, the agency that originally introduced the new “third path to address the education of migrant children” – the Chaoyang District Education Commission (朝阳区教委)- was the very same one that issued the order to close the schools.

Compared with Jinghua, Tongxin received their closure notice relatively late, and soon after had an unfortunate experience with the relevant government departments who tried to pass the buck. However, Tongxin did not stop there (clearly they understood lobbying the government was not enough), and used the internet to mobilize parents and get the media involved. To a certain degree, this strategy allowed the outside world to follow the issue of migrant children’s education. The issue gradually got more attention, to the point that the lowest levels of government did not dare make any rash decisions.

During that time, Tongxin planned for the worst case scenario, but fought constantly for the best possible result The measures taken included distributing information to the public via mail and Weibo, and recording protest songs, After the village committee rescinded the rental contact, the school invited public figures from the outside to participate in the school’s summer camp and music activities. Finally, they planned to get the parents of their students to sign a petition.

In the process of fighting for Tongxin, the school’s annual summer camp continued to run during the summer vacation, unaffected by unfolding events. Outside observers were inspired by the commitment shown by the school’s teachers who managed, under difficult circumstances, to put the children’s education and future first and foremost.

There were many factors that allowed Tongxin to persevere; crucial among these factors was the participation of Cui Yongyuan (崔永元), Wen Tiejun (温铁军), Li Changping (李昌平) and other scholars and experts who sent appeals to the Minister of Education to keep Tongxin open. [Editor’s Note: Cui Yongyuan is a popular talk show host. Wen Tiejun is dean of the School of Agricultural Economics and Rural Development at Renmin University and intellectual leader of the New Rural Reconstruction movement. Li Changping is a well-known advocate for the rights of farmers.]

Even though the village committee had already hired bulldozers, cut off the water supply to the school, and had the doors to the school boarded up, Tongxin exercised restraint and continued an active dialogue with the relevant government departments. This was in part possible because of the attention from the surrounding community. By the next day, the water supply on campus was restored to normal. Reportedly, some volunteers at the school were employees at the State Grid Corporation (国家电网公司) which promised to keep the electricity going, giving Tongxin much-needed support.

The concessions Tongxin won in this short period of time have something to do with the experience and knowledge that they have accumulated over the past few years in dealing with an uncertain environment. They understand the enormous wisdom and rallying strength of the public, and that every step has to be well thought-out; with gradual progress, the school will fight for its right to stay open. The school’s founder Sun Heng (孙恒)does not expect that a school can achieve such results, but he also believes this kind of investment and persistence will always have a positive return. However, whether other NGO’s will adopt this particular strategy as a guide will depend on each organization’s specific circumstances. The route Tongxin took cannot be adopted by all NGOs in their own situations.

As for the New Citizen School’s Jinghua Hope, for a brief period of time it did have the qualifications to legally keep the school open, maintained good relations with the government, and had the confidence of a large number of corporate donors. They also had their own philosophy, and wanted to go through the proper legal channels to realize their goal of being able to manage the school. They had seen too many schools demolished, and many schools allowing parents and children to take the lead in protests. They did not approve of these methods much, want to protect the children and guard against unpredictable parents. Perhaps these notions were mixed with the fantasy that the government could really help them maintain their legal status.

Jinghua had already quietly started to relocate its students before the official announcement of closure was made. On July 16th, over 800 students were relocated. That day, the district Education Commission and the village government came together to maintain order, calling in the help of two police cars and an ambulance.

To date, the schools are without any other options for reinstatement other than through the proper legal channels. On the afternoon of Sunday July 22nd, the Narada Foundation made public the progress of its communication with the government and an appeal in order to make some headway. Until then could the public knew why Jinghua had previously confronted the school closure by choosing to go through official government channels instead of going public with their troubles like Tongxin. Unfortunately, this was the wrong move, and disaster could not be avoided.

Despite the way things have turned out, I believe you cannot make a simple comparison between Jinghua and the schools that were saved.  Such a comparison might possibly miss out on factors unique to each school (available resources and limiting conditions) which would not make for a fair comparison. But there is one fact which cannot be ignored: these migrant schools are able to survive, grow, and be active on their own. Why then can we not unite behind common educational goals? Would not this [kind of coordinated action] increase the number of allies paying attention to these issues, so as to preserve our schools and push for legitimate accreditation methods for private schools?

Now that the new semester has begun and this summer’s disturbances have temporarily come to an end, this struggle for educational rights is still underway, and these two migrant schools have embarked on two very different paths. Tongxin is still working hard to obtain legal status and avoid closure for the time being but unable to make any guarantees for the future. Jinghua continues to follow up on their 854 students now relocated to other schools so that they could be aware of the impact this relocation has had on the families. Additionally, in order to protect the school’s public assets, they want to continue operating according to the relevant legal statutes. After the 18th Party Congress [held in November of 2012], they plan to bring a lawsuit against the Chaoyang District Education Commission and other related departments, seeking to use legal channels to keep Jinghua open.

According to a Beijing Evening News ( 北京晚报) report on July 4th, Chaoyang District plans to close all migrant schools without proper accreditation by 2014. Children who attend these schools will be moved to district-approved institutions. Clearly, Tongxin’s survival is merely the starting point of realizing academic equality. Can it influence more people in society to participate in this issue and change the injustices inherent in the educational system? Educational practitioners will need to apply more of their wisdom and influence to cope with the problem.

同心与新公民:打工子弟学校的去与留

钟十五

中国发展简报2012年秋季刊

今夏,北京再一次上演关停打工子弟学校事件,波及四所打工子弟学校及千名学生。
最终,同心实验学校留了下来,继续招生开课,可惜这是仅存的硕果。另外三家打工子弟学校则未能幸免,其中以新公民计划支持的朝阳区第一新公民学校(京华希望小学)最让人遗憾,也让了解或关注它的人为之抱不平。
两个月来,有幸(也是不幸)一直关注这场风波,现回过头来,静下心来思考为何有这不同的结局,让我身处其中总有一种强烈的直觉:也许一开始,同心和新公民这两所学校根据所处的境遇采取了不同的路线,就预示着他们在各自行动之后,会有怎样的结果。
6月19日,同心实验学校与包括新公民学校在内的其他三家打工子弟学校,一同接到朝阳区金盏乡教育卫生科的学校关停告知书,理由是“不符合有关的安全和卫生要求,更未依法获得办学资质”。同时,通知书还要求各学校校长签署一份承诺书,保证在7月16日前做好停止教学以及学生的分流安置工作。
同心实验学校的沈金花校长自始至终没有签。她很清楚签署意味着如果公众在看到新闻后要求政府解释的话,这就给了政府一个可以示众的理由。而新公民学校则签署了承诺书,据说,他们是在已知学校将被关停,而且与政府也做了多次沟通后仍然迟迟不见效果的情况下,签署了这份承诺书。这看起来像是一个缓兵之计,不过 更像一个无力挽回的无奈之举。
其实早在今年5月30日,新公民学校就已接到了乡政府关于学校关闭的口头通知,不过当时除了校长等几人知晓外,其他老师和学生并不知情,也并未对外透露。就在此前不久学校还拿出40多万进行校舍安全、卫生等方面的改善,准备迎接政府的扶持办学资格批复呢。
随后新公民学校的最大资助方——南都公益基金会的秘书长刘洲鸿连续几天分别拜会乡政府以及主管民间办学单位的区教委社会力量办学所,但这两个部门都在互相推诿责任。讽刺的是,当初引进“第三条探索打工子弟教育的道路”的新公民学校的,就是现在下达关停告知书的朝阳区教委。
比起新公民学校,同心实验学校收到关停通知的时间更晚,随后在与政府有关部门沟通时也遭遇过扯皮、推诿的情形。不过同心学校的努力并未止步于此(显然他们也清楚向政府游说远远不够),他们有节制地、最大限度地利用互联网优势,动员家长的参与以及媒体的跟进。这在一定程度上让外界持续关注打工子弟教育问题,话题日益升温,使得基层政府不敢造次。
同心实验学校那段时间曾做过最坏的打算,但一直都在争取最好的结果。这些争取的措施包括对外发布邮件、微博,录制歌曲传播,还有在接到村委会的解除租房合同后,邀请外界人士来参加学校的夏令营和音乐活动以及争取那些打工子弟孩子家长的联名信。
在争取的过程中,学校每年例行在暑假期间为孩子们举办的夏令营活动照常进行,并没有受到影响。这让外界对这群坚守学校的老师们有信心。
让学校最终保留下来的因素有很多,其中一个较为关键的因素不排除来自崔永元、温铁军、李昌平等五位学者专家的参与,他们致信教育部部长请求保留同心学校。
即使在村委会雇来的挖掘机已经上门、学校停水、校门被堵的情况下,同心学校仍能保持克制并与相关部门积极对话——部分因素来自这些校外社会人士的关注。果不其然,第二天校内供水就恢复正常了。据说,学校所在地的国家电网公司员工就是学校的志愿者,他们答应继续供电,这给了同心学校很大的支持。
短时间内赢得有利局面,这与同心学校这几年在这种随时可能被关掉的生存环境下,积极积累经验和应对的智慧分不开。他们知道民众的智慧和团结力量的巨大,也知道每一步都要有理有据、步步为营地争取同心办校的权利。学校能取得如此结果,创办人孙恒也觉得意外,但他相信这种付出和坚持总会有回报。然而,这种争取的路径适合哪些民间组织去采用借鉴,我想还需要根据不同机构的处境来看,不是所有的民间机构都适用。
对新公民学校来说,它曾有过一段时间合法办学资质,与政府关系良好,还拥有大批企业捐赠者的底气。他们也有自己的理念,更想通过合法的途径来实现办学目的。他们曾看到太多的学校被拆,很多学校往往让孩子和家长走在抗议行列的前面。他们对这种做法不太认同,既不愿意让孩子冒险,也不愿意看到家长冲动。或许,这其中还曾掺杂着他们对政府的一丝幻想,希望后者可以真的帮助他们延续曾经拥有的合法办学身份。
就这样,新公民学校在正式对外发布其关停事实前就已悄悄地散了。7月16日,新公民学校的800多名学生被分流安置。当天分流会现场,区教委和乡政府也一同过来压阵,还开来了两辆警车和一辆120救护车。
事已至此,学校再无任何恢复办学可能,只能依靠法律途径来解决。7月22日一个周日的下午,南都基金会将两月来与政府沟通的进展以及自己的诉求公布于众。这时,大家才知道为何之前新公民学校没有像同心实验学校那样,面对关停通知对外发声,而选择了与政府协商的途径,可惜这步棋走差了一步,大势已去无力挽回。
尽管结果如此,但我认为,不能拿新公民学校案例与那些保留下来的学校去做简单比较。这样的话,很有可能因未考虑其各自处境(具有的资源或限制条件)而有失公允。但这次关停事件有一点却不能忽视,那就是这些打工子弟学校都为自己的生存和发展而积极奔波,那为什么不能因为共同的教育目标而联合在一起?这样是否能让关注此事的盟友越来越多,共同去争取保留学校并争取合法的办学资质?
新学期已开始,今夏风波暂告一段落,然而这种权益争取之路仍在进行,而且这两所打工子弟学校仍在不同的道路上坚持着。同心实验学校仍在为获得合法身份继续努力着,毕竟暂时避免被关闭,留下来仍不能保证明天;新公民学校在此后对分流到其他学校的854名学生一直跟进,了解分流安置对其以及家庭的影响。此外,为保护学校的公益资产,学校还将根据有关法规条文,在十八大之后起诉朝阳区教委等有关部门,继续在法律层面进一步推动打工子弟学校的办学进程。
据《北京晚报》7月4日报道, 朝阳区将在2014年前关闭辖区内所有不具有办学资质的打工子弟学校,在这些学校就读的孩子将被分流到朝阳区教委核定的委托办学机构。显然,同心实验学校的保留,仅仅只是实现教育公平的开始,能否影响到更多的社会力量参与其中,改变教育制度的不公正?教育实践者们需要更多适合自己的智慧和能量。

Translated by Daniel Engel

Reviewed by Jane Luksich

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