Social justice is defined as the philosophical and political theory that aims at the idea of fairness in the link between people in the community and equity in access to opportunities, wealth, and social privileges (Bell, 2016, p.3). On numerous occasions, the aspects of poverty, place, and social justice go hand in hand. One of the best ways in which social justice in any given country can be assessed is through the education policies that have been adopted in a given country, particularly those affecting the financially disadvantaged people in society. In education, social justice looks at the equal distribution of resources and treatment towards the students that make them feel mentally and physically safe and valued (Francis, Mills, and Lupton, 2017, p.414). Therefore, the focus of this article will mostly be based on migrant children in China. The background of China’s context in terms of the poverty level and regional variations will be discussed. After that, China’s policy on education that affects migrant children will be described, as well as how the policy is implemented in schools in China. Additionally, some progressive approaches toward addressing poverty and education for the disadvantaged will be elaborated.

Background to China’s Context

The country that holds the earliest record of its population is China. The population of China was at 10 million to 20 million for the first 2000 years of its 4000 years history. This figure increased to 59 million in the Han dynasty (Bacci, 2017, p.4). Social disorders and war contributed to a decrease in population to around 10 million and 20 million at the start of the 17th century. The total population reached 100 million for the first time in the middle of the 18th century. It reached 300 million at the end of the 18th century, and by the beginning of the 20th century, it had reached 400 million. China’s population had increased to 1 billion by 1980. Before the Han dynasty, the distribution of the Chinese population was mostly seen in North China, along the Yellow River.

Chinese migrated along the Yangtze River and moved to South China after the Period of Three Kingdoms (Eberhard, 2020, p.2). The population ratio changed to 3:1 between those in the South and North during the Five Dynasties. This ratio has remained the same since then. A majority of the Chinese people practice agriculture as their main economic activity and they reside in the countryside. There are numerous ethnic groups in China. 94% of the Chinese population are Han people, and the remaining 6% represent the minorities which comprise up to 55 ethnic groups. China hosts 5 language families, with the most common being the Han language. Approximately 96.31% of the Chinese population is found on the eastern side of the nation, with the remaining 3.69% being distributed in the northwest, southwest, and northern parts.

The number of migrant workers moving from rural to urban areas in China has been increasing since the economic reform began in late 1970 (Xie and Jiang, 2016, p.262). Most rural workers have been freely moving into the city in search of greener pastures following the increased demand for workers in the city, leading to a dramatic increase in worker migration. The government introduced the Hukou system as a way of controlling the balance of the population in the rural and urban regions (Cui and Cohen, 2015, p.327). In this system, the people are registered in the provinces where their parents were born, and they are required to utilize the social services offered by the government in their regions of registration.

While the Hukou system has recently allowed people in rural to look for jobs in the cities, its social effects are still being felt (Afridi, Li, and Ren, 2015, p.17). The rural migrants who relocate to the city searching for good jobs cannot enjoy the same social benefits such as health services, subsidized housing, and schooling for their children as the local people. They are portrayed as “borrowing” services designed for the urban Hukou holders and are mostly expected to move back to the rural to enjoy the services where they were registered. This effect has mostly been evident in the schooling system in China (Afridi, Li, and Ren, 2015, p.17). The rural Hukou-holders seem to be denied the social benefits that the urban Hukou holders get, despite them contributing largely to the economic growth in the cities. Consequently, the number of migrant children, residing with their parents in the cities, who cannot get quality education has hugely increased (Zhou and Cheung, 2017, p.1327). The limitation for migrant children obtaining education in the cities in China, particularly Beijing, has increased following the increased population of migrant families. Hence, these families have been forced to send their children back to their rural homes for them to obtain quality educational services. This shows a high level of social injustice being directed toward migrant children, whose families are mostly poverty-stricken.

China’s Policies on Disadvantaged Student’s Education and Enaction of these Policies in Schools in Practice in China (1234)

Since there is an unequal distribution of educational services in the urban areas for migrant children, China went ahead to develop several policies that were to ensure that social justice in education is achieved in the region. In this section, some of these educational policies are going to be discussed concerning their implementation in schools in China as well as their limitations.



Compulsory Education

Starting in the late 1980s, particularly after 1991, the educational requirements of migrant children increased due to the large-scale migration that led to urbanization and industrialization in China. The basis of social justice and education equity lies in the provision of equal education to migrant children. The systematic barriers to education for migrant children in China include the financing structure for compulsory basic education and the Hukou-based enrollment system. Before 1995, there was no single policy or legislation that was developed targeting the school admission of migrant children in the cities  (Zhang, Li, and Xue, 2015, p.196). Instead, there was just the Education Law of 1986 that made it compulsory to implement the nine-years education for every child in China. As per the law, every child who attained school-going age has a right to an equal education regardless of their ethnic, religious, gender, and economic differences.

It is a must for every citizen to attend school for a minimum of nine years under the full funding of the government. This covered six years of primary education, from 6 years of age, and three years of junior secondary education, for 12 to 15 years of age. Therefore, every child was required to get registered in school within proximity of their residence. The issue of education access for migrant children later became a concern for the public (Zhang, Li, and Xue, 2015, p.196). As a result, it became important for regulations and laws governing the education needs of migrant children to be developed. Therefore, the Enrollment for School Age Migrant Children program was initiated in 1996 in Shanghai, Beijing, Zhejiang, and three other locations (Zhang, 2017, p.112). Additionally, the first policy about the education of migrant children acted as the basis for the development of this issue. The regulation provided that migrant children can only obtain conditional enrollment into public schools in the receiving cities. According to this regulation, the families of the migrant children had to part ways with extra funds to have their children admitted to in regions which they were not originally registered. The parents, also, had to depict an employment permit for admission to be completed.

Enactment of Compulsory Education in Schools

Significant progress has indeed been registered in China since the implementation of the “Compulsory Education Law of the People’s Republic of China.” The net enrollment rate of primary school-age children reached 98.58% in 2002 (Xiao, Li, and Zhao, 2017, p.544). However, the main question that still lingers is whether the Compulsory Education law has promoted social justice in education in China, particularly for migrant children. As clearly outlined above, the migrant families still found it rough and tough concerning admitting their children to regions other than those in which they were registered under the Hukou system. Therefore, rather than helping promote equity in the provision of education, it can be argued that the ‘Compulsory Education system’ somehow helped increased the gap.

First, it was very unfair to develop a regulation that only provided conditional admission to the migrant children in the receiving cities. Worse off, making it compulsory for the migrant parents to pay extra fees for them to get admission to public schools. This was simply a way of cutting off these children from the high-quality and urban education in the cities where their parents worked and lived in. It is important to note that most of the families were migrating from the rural areas into cities to look for jobs mostly due to the lack of well-paying jobs and high poverty levels in rural regions. Therefore, subjecting them to paying an extra amount of money in the schools showed high levels of social injustices in the society that has a law allowing for a fully funded “compulsory education” for every school-going child (Yue et al., 2018, p.11).


Free Education

Attempts have also been made in China by making policies that are aimed at making education as affordable as possible for migrant children. This was mainly aimed at providing equal education for migrant children. Hence, the Chinese central government proposed a ‘Non-Discrimination’ principle for migrant children in 2003. This policy was mainly brought to alter the conditions that were placed upon the migrant students registered in regions other than their current places of residence. With this policy, the fees levied upon students that attended schools in regions other than their locals were stuck off. The principle was based on the idea that migrant children need to have similar access to compulsory education as the local students for non-discriminatory and equal education to be achieved. Moreover, it presented that the same rights accorded to the local students should also be accorded to the admitted migrant students, both in and out of the classrooms. Such rights include access to extracurricular activities and eligibility for scholarships. Additionally, the governments of the receiving cities were required to develop standards fees for the whole of the compulsory education and remove any other fees that were placed on the migrant children (Huang et al., 2017, p.45). This went a long way in leveling the playing field for both the local and migrant students.

Practice in Schools

Action for the policy started being implemented in the private schools for the migrant children as a way of giving alternate solutions to the education limitations facing the migrant children alongside the public schools. Laws and regulations on the non-registered private schools for migrants were put in place. Consequently, this helped in promoting social justice for the migrant students as departments of education in the receiving cities were tasked with supporting and managing migrant children’s schools (Huang et al., 2017, p.45).  The government in the receiving cities also pumps up their support towards affordable education for the migrant children by supporting the schools with the place, building maintenance, funds, and the training of the teachers. This is a well-designed policy with good motives that will ensure that the compulsory and free education provided by the government is truly enjoyed by everyone including migrant children.

In a critical analysis of the above-discussed education policies in China, it becomes evident that they somehow help in advocating for fairness and inclusion in the education of migrant children, despite them having some weaknesses that can be worked upon. Fraser (2006) tackled social justice approaches from the transformative and affirmative lenses via a 3R model.  These 3Rs represented economic redistribution, cultural recognition, and political representation. The transformative approaches were the ones that were majorly advocated by Fraser, which can redevelop the existing system’s framework in comparison by rectifying the inequitable issues on the surface as attempts for affirmative action. Going by Fraser’s (2006) ideas, it can be deduced that the actions taken by China’s government fall both under the affirmative and transformative approaches.

From the evaluation of the Compulsory Education policy, transformative elements can into the picture. Instead of relaxing and letting every citizen decide where or not they would take their children to school, the government provided funds, facilities, teachers, and building infrastructures that would facilitate the basic educational services for every individual in the country. This can be said to be a good start in allowing every person to go to school freely, particularly in regions where they are registered under the Hukou system. Hence, were it not for the fact that rural-urban migration increased in China in recent years, then this mover would have been ideal for ensuring that all of its citizens attain education. The approach can also be termed to be affirmative given that it indented to make everyone in the country equal by raising their social status through education.

Alternative Approaches to Tackling Poverty and Disadvantaged Education in China (617)

The policies discussed in the section above show some of the efforts that the Chinese government put into place in promoting social justice and addressing the educational disadvantage facing migrant children. Since the current education system has had its limitation, the Chinese government has engaged in further progressive approaches whose success can be analyzed using Fraser’s framework.

Shanghai Model

It is very crucial to study and analyze the shanghai model. The Shanghai model was established as an explicit municipal effort to make better the schools attended by the migrant children by offering enough finances to allow full access to the migrant and public schools. The program was also designed to provide migrant children in public schools with more available seats. The major attributes of this model that increased the confidence of the Shanghai public school in pursuing it and accepting an increased number of migrant children are that it provided room for a low threshold, free education, more seats, fewer requirements, and eligible substitutions. The program was actualized on a three-year plan (2008-2011) where around $153 billion was invested in building more schools. This allowed public schools to be developed in more ways such that the migrant children were included by admitting migrant children, mixing them with local students, or giving them special classes. Hence, the transformative role of this approach is realized not just from the redistribution of the unequal resources but through creating a cohesive atmosphere that allows the migrant children to be easily incorporated into the public schools in the receiving cities.

Participation of the Social Sector in Education for Migrant Children

Upon migrating into the cities, the migrant children tend to become long-term residents in the cities rather than short-term visitors. Being new members in the cities, they face issues in adapting to city life and behavioral patterns, and they are not able to benefit from the rights and services the local children have. Mostly, they live in the peripheral regions of the city with inhuman conditions and small living spaces. They do not have enough resources, their study environment is precarious, and lack space to do homework. The parents do not have enough time to help the children with their studies as they come home late from work. Therefore, some NGOs developed community-based support for migrant children. A good example of this program is the Migrant Education and Action Research Center (MWEAC) where migrant children and their families are given free public education and social services. These include weekend activities and after-school programs (Han et al., 2017, p.102).  The approach by the NGO helps meet the transformative approach of Frasers’s framework given that it offers multidisciplinary activities that are aimed at enriching the migrant children’s health, social skills, and nutrition. Besides being the target these children also help in designing the activities.

For future socially just responses, it may be recommended that the acceptance and respect for the migrant workers and migrant children be promoted. Migrant workers largely contribute to the development of the cities and the economy of the nation. It is very unfair to deny migrant workers and their children some of the crucial services like a place, health, and education simply because they are registered in other regions. Particularly, it may be the right time to review the Hukou system and allow any citizen to have a right of working and accessing public services in any part of the country. This may go a long way in promoting social justice for migrant workers and their children.


Every citizen has a right to equal access and distribution of wealth, opportunities, and social privileges. In China, for a very long time, migrant workers and their children have been denied access to basic social amenities like education and healthcare simply because they have been registered to receive the same at different places. This has represented a high level of social injustice and the Chinese government has since developed various policies that have been aimed at promoting educational equity for migrant children. The effectiveness and limitations of the policies have been discussed concerning Fraser’s framework. Some progressive approaches that are being implemented in the country have also been analyzed. It is appropriate for the Hukou system to be reviewed to accommodate the requirements of the migrant workers and children, provided that the regional and economic dynamics of China have changed over time.










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