Floating Populations and Education Inequality: A Senior Four Point Project
Byron An ’23 says people in his home city of Guangzhou know about the “Floating Population” crisis in China. Still, very few people have taken action to do anything about it.
For his Senior Four Point project, which has been three years in the making, Gould’s 2023 Valedictorian set out to advocate for fair access to education for “floating families” and build a more equitable education system in China.
The floating population phenomenon occurs worldwide when a transient population travels hundreds of miles for jobs in cities where they are not counted among permanent residents. China’s floating population of over 120 million people is the largest in the world. Migrant workers from rural villages travel to cities like Guangzhou to work in production plants for companies like Apple and Tesla.
The children of migrant workers, however, aren’t allowed to enroll in public schools because of the strict regulations meant to keep them out. Families must own a house or have lived in the city for more than five years to attend public schools.
“Children are suffering from poor quality of education [with] no access to public schools, and private school is not a viable choice for most families,” says Byron. “At the same time, children suffer from a loss of identity. They are thousands of miles away from their home, and the vast wealth and cultural gap make it difficult for them to integrate with the local students. In addition, their parents work extremely long hours, so they cannot care for their kids.”
Byron formulated his essential question, a foundation of the Senior Four Point project structure, by considering the issues above. He wondered how he could address the problem of education inequality and how he could help children from floating families reestablish their sense of identity.
He recognized that attempting to address educational inequality in an authoritarian regime like China’s was a heavy lift, so his first move was to partner with Clover Youth, a nonprofit organization founded by a friend.
“Collaboration was essential throughout my project. [I knew it would be] difficult for me as an individual to address the education problem in Guangzhou, so I reached out to local non-profits and recruited volunteers,” says Byron, advising Gould’s younger students who will be completing projects of their own before they graduate. “It is important to use the connections you have in your community to get the most resources for your project.”
Clover Youth’s mission is to serve low-income families in Guangzhou, but they have never served the floating population. So Byron established a new organization branch to focus solely on floating families divided into two sections—summer camps aimed at elementary school-aged children and high school counseling services for older students.
The summer camp became a residential program for children previously unsupervised at home. They provided a comfortable place to stay with people to care for them. Byron led family-focused activities to make up family time at home. He taught them lessons in personal finance and instituted a career broadcast room where students could think about their future.
Discussion groups were created at the summer camp to focus on the floating families’ cultural backgrounds to reinforce a connection to their roots. Unfortunately, floating families’ rural cultural backgrounds are being erased as rapid development continues to create the need for more migrant workers in China, and Byron hopes to counter this issue by guiding the children to embrace their unique identity instead of simply trying to act like their peers living in the city.
As part of the robust programming in his summer camp, Byron challenged students to observe their parents at home and identify three things they did for the family. First, he wanted them to acknowledge and understand how hard parents work and how much they do to strengthen the family bond.
For the older students, Byron organized volunteers to offer lectures and one-on-one counseling to students on obtaining eligibility for public high schools in Guangzhou. If families were considering private schools, he would help them through the complicated financial aid application process.
He recruited volunteers to gather 10,000 signatures and petitioned the city to change its process for enrolling floating family members in public schools. This effort resulted in real policy change when the city loosened its guidelines, making it easier for floating families to attend public schools.
“My heart sings whenever I witness a presentation like Byron’s,” says Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Stephanie Montgomery P’00. “To raise a question regarding a sensitive topic, research and organize an approach, and devote three years to project completion, represents a commitment rarely seen at the high school level! Moreover, Byron simultaneously sent the message: You too can bring about change.”
One of Byron’s hopes for the program is that it continues. He has helped raise almost $50,000 to help it do so.
When presenting his project to the Gould community recently, Byron listed three numbers to demonstrate his success: 1,000, 100, and five.
helped more than 1,000 students gain access to a public high school in Guangzhou;
recruited over 100 volunteers to the cause, and
established summer camps at five schools.
“Byron’s work on this project is nothing short of remarkable,” says Senior Four Point advisor and Gould Art Department Chair Kipp Greene P’26. “The scope and focus are equally impressive, but what really stands out is Byron’s selfless desire and success in supporting this marginalized community.”
Byron, who will be studying economics at Johns Hopkins University next fall, had some advice for his younger classmates anticipating their own Senior Four Point projects: dream big. He emphasized not to fear trying and suggested breaking a complex project down into smaller steps to achieve success.
Before getting into the actual work, he researched and published a paper on the education issues facing Guangzhou. Still, it wasn’t until he connected with children from floating families that he realized how much was at stake.
“My research provided me with background information on the difficulties floating families face, but my interactions with them greatly enriched my understanding. They’re no longer numbers on paper but people I deeply care about and hope to help.”
Watch Byron's recent presentation on his Senior Four Point Project.