"If I hadn't had a chance to study at the Dandelion school, I would have gone back to my hometown to finish middle school, or just dropped out and followed in my parents' footsteps like many of my friends did," said Selina Qiong, a 23-year-old from a small village in Central China's Henan Province.
When she was 4 years old, she and her parents were among the millions of villagers who flooded into China's cities in search of a better life. Such migration has played an important role in the country's economic transformation, but it also created a thorny problem: Where should these migrant workers' children go to school?
Many factory owners established schools for these children, but many have been shut down due to a lack of qualifications or poor facilities. As many of these children are missing out on having an education, some have said that NGOs should be allowed to step in if no other solution is presented.
The Dandelion Middle School is a pilot project in this vein. It is Beijing's first fully legal, non-profit middle school especially for the children of migrant workers. Established in 2005 in the suburban Daxing district, the school does its best to not only give them an education, but also to ensure they go on to further study.
However, insiders pointed out that the Dandelion model may be hard to replicate elsewhere due to not only its reliance on a rich benefactor, but the constraints of the education system.
Grow into what you want to be
A blue book recently released by the 21st Century Education Research Institute shows that about 100 million children have migrant worker parents. Although an increasing number of such children are attending public schools, more than 2 million are still studying at private or "illegal" schools as of 2014 due to the limited capacity of public schools and restrictions on admittance.
Yang used to be one of them. In 2006, after she graduated from a poorly-equipped primary school, which was later shut down, she was unable to attend a public middle school in Beijing. As she prepared to return to her village, she was offered a place at the Dandelion school. After finishing middle school there, she was able to study high school courses at a vocational school and then spent six years studying in the UK and US.
"When I was studying in Dandelion, I had a lot of chances to communicate with volunteers from domestic and overseas schools. They taught me the spirit of dedication and gratitude, and taught me that studying is not only about finding a good job, but can help me to grow up into who I want to be," said Yang.
Currently, the school has 449 students. Its own statistics show that from 2007 to 2016, about 70 percent of its 1,224 graduates continued their studies while 6 percent chose to start work.
"The Dandelion school allowed me to live with my parents, which was of great importance to my growth. Some of my relatives' children, who were left behind in my hometown, chose to drop out at an early age. Some just repeated their parents' life," said Yang.
However, not everyone is as lucky as Yang. Accessing education is still a huge problem for most migrant children despite government policies which attempt to guarantee schooling for all.
The 21st Century Education blue book revealed that a survey of junior middle school students at a school for migrant workers' children found that only 5 percent of them end up going to college eventually.
The Dandelion school is also facing some problems. A teacher at the school told the Global Times that it faces operational difficulties. The construction of new buildings has been suspended due to a lack of funds and many of its teachers see their jobs as temporary. In 2006, about 59 percent of their teachers left but this trend has been eased in recent years due to "their recognition of the school's culture and improved salaries."
"It is hard to implement the Dandelion model across the country as the school has special advantages. It was established by a philanthropist and has obtained steady support from donations. The existence of private schools for the children of migrant workers itself is unfair and fundamental changes to the country's household registration system and entrance system are needed," Song Yingquan, an expert at the China Institute for Educational Finance Research with Peking University, told the Global Times.
Guo Ming, vice president of the council of the Dandelion school, said that 5 percent of the school's funds came from the government while 73 percent comes from donations.
Local government support has been a problem generally, as Beijing has shut down dozens of private schools for these children since 2011, citing poor facilities and teaching quality.