2018-01-07 05:29:51

More than 40 private schools and kindergartens have been torn down in a campaign against illegal construction in Zhoukou, a city in central China’s Henan province, according to a report from business news outlet Caixin.

Zhoukou began its crackdown against unauthorized construction in August. Dozens of private education institutes in Huaiyang and Luyi counties have been demolished, and the efforts are ongoing.

The founder and principal of one bulldozed kindergarten and primary school in Huaiyang County, surnamed Chen, told Sixth Tone on Friday that he had lost more than 200 million yuan ($30.8 million).

Two-thirds of Chen’s school was torn down in December, forcing boarding students to sleep in the remaining classrooms after their dorms were reduced to rubble.

According to an official statement from the Huaiyang County government, the demolished institutions unlawfully occupied farmland and woodland. Though some were licensed to operate as schools, the government said that they lacked construction licenses, and thus were considered illegal and could harbor safety hazards. In March, a student died in a stampede at an overcrowded school in Puyang, another county in Henan, triggering safety inspections.

Chen, however, argued that he founded his school in 2014 with the encouragement of the local education authority. He recalled that the government at the time pointed to one local private school as a paradigm; the institution has now been demolished alongside others like his that were set up to follow its example.

Private schools have played a growing role in education across China, as many areas are underserved by public institutions. A 2015 study found that counties across Henan, the country’s third most populous province, had only one public kindergarten on average, meaning that many students — particularly “left-behind” children raised by their grandparents in rural areas while their parents work in cities — had to travel a long way to attend. Most of the students at Chen’s school, as well as at many other schools demolished in the campaign, are left-behind children.

However, the 2015 study also identified problems with the quality of education provided by private institutions. As the local government found it difficult to manage the growing sector, it began to suppress its expansion with more demanding construction and facility requirements.

The demolition campaign has provoked anger because the government is seen to have double standards for public and private institutions when it comes to construction. One source told Caixin that public schools also illegally occupy farmland, but the local government will grant them construction licenses while withholding authorization from private facilities.

Chen told Sixth Tone that when he initially rented the land from local farmers to build his school in 2014, he paid a 70,000-yuan fine to the land resource department and a 50,000-yuan tax to the township government for occupying farmland. Yet the payments did not protect his school from demolition.

Sixth Tone’s calls to Huaiyang County officials went unanswered on Friday.

According to Caixin’s report, Huaiyang County has asked each of its towns to report on the progress of the demolitions. Those who fall behind schedule will be penalized.

Luyi County announced on its website that as of Dec. 17, 2017, it had demolished 225,000 square meters of illegal construction and recovered 338 hectares of farmland.

Some of the schools that were torn down in August are still vacant lots, piled with construction waste. Chen said no one has told him what the land will be used for in the future. He does not know whether he will be able to hold onto what remains of his school. “What can I do? I can only wait for fate to decide,” he said.

Editor: Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: Playground equipment lies amid rubble at a demolished kindergarten in Beijing, Dec. 17, 2010. Zhan Min/VCG)