School Adaptation of Migrant Children in Shanghai: Accessing Educational Resources and Developing Relations

  • Xiaoyue SunEmail author
  • Ernest W. T. Chui
  • Jia Chen
  • Yuanyuan Fu
Original Paper



The current study examined the patterns of adaptation of rural-to-urban migrant children in China as compared with their peers in urban schools. It also explored the potential factors relating to school adaptation by employing the cultural and structural perspectives, which emphasizes the access to social relations and the socioeconomic status in a society.


We conducted surveys in a district with a large number of migrants in Shanghai. This cross-sectional study recruited 1577 children from 12 primary schools, who completed self-reported questionnaires.


Attending a public school can promote the children’s adaptation, including the access to more family resources (d = 0.77, p < 0.05; 0.47, p < 0.05; 0.28, p < 0.05) and social relations (Cohen’s d = 0.17, p < 0.05; 0.28, p< 0.05; 0.11, p < 0.05). However, policy limitations and lack of family resources are primary factors that prevent children from attending public schools. Children from families with higher income (OR = 1.28, 95% CI [1.05, 1.55], p < 0.05), higher parental education achievement (OR = 1.19, 95% CI [1.05, 1.35], p < 0.01), and homeownership (OR = 2.03, 95% CI [5.35, 10.95], p < 0.001) are more likely to enroll in a public school.


The study’s findings contribute to the growing knowledge about migrant children’s adaptation and can guide future policy-making. The adaptation gap between migrant children from public and migrant schools raises a concern about the upward mobility of migrant children from disadvantaged families, which requires more attention and support from local government.


School adaptation Migrant children Educational resources Social relationships China 


Author Contributions

X.S.: designed and executed the study, conducted the analyses and wrote the paper. The author is grateful to the support from Dr. Bin Fan for her help with data collection. E.W.T.C.: collaborated with the writing of this paper. J.C. and Y.F.: collaborated with the data analysis.


This research received funding from the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities and Shanghai Philosophy and Social Science Planning Project (2019ESH003).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The researcher obtained the ethical approval from the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) of the University of Hong Kong in June 2015 before starting the survey (Ref No.: EA3506011). All procedures of the survey were strictly in accordance with the ethical standards of the HREC guidelines.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all participants and their parents.


  1. Alba, R. D., & Nee, V. (2003). Remaking the American mainstream: assimilation and contemporary immigration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Baker, J. A. (2006). Contributions of teacher–child relationships to positive school adjustment during elementary school. Journal of School Psychology, 44(3), 211–229.Google Scholar
  3. Bleakley, H., & Chin, A. (2004). Language skills and earnings: evidence from childhood immigrants. Review of Economics and Statistics. 86(2), 481–496.Google Scholar
  4. Chan, K. W., & Buckingham, W. (2008). Is China abolishing the hukou system? China Quarterly, 195(1), 582–605.Google Scholar
  5. Chedzoy, S. M., & Burden, R. (2005). Making the move: assessing student attitudes to primary-secondary school transfer. Research in Education, 74(1), 22–35.Google Scholar
  6. Chen, J., Wang, D., & Zhou, Y. (2017). Education for population control: migrant children’s education under new policies in Beijing. In Y.-K. Cha, J. Gundara, S.-H. Ham & M. Lee (Eds), Multicultural education in global perspectives: policy and institutionalization (pp. 153–166). Singapore: Springer Nature.Google Scholar
  7. Chen, Y., & Feng, S. (2013). Access to public schools and the education of migrant children in China. China Economic Review, 26, 75–88.Google Scholar
  8. Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990). Accessed 17 July 2018.
  9. Dong, J. (2010). Neo-liberalism and the evolvement of China’s education policies on migrant children’s schooling. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 8(1), 137–160.Google Scholar
  10. Duan, C., Lv, L., Wang, Z., & Guo, J. (2013). The survival and development status of floating children in China: an analysis of the sixth population census data [in Chinese]. South China Population, 28(4), 44–55.Google Scholar
  11. Duan, C., Lv, L., & Zhou, X. (2013). Major challenges for China’s floating population and policy suggestions: an analysis of the 2010 population census data [in Chinese]. Population Research, 37(2), 17–24.Google Scholar
  12. Goodburn, C. (2009). Learning from migrant education: a case study of the schooling of rural migrant children in Beijing. International Journal of Educational Development, 29(5), 495–504.Google Scholar
  13. Gordon, M. (1964). Assimilation in American life: the role of race, religion, and national origins. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Hou, S., Yuan, X. J., Liu, Y., Lin, X. Y., & Fang, X. Y. (2011). The effect of social support and perceived discrimination on loneliness among migrant children: a longitudinal study. Psychological Development and Education, 27(4), 401–411.Google Scholar
  15. Hu, H., Lu, S., & Huang, C. C. (2014). The psychological and behavioral outcomes of migrant and left-behind children in China. Children and Youth Services Review, 46, 1–10.Google Scholar
  16. Hu, X., Cook, S., & Salazar, M. A. (2008). Internal migration and health in China. The Lancet, 372(9651), 1717–1719.Google Scholar
  17. Human Rights Watch (2006). China: Beijing closes schools for migrant children in pre-olympic clean-up. Accessed 10 July 2018.
  18. Jia, X., & Liu, X. (2017). Perceived discrimination and antisocial behaviour among Chinese rural-to-urban migrant adolescents: mediating effects of social support. International Journal of Psychology, 52(4), 327–335.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Kanbur, R., & Zhang, X. (2005). Fifty years of regional inequality in China: a journey through central planning, reform, and openness. Review of Development Economics, 9(1), 87–106.Google Scholar
  20. Kingery, J. N., Erdley, C. A., & Marshall, K. C. (2011). Peer acceptance and friendship as predictors of early adolescents’ adjustment across the middle school transition. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 57(3), 215–243.Google Scholar
  21. Kipping, R. R., Smith, M., Heron, J., Hickman, M., & Campbell, R. (2014). Multiple risk behaviour in adolescence and socio-economic status: findings from a UK birth cohort. European Journal of Public Health, 25(1), 44–49.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  22. Li, J. (2016). We want to be together: Double pressure for migrant children’s lucky place—Shanghai. Accessed 16 July 2018.
  23. Li, Z. (2017). Report on the development of Chinese migrant population [Web news]. Xinmin Net. Accessed 29 Nov 2018.
  24. Liang, Z., & Chen, Y. P. (2007). The educational consequences of migration for children in China. Social Science Research, 36(1), 28–47.Google Scholar
  25. Liem, G. A. D., & Martin, A. J. (2011). Peer relationships and adolescents’ academic and non-academic outcomes: same-sex and opposite-sex peer effects and the mediating role of school engagement. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(2), 183–206.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Liu, J., & Jacob, W. J. (2013). From access to quality: migrant children’s education in urban China. Educational Research for Policy and Practice, 12(3), 177–191.Google Scholar
  27. Liu, T., Holmes, K., & Albright, J. (2015). Predictors of mathematics achievement of migrant children in Chinese urban schools: a comparative study. International Journal of Educational Development, 42, 35–42.Google Scholar
  28. Liu, X., & Zhao, J. (2016). Chinese migrant adolescents’ perceived discrimination and psychological well-being: the moderating roles of group identity and the type of school. PloS ONE, 11(1), e0146559.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  29. Liu, Y., Li, X., Chen, L., & Qu, Z. (2015). Perceived positive teacher–student relationship as a protective factor for Chinese left-behind children’s emotional and behavioural adjustment. International Journal of Psychology, 50(5), 354–362.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Murray, C., & Malmgren, K. (2005). Implementing a teacher–student relationship program in a high-poverty urban school: Effects on social, emotional, and academic adjustment and lessons learned. Journal of School Psychology, 43(2), 137–152.Google Scholar
  31. Portes, A., & Rivas, A. (2011). The adaptation of migrant children. Future of Children, 21(1), 219–246.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. St-Hilaire, A. (2002). The social adaptation of children of Mexican immigrants: educational aspirations beyond junior high school. Social Science Quarterly, 83(4), 1026–1043.Google Scholar
  33. Sun, X., Chen, M., & Chan, K. L. (2016). A meta-analysis of the impacts of internal migration on child health outcomes in China. BMC Public Health, 16, 66.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Tian, L. (2015). Land use dynamics driven by rural industrialization and land finance in the peri-urban areas of China: the examples of Jiangyin and Shunde. Land Use Policy, 45, 117–127.Google Scholar
  35. Trickett, E. J., & Birman, D. (2005). Acculturation, school context, and school outcomes: adaptation of refugee adolescents from the former Soviet Union. Psychology in the Schools, 42(1), 27–38.Google Scholar
  36. Verheyde, M. A. (2006). Commentary on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Article 28, the Right to Education (pp. 26–70). Leiden & Boston, MA: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.Google Scholar
  37. Wang, L. (2008). The marginality of migrant children in the urban Chinese educational system. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 29(6), 691–703.Google Scholar
  38. Wong, F. K. D., Chang, Y. L., & He, X. S. (2009). Correlates of psychological wellbeing of children of migrant workers in Shanghai, China. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 44(10), 815–824.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Woodhouse, S. S., Dykas, M. J., & Cassidy, J. (2012). Loneliness and peer relations in adolescence. Social Development, 21(2), 273–293.Google Scholar
  40. Woronov, T. E. (2004). In the eye of the chicken hierarchy and marginality among Beijing’s migrant schoolchildren. Ethnography, 5(3), 289–313.Google Scholar
  41. Woronov, T. E. (2008). Raising quality, fostering “creativity”: ideologies and practices of education reform in Beijing. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 39(4), 401–422.Google Scholar
  42. Xiang, X. (2018). My future, my family, my freedom: meanings of schooling for poor, rural Chinese youth. Harvard Educational Review, 88(1), 81–102.Google Scholar
  43. Zhang, W., Wang, X., Li, J., & Xu, Z. (2014). Uncompensated care for children without insurance or from low-income families in a Chinese children’s hospital. Medical Science Monitor, 20, 1162–1167.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  44. Zhao, J., Liu, X., & Wang, M. (2015). Parent–child cohesion, friend companionship and left-behind children’s emotional adaptation in rural China. Child Abuse & Neglect, 48, 190–199.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social Work, School of Social and Public AdministrationEast China University of Science and TechnologyShanghaiChina
  2. 2.Department of Social Work and Social AdministrationThe University of Hong KongHong KongHong Kong
  3. 3.School of Sociology and Political ScienceShanghai UniversityShanghaiChina
  4. 4.School of Social Development and Public PolicyBeijing Normal UniversityBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations