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[Global Times] Metropolitan looks at the education and treatment of African kids in Chinese kindergartens

Last updated :2017-06-13

Source: http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1051464.shtml
By Zhang Xinyuan

Josephine Emmanuel from Nigeria with her Chinese classmates after dinner at Sunrise International Photo: Zhang Xinyuan/GT
Samantha Sibanda from Zimbabwe, the founder of the Appreciate Africa Network, was apart from her son and daughter for over nine years because she couldn't afford to send her children to school in Beijing.

Sibanda came to Beijing nine years ago to do trade and decided to stay because she was enchanted by the country's seemingly endless opportunities.

Like any mother, she wanted to have her children close by. But when she tried to have them stay with her in Beijing, she found the situation impossible.

"I was trying to find a school for my son and daughter, but I realized that I couldn't afford the tuition fees for international and bilingual schools in Beijing," Sibanda said.

"The tuition was over 100,000 yuan ($14,713) per child per year, and I couldn't send them to a local Chinese school because they couldn't understand Chinese."

To find a solution to her predicament, Sibanda reached out to the African community.

"I realized that if I, who is university educated and have a good teaching job in Beijing, couldn't afford to send my kid to school, there must be other African expats in the city facing similar problems," Sibanda said.

Ghanaian professor of African Studies at the University of Vienna, Adams Bodomo has done years of research on the African community in China. In his book, Africans in China: A Sociocultural Study and Its Implications for Africa-China Relations (2012), Bodomo estimated that there were over 500,000 Africans in China. The number has increased considerably since then as more people from the continent come to China to pursue further studies and trade opportunities. But a lot of the people that come are not coming alone. Many of them come with their families, which means children that must attend school, and according to sociologist Liang Yucheng, this is a challenge for many African parents.

Liang works at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province and specializes in researching African communities in China.

"As the African community in China continues to get bigger, one problem the community faces is a lack of proper education for their kids," he said.

Josephine Emmanuel in class. Photo: Zhang Xinyuan/GT 

Going to school

Sibanda did extensive research in the African communities in Beijing and surrounding towns in Hebei Province, trying to find out how many of their kids couldn't attend school to get a proper education.

Her findings were shocking. Of the 1,200 children she interviewed, most of them do not go to school.

"Eighty percent of them are not going to school; 10 percent of them are going to local Chinese schools, and 10 percent of them are being homeschooled by their parents," Sibanda said.

"I am not talking about the children of diplomats and those who work in big international corporations where their workplace can cover the education fees," she explained.

"This is a group of Africans in China who are doing regular jobs like being school teachers, and they can't afford education for their kids."

She added that for those whose parents can afford to send them to Chinese schools, the situation is not ideal either, as they struggle with the language and often hardly understand or learn anything. Also, some of them have a difficulty making friends with their Chinese classmates who are not accustomed to seeing black kids.

"When the local kids see a black kid, they will wonder why he or she looks different and shy away or touch the black kid's hair and do other things that would make the child uncomfortable," Sibanda said.

"It's not discrimination. It's just kids' curiosity. They never saw a black kid before, so they are curious. But they still need to be educated. They need to know that no matter the skin color and how different we look, we are all people and are the same."

Cleve Lloyd Mckenzie from Jamaica started Sunrise International four years ago. Sunrise provides a range of educational programs and services for kids and their families. He has enrolled many black kids over the years.

According to Mckenzie, the school caters to both Chinese and expat families who want an international education for their kids and teaches the Splash into Pre-K curriculum from the US, which is geared toward children aged three and older. The classes are taught in English and prepare students for entry into an international school in Beijing or further studies overseas.

"We want to provide an environment where kids from any country in the world can learn, grow and develop into the best person they can be," said Mckenzie.

His school only has one African student at the moment, a little girl by the name of Josephine Emmanuel. She is five and a half years old, and her parents are diplomats at the Nigerian Embassy in Beijing. She will attend Sunrise for three years until her parents' posting in China is up and they are reassigned somewhere else.

Commenting on her daughter's experience at the school, Mercy Uzoma, Josephine's mom, said she was happy with the curriculum.

"I believe the education she receives in Beijing can help her further her education anywhere," she said.

After nine years apart, Sibanda welcomed her children in Beijing this year. Her son will be attending university in Beijing.

"Being away from my children was very difficult for me," she said. "I missed them so much."

Mobilizing the forces

Liang's research revealed the same trend of many African kids in China not receiving a proper education.

According to him, the international schools are too expensive for their parents, and the kids can't enter local schools sometimes because of a policy restriction that bans some local schools in some Chinese cities from accepting children without a local hukou.

"The main reasons are that the African community's average income in China is low in comparison to other expats from more developed countries, so they can't afford international education like other expats," Liang explained.

International schools in China being too expensive for expats is not confined to African communities. Many expats from other countries feel the same. In May 2016, Global Times published a report which said that many expats from developed countries were leaving Beijing because of the expensive international school fees, increasing cost of living, and stagnating expat pay packages.

To bridge this gap, Sibanda launched the Discover Africa Academy 10 years ago and is trying to start an African school in Beijing that would be somewhere between an international school and a local school, a place where African kids can get a proper education at an affordable price.

It would be an African community school, said Sibanda. Her goal is to have sponsorship to help reduce the fees and have parents and trailing spouses who are educated and are not working volunteer at the school.

"Currently, I am trying to get more support from the embassies of African countries represented in Beijing, both financial support and other forms, such as a place for the school. If anyone wants to help, please do," Sibanda said. "Together let's help the African kids receive a proper education without losing their culture and roots."

Newspaper headline: Educating the young