Education & Integration of Migrant Workers' Children

June 17, 2015

This resource consists of videos concerning the education of migrant workers' children in Shanghai, China and in the United States. Their goal is to help us think critically about the impact of migration on the education and integration of migrants' children in different national and international contexts.


Migration is a complex process. It not only affects people who initiate the migration but also changes the lives and identities of their family members. Migration also influences the education of migrant children and their integration into host communities. While adjusting to a new environment, migrant children face the challenges of finding proper schools, forming stable relationships with friends, and building self-esteem. The situation is even harsher for children of low-skilled migrant workers: their schooling is often interrupted as their parents move in pursuit of the limited yet floating employment opportunities, and the life opportunities of migrant children are squeezed for lack of social status or even legal status. In China, less than 30 percent of migrant workers' children attended schools. The unequal treatment of migrant workers and their children have generated wide criticism in China on its notorious household registration (hukou) system. The education of children of undocumented migrants in the United States also arouses heated debates about the rights of migrants and their children and the meaning of citizenship.

Other major questions arising from the education of migrant workers' children concerns their identity, social mobility and the prospect of integrating into the local society. Are migrant children experiencing "downward assimilation"—the process through which migrants incorporate into an underprivileged class due to lack of education and confinement to inner city environments—or are they finding other alternatives to gain social mobility and move up the social ladder?


The following sources are two films of the education and integration of migrant workers' children, both produced by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS). 

  1. Produced by student filmmakers from New York University about a migrant children's school in Shanghai. 
    Video: A School for Migrants' Children in Shanghai, China   
    Citation: PBS Online. "Migrant Children." Wide Angle, 2007. (a video directed by Celeste Hughey and produced by Walter Scarborough)

  2. Based on the film Escuela by Hannah Weyer, depicting a Mexican American family and the education of their youngest daughter Liliana.
    Video: Escuela

    Citation: PBS Online. "Escuela." Point of View (POV), 2002. (a film directed by Hannah Weyer)

Discussion Questions

  1. What were the school experiences of migrant workers' children seen in these two videos? 
  2. How did school teachers in these two cases understand and participate in migrant children's education? How did migrant children themselves understand their schooling and their lives in these two cases?
  3. The video about China involves internal migrants, whereas the video about the United States involves international migrants. How were the education and integration of migrant worker's children similar or different, considering factors such as class, gender, race/ethnicity, nationality, family structure, cultural values, and educational systems.

Suggested Readings

Klapper, Melissa R. Small Strangers: The Experiences of Immigrant Children in America, 1880-1925. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee. 2007.

Morse, Susan C. and Frank S. Ludovina. Responding to Undocumented Children in the Schools. Charleston, WV: Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools, Appalachia Educational Laboratory. 1999.

Waldinger, Roger and Cynthia Feliciano, "Will the New Second Generation Experience 'Downward Assimilation?' Segmented Assimilation Re-assessed." Ethnic & Racial Studies 27, no.3 (2004): 376-402.

Zhou, Min and Carl Bankston. Growing up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. 1998.