Reporters on the Job

Shadow Schools: Beijing at night is a sea of floodlighted construction sites and yellow cranes as the city gears up for the Olympics, and much of the dense old city of lanes and walled villages is long gone, says correspondent Simon Montlake.

But rural migrants who arrive looking for work tend to cluster on the outskirts, past the gleaming skyscrapers. That's where Simon and his assistant went to see the schools under threat of closure.

"Immediately, you enter a low-rise world of brick houses and rough, concrete walls, with markets and other street life that the slick modern city is quickly erasing. It was a poor community, but there are success stories there, and the growth of the private schools that we were visiting is a sign of how migrants are making a new life in Beijing, despite the obstacles."

Simon says that authorities are rightly concerned about standards in these schools, not just teaching but health and safety. "We visited a kindergarten run by Mr. Wang, whose New Millennium school had been bulldozed, and looked at the concrete-floored classrooms. Some lacked heating, and I imagined it would be freezing in winter," he says. "The kids were enjoying the sunshine in the playground, and the novelty of a 'long-nosed' visitor."

Then Simon and his assistant went to a grade school that was also under threat. Upstairs, next to the principal's office, some older girls were dancing to a boombox. The principal seemed quite relaxed about the noise and chaos. He just wanted to explain the school's predicament. He proudly told us that Motorola and Amway had donated books and other equipment to his school and others in the district. He's hoping that his school will stay open."

– Amelia Newcomb
Deputy World editor

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