Stepping Stones in Shanghai

May 14, 2015

Gerald R Ford School of Public Policy meets with Stepping Stones in Shanghai!

In our second to last meeting of the whole trip we visited the non-profit, Stepping Stones. As with most of our non-profit meetings we learned both about the organizational mission and some of the challenges and nuances of being a non-profit in China. Since Stepping Stones focuses on migrant children, specifically their educational needs, the meeting began with some stark, and much needed, context about migration within China. To give a little bit of detail to the enormity of the situation, currently an estimated 162 million Chinese migrate outside their home province. Shanghai alone has 9 million migrants living and working in the city, approximately the entire population of New York City.

One of the numerous challenges facing China’s migrant population is family separation since the hukou residency system presents many barriers for children to enroll in schools outside their place of birth. Children frequently live in boarding schools, of drastically varying quality, as both parents now commonly migrate for work. The cost of boarding schools ranges from 1000 RMB (about 620 U.S. dollars) to 7000 RMB (1,130 U.S. dollars) per semester. The estimated average tuition spent per semester is 2000 RMB, which is the average monthly salary of a migrant worker. The conditions of the boarding schools, treatment of children and quality of education vary widely.

As a person very interested in child welfare policy in the U.S., I had a lot of questions about the oversight and regulations of these schools as well as any reform efforts. But while Stepping Stones is very well versed in migration issues, they primarily serve migrant children living in Shanghai. With the goal of eliminating educational disparities between local children and migrant children, Stepping Stones trains volunteers to teach English in migrant schools. After 10 years in operation they now have over 300 volunteers and serve 4,800 children a week. Building on themes from Ford’s non-profit public management course, Stepping Stones faces challenges with staff and volunteer turnover as well as securing foundation funding for a program with 80% overhead costs, as all services are free.

–Lily S, MPP

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