The stories of Xiaowei, a 15-year-old drop-out, and similar children dominated the front pages of Chinese media on November 30.
Xiaowei came to Changshu, Jiangsu province from his home Anshun, Guizhou province in February to labor at a small workshop. The shop closed last month when investigators learned it was using child labor.
During his nine months in Changshu, Xiaowei never traveled anywhere outside the workshop and dorms. Xiaowei said he didn’t know the city and didn’t have time to explore.
The use of child labor was hardly a secret: recruitment agencies and parents both supplied young boys to the workshops. According to statistics published by Changshu, there were 107 companies using 211 children for labor.
After the workshop closed, Xiaowei and three other children were placed in a hotel with government agents to wait for their parents. He said it was his first break since coming to the city. At the factory, he and the other children worked from 8 am to 11 pm every day. Their pay was based on the number of units produced, with a minimum of 800 per day.
Xiaowei thought about leaving because of exhaustion. However, he didn’t leave because of his salary.
Although the three boys officially earned 2,500 yuan a month, they received only 1,000 yuan of their wages. The company said the remaining 1,500 yuan would be withed and paid out at the end of the year to any children who lasted that long.
Following the Trend
In Guanling Bouyei Minority Group County, students who drop out of school typically persuasive their peers to drop out as well.
Xiaowei told Beijing Youth Daily reporters that in his hometown in Guizhou province, especially in remote counties, students often drop out.
According to statistics published by Xinhuanet in 2015, about 1.17 percent of the students leave school each year. But the true rate is much higher.
Zheng Chao (pseudonym), a math teacher at a middle school in Guanling, said at the beginning of the semester there were 60 students in his class. By the end of the first year, five students left. More students left each year, and by the last year only 50 remained.
Zheng said many of the students who leave say they admire their peers who return with spending money and better clothes. Another boy and girl dropped out when they got married.
Xiaowei said he dropped out because he was hooked on computer games and fell behind in his schoolwork. His parents and teachers didn’t attempt to persuade him to stay.
Poverty Not the Cause
If you ask the Chinese public, most people would say that rural poverty is why students abandon their studies. But teachers in Xiaowei’s school disagree.
Kang Ming (pseudonym), a Chinese teacher at a middle school in Guanling, said impoverished students receive a subsidy of 1,250 yuan per year. They enjoy a free lunch at school and a subsidized dinner plan that costs 3 yuan. Books and photocopies throughout the nine-year compulsory education are free.
Teachers say the problem is the attitude of society and parents.
Li Na, a Chinese teacher, said she and other teachers have had to stop suspending unruly students since many children used suspension as an excuse to drop out of school. By the time disciplinary news reaches home, a student’s misbehavior can easily turn into a tale about how the teacher “gave up on them,” Li said.
The local education bureau requires schools to control their drop-out rate, but parents have been uncooperative.
Kang and Li said they often visited students’ home to talk to the parents. In some cases, the students threatened to kill them if they visited. Parents who did meet the teachers shrugged and said they could do nothing to control their children.
Li said in March the school scheduled parent-teacher conferences to share information about the graduation exams with families. Not one parent came.
Li said that unlike foreign students who quit school to get an early start on business or career dreams, most Chinese students drop out due to confusion. Parents and children doubt the value of schooling and neither has a clear idea about the future.
For Kang and Li, both of whom volunteered to teach in the impoverished countryside, the continual loss of students has been a source of personal disappointment.