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Yan and His Swans


At a simple and crude campus in Changping District in the northwestern suburbs of Beijing, Yanjing Little Swan Charity School educates children of migrant workers. After being taken over by volunteers in December 2012, the school is now home to 480 children in 13 different classes.

Native Beijinger Yan Zhaoshi serves as the principal. He dreads the end of every semester because he inevitably loses a teacher or two. Yan’s decision to abandon the affluence afforded him by his former career as an aerospace engineer in favor of devoting himself to educating migrant children seems crazy to many.

In Need of Teachers

Such schools, which are usually scattered across semi-rural areas with high floating populations and low rent, provide education for migrant children who accompany their parents’ relocation to big cities. According to statistics from the Beijing Municipal Education Commission released in August 2011, of over 433,000 school-aged migrant children living in Beijing, only 100,000 were enrolled in 114 different schools catering to them.

In 2010, when Yan Zhaoshi became a volunteer at Yanjing Primary School (which would eventually become Yanjing Little Swan Charity School), he made the trip to the campus to teach only when he had spare time. “I was impressed by the kids’ reaction to my teaching of mathematics,” Yan recalls, mimicking their wide-open curious eyes.

Hailing from a family of many teachers, the more Yan Zhaoshi volunteered with the kids, the more motivated he felt to help with providing them comprehensive education. “In my opinion, school is a place for children to acquire knowledge, which happens through study and homework,” Yan asserts. “They may enjoy running around a playground all day, but what is going to happen when they grow up?”

Yan Zhaoshi took it on himself to recruit good teachers for these migrant children. “Textbooks, classrooms, and playgrounds are all secondary to a teacher who can convey knowledge to the kids,” he continues. “Teachers are the top necessity to run a school. These kids are too young to learn by themselves.”

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