Wang Qiang / Miao Jiandong

For almost six decades, the gap between rural and urban communities, and the need for integration, have drawn much attention from government and civil society in China. The issues of social exclusion and integration have become crucial to the building of a harmonious society. Education, especially adult education, can act as a major cross-cutting intervention for social integration. Wang Qiang and Miao Jiandong are Associate Professor and Professor respectively at Nanjing Normal University.

Rural-Urban Migration and the Role of Adult Education in China's Social Integration



From the 1960s, central government set out to eliminate the Three Gaps between the rural and urban, between farmers and urban workers, and between intellectuals and blue-collar workers. The strategy was to separate industries between rural and urban areas, namely agriculture in rural areas, and manufacturing and service industries in urban areas. Unfortunately, the goal of eliminating the Three Gaps was not reached. During the strict rural-urban division period (1950-1985) under the planned economy, there was little rural-urban population mobility, and rural-urban gaps remain today.

Since the adoption of the policy of openness to the outside and the market economy in the late 1970s, responsibility-based land policies in rural areas have solved successfully the problem of starvation in rural areas. Along with the industrialization, urbanization and modernization in China, the economy is booming rapidly, and a large population driven by market forces has moved into urban areas and non-agricultural industries. However, while major economic, educational and cultural resources are concentrated in urban areas, migrant rural workers are excluded from the benefits.

1. Dual Social Structure and Rural-Urban Gap


1.1 Formation of the Dual Social Structure

China is a rural-urban dual-structured society marked by the strict division between rural and urban areas. This kind of division is not distinguished by whether people are doing farming or non-farming work, nor by whether they are living in urban or rural areas, but by their officially registered residential status. If a person is registered officially as a rural resident, he or she is a farmer, no matter where he is or what she is doing.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, China adopted a typical highly centralized planned economy, and collective ownership was implemented in rural areas. The villages, termed "productive teams", were the basic units of production. All the land and property belonged to the productive teams. All villagers were members of the productive teams, and all economic and social activities were undertaken un-der the aegis of the productive teams. Under the public ownership system it was impossible for an individual to find a job in an urban area without government approval. Accordingly, there was no free mobility between rural and urban areas. The dual-structured society formed gradually.

Informal labor market in China
Source: Wang Qiang 

For almost four decades from 1950, those registered as permanent urban residents had a package of social welfare such as grain, edible oil, government-assigned jobs, children's education, medical care, pensions for the aged, etc., provided by government. The rural-urban residential registration system functioned as a fundamental tool of the rural and urban dual social structure. Those registered as permanent rural residents had almost none of the social welfare guaranteed by the government. There was no medical insurance and there were no pensions for the aged. All these were the responsibility of their families.

It was a crucial factor that a very limited cultivated area had to support a large population in China. There was a large surplus of rural laborers, whose efficiency was low. Many people were still in poverty.

There were 200 million surplus laborers in rural areas in the 1980s. If we take the agricultural productivity of the 5 % of agricultural workers in developed countries as an example, the surplus of laborers in rural areas was huge in China and tended to keep increasing. The transition of rural laborers to urban and non-agricultural industries was a long-term task for China's development and modernization.

1.2 Rural-Urban Breakthrough and Migration

In 1978, China started the transition from a planned economy to a market economy. Along with the adjustment of China's national strategic development plan, government policies changed gradually, encouraging the transfer of laborers from rural to urban areas. China's 800 million rural people finally found the pathway to breaking through the constraints to development, by breaking through the traditional division of industries: manufacturing and services in urban areas, and agriculture in rural areas. As channels were created for the free and rational flow of the rural population into urban areas, rural surplus laborers began to be transferred from the farmland.

In the late 1970s, the national economic system was reformed completely, gradually moving from the highly centralized planned economy to the market economy. The reform started in the rural areas with land reform, with the adoption of a new system of responsibility. Each family was given a certain area of land. The farmers had their own right to decide what and how much to plant. The economy in the rural areas became more and more prosperous. The challenge of starvation in rural areas was gradually relieved and eliminated.

Since 1984, more and more of the rural population has moved into urban areas each year. 140 million had migrated to towns and urban areas by 2003, accounting for more than 10 per cent of China's total population and about 30 per cent of the rural laborers. The population aged 18-35 accounts for 75 % of the total migrants (Mao Lei, 2005.) The migration patterns are: moving from rural to urban areas, from central and western China to eastern China, and from the economi cally underdeveloped areas to the developed areas. For a long time to come, migration will continue to be an increasing trend.

Since the early 1980s, more and more migrants have tended to work for longer and longer periods in urban areas, and some have migrated with their entire families. Some younger migrants have no experience in farming, so that they identify much more with urban than rural life. However, many obstacles hinder the integration of migrants into urban communities.

China's modernization is based on industrialization and urbanization in rural areas. The percentage of primary industry is expected to decrease while manufacturing and service industries increase. With the enhancement in farming efficiency, more and more rural surplus laborers need to be transferred to towns or urban areas. Accordingly, the structure of the population needs to follow the changing process of modernization.

Many rural people are motivated to migrate to urban areas. In the 1980s, migrants were mainly in pursuit of economic benefits, to make money to support their families. The purpose of migration from the 1990s was a blending of economic benefits and better living. That is, not only to increase their income, but also to pursue enriched cultural and material living conditions in urban areas. According to a survey,

32.67 % of farmers said that they were migrating mainly because of the very limited per-capita area of cultivated land and the low economic return from farming; 12.5 % of rural workers were not interested in farming work (Wang Chunguang, 2003).

2. Social Exclusion in Urban Communities


2.1 Differences in Social Welfare

In the dual-structured social setting, migrants, namely rural workers, suffer disadvantage and exclusion in urban communities. The social exclusion is institutional, especially because of the traditional poli cies and regulations made by government. Migrants from rural areas are not included in welfare packages for urban communities such as housing, children's education, medical insurance, employment, etc., because they are not registered urban residents. The policies exclude the rural population from sharing resources and opportunities in urban areas. According to investigations, there are 47 differences in welfare between the residential status of urban and rural people.

2.2 Lack of Representation

The dual social structure functions as a social closure, which excludes the rural population from exercising their political, economic and social rights in urban communities. This leads to the separation of rural workers from the urban community. Because of their registered rural residential status, rural workers have no membership in urban communities, so they lack any opportunity and means to participate in the political elections, decision-making, and formulation of policies related to their own interests and rights, despite working in urban areas all year round. They have few organizations or trade unions of their own and no representatives in urban communities or the People's Congress. There is no mechanism for them to make existing policies and regulations more equal and just.

Most of the migrant farmers think that moving to urban areas is not their permanent intention or plan. Returning to the rural areas is the migrants' eventual rational choice, based on their registered residential status/identity. According to an investigation in Shanghai, most migrants give a negative response to questions about "permanently living in urban areas" . It is not that they do not like life in urban areas, but they that cannot integrate into urban communities in terms of employment, housing, acceptance and life style. As the migrants are unable to get official urban residential status, they regard their homes in rural areas as their permanent households (Ren Yuan, 2006).

2.3 Informal Employment

In urban areas, there are normally three types of labor market: for professionals, for urban workers, and for rural workers. The first two markets are formal. On many occasions, in some cities, the labor market for rural workers is not organized, but some rural workers are inclined to go to the informal labor market because there is no service charge and quick contact is made between employers and employees face to face. When employers and employees come to an oral agreement, employment is established. Informal employment has no requirements in terms of contract, minimum wage, insurance, job security, labor protection and monitoring, trade union, etc. Many migrants frequently change their jobs, or are out of work.

2.4 Discrimination in Payment

Migrants normally do the hands-on hard work that urban workers decline to do. They usually get much lower payment than urban workers. Even though they do the same jobs and make the same contribution, rural workers receive a much lower salary. A research study in Shanghai shows that the productivity of migrants is 50 % higher than urban workers, but the ratio of the costs of employment between urban and rural is 5:1. An investigation in Nanjing shows the difference in costs of employment between contracted workers (officially employed) and migrants as 1.8:1. (China Economic Research Center of Beijing University, 1998). According to surveys in 2002, among every four rural workers there was one who did not receive payment when it was due, or was even not paid at all. Most employers pay rural workers at the end of the year. This has been a serious social problem and is being forcefully combated by government now.

2.5 Higher Living Costs

The dual social structure increases rural workers' living costs and enlarges the obstacles in the way of migrants' integration into urban communities. They have to pay high tuition fees to find a school for their children, while urban children have free tuition. Many rural workers have to rent housing, and they frequently have their meals in restaurants.

2.6 Prejudice

Urban people have a sense of superiority, which imposes unjust attitudes and prejudice towards rural workers and lessens their desire to live in urban communities. According to interviews with 90 rural workers in Beijing, they are unable to stand the discrimination, such as contempt in language and exclusion at work. This discrimination in daily life and social interactions harms their dignity. 18 % of migrants interviewed said that they experienced very serious discrimination, and 45% said they experienced some kind of discrimination at the work place, at bus stations, shops or in the homes of urban residents.

3. Identity and Integration


3.1 Identification with Rural Status and Communities

Studies show that rural workers still have a strong identification with their status as farmers and with their communities. But the growing trend is that the younger the migrants, the less they regard themselves as farmers. This trend is related to educational background: the higher their educational level, the weaker their identification with the rural community. It is also related to their conception and expectation of quality of life.

When the researchers asked the rural workers, "Do you still regard yourselves as farmers?", 78.5 % replied "Yes", 10.9 % "No", 4 % were unsure, and the rest did not answer. The majority regard themselves as farmers because they are registered as permanent rural residents and are so treated. However, more and more younger migrants, aged 18-25, with little or no experience of farming and a better educational background, have less identification with rural status than their precursors. Among the rural workers refusing to recognise their status as farmers, 60 % think that the term "farmers" should be applied to those engaged in farming, while 20 % believe that it should mean those living in the countryside. (Wang Chunguang, 2003)

The younger migrants are immensely attracted by the outside world. No matter whether there are income disparities between farming and working in urban areas, they opt to be in the city. The reasons they give are as follows: farming is hard (13.66 %); there is no future in it (12.94 %); they are already accustomed to urban life (37.77 %); a modern life is available in the city that the home village cannot offer even if one has money (18.71 %); and 16.92 % have some other reasons. (Wang Chunguang, 2003) The majority feel that they would not readjust to village life in terms of sanitation and entertainment. In some rural areas, a job in city is regarded as an achievement.

3.2. Identification with Urban Communities

Studies show that it is not easy for rural workers to integrate into urban communities, and there is still a long way to go to realize an integrated society. This is evident in migrants' interactions and feelings towards urban communities, and their relationship with urban governments.

Studies show that rural workers are outsiders, with little contact with the urban communities into which they migrate. During the survey,

21.6 % of rural workers said they had regular contact, 48.6 % seldom had contact, and few took part in local collective activities. Another study shows that 2.9 % regularly join local collective activities while

46.8 % do not, 28.1 % occasionally do so, and 22.3 % failed to answer. To a large extent, migrants still keep away from activities in urban communities. It often occurs that urban communities have a negative attitude towards rural workers, believing that rural workers are the cause of social insecurity, crowded traffic and a bad social environment. When the researcher asked, "What do you think of the attitude from the local urban community?", only 12.2 % of migrants said "Friendly" (Wang Chunguang, 2003), while the majority of the rural workers felt that local people were not so friendly. These attitudes directly influence rural workers' feelings towards urban communities.

As to relations with local government departments, 61 % of rural workers interviewed thought it impracticable to expect government departments in urban communities to help them or to offer the necessary services. The rest either failed to answer or were unsure. They thought they were treated as outsiders, and that some government departments functioned only as a protective umbrella for local residents. Rural workers' integration into urban communities still faces some obstacles in social and economic opportunities as well as policies and education.

4. Role of Adult Education

China's rural and urban polarization has political, economic, cultural, legal and educational dimensions. Education could function as a primary cross-cutting intervention that could have a direct or indirect impact on all other facets. Adult education plays an important role and has been recognised and emphasised by government and civil societies in the promotion of social integration in and between rural and urban communities.

4.1 National Strategic Plan


1993-2010 National Plan for Training of Rural Workers

It is China's national strategy to facilitate the transfer of rural laborers to non-agricultural industries and urban areas. In 1993 the National Strategic Plan was initiated by six ministries of the Chinese Government such as the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labor and Insurance, etc. According to the Plan, 5 million surplus rural laborers were trained during 2004-2005, and 30 million will be trained during 2006-2010. The Learning and Training Program will be officially integrated into China's National Education System after 2010 and will be an integral part of China's education system. (State Council, 2004)

National Strategic Plan
Source: Wang Qiang 

Adult education and training function as a core approach for the transfer of rural laborers and the promotion of social integration. More resources from the central government will go to the underdeveloped regions, especially the ethnic and poverty-stricken areas. Local governments will take responsibility for allocating funds and coordinating training. With the help of their counterparts in developed coastal regions, the rural communities will send the trained young farmers to the manufacturing and service industries in towns and urban areas, especially in eastern China. With China's modernization and social transformation, the population transfer will be a long-term process, and more and more of the rural population will live in urban areas permanently. The migrant population not only needs the necessary skills for employment in urban areas, but also needs to improve the competencies required for integration into urban communities. Accordingly, social integration is the aim of the National Strategic Plan.

The framework of the National Strategic Plan contains three pillars, which reflect and fit the goals and overall aim of the Strategic Plan:

The first pillar is process-focused training. This is composed of three knowledge kits. The first knowledge kit is to help farmers intending to transfer to urban areas to acquire the preliminary knowledge for working and living in urban communities. This knowledge kit includes the documents and certificates required, and information about how to get residential certificates in towns and urban areas, about travel by ship, what is the labor market, how to find a suitable job, qualifications and competences for specific jobs, etc. The second knowledge kit is General Knowledge on Daily Life, which includes the fact that rotten rice may result in cancer, how to keep vegetables fresh, how to prevent sunstroke and its first aid, how to prevent digestive disorders, everyday medicines, etc. The third knowledge kit gives the message that hard work benefits everyone, with examples of success, such as a rural worker who became a workshop director, a rural worker who won a world sports medal three times, and a rural worker who earned 30 million yuan in three years through entrepreneurial efforts.

The second pillar is skills-focused training. This pillar focuses on the specific skills and technology related to various jobs and occupations. These include the use of electric sewing machines and the expansion of the sewing industry, motor vehicle repair to match the rapid development and popularity of cars and trucks, skills and technology in machine tools, etc.

The third pillar is rights-focused training. Migrant rural workers should be aware of their rights and obligations, and understand the policies and regulations concerned. They should be good citizens in accordance with the law. At the same time, they should know how to protect their own rights and interests though legal procedures. This category covers membership of a trade union, ways to protect your rights through employment contracts, how to protect your rights if you have no employment contract, etc.

Sunshine Program: A Mechanism for Implementation of the National Strategic Plan

The Sunshine Program provides pre-service training of surplus labor forces in rural areas to help them transfer to non-agricultural industries in towns and urban areas. It was initiated by the central government and is supported mainly by public finance within the framework of the National Strategic Plan - 1993-2010 National Plan for Training of Rural Workers. The project is focused on the core rural regions of China's grain production, with their large surplus of farmers living in poverty.

Participants in the Sunshine Program
Source: Wang Qiang 

The primary principles are: coordination by government, organization of training activities by educational institutions, and farmers as beneficiaries. The implementation mechanism is that the program is coordinated by the Ministry of Agriculture and headed by a Vice Minister. Governors at provincial and community levels take direct responsibility. The training process is based on the market system, using bidding procedures and accountability. Monthly reporting and sharing of information on an Internet website are required. Training is closely linked to industries. Financial shortfalls are covered by government subsidies, reduced charges by trainers and sharing of costs by trainees.

The target groups of the Sunshine Program are the surplus labor force who have the motivation and aspiration to transfer to nonagricultural industries and urban areas. The contents are determined by the needs of the farmers and the market, with the focus on booming industries and jobs such as house-building, clothing, electronics, family nursing, security, etc.

Bidding procedures are adopted to select the training institutions and providers. Providers which have information and potential opportunities for placement of trainees are given priority. The associated training centers network is being established gradually, based on selection in accordance with their capacity and linkage with non-agricultural industries. The contracted training pattern has been adopted to enhance opportunities for transfer of workers and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of training. The government labor departments at provincial and county levels in underdeveloped regions are setting up more and more representative offices in the developed eastern regions to establish agreements with the authorities and industrial associations for the placement of trainees.

During 2004-2006, Government invested 2.75 billion RMB yuan in the Sunshine Program, of which 1.25 billion came from central government and 1.5 billion from local governments. Each trainee received 100 yuan in 2004 and 171 yuan in 2006 (Wei Chaoan, 2006). In some rural areas, the funds go to the farmers directly by means of training vouchers, and trainees have the right to choose the training institution and program to make the training more relevant.

According to the Vice Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, 8.3 million rural laborers participated in training within the Sunshine Program between 2004 and 2006, and 7.2 million, namely 86.7 % of the trainees, successfully found jobs in towns and urban areas (Wei Chaoan, 2006). In addition, more than 10 million rural workers participated in the training programs organized by local government and the civil society. Effective learning and training patterns have been adopted, and rural laborers' work skills and competencies for urban community life have improved. Those trained under the Sunshine Program each have an income of 833 RMB yuan monthly on average, 400 yuan more than their income from farming at home, and 200 yuan more than the income of those untrained. The remittance economy is providing economic resources for some areas with vulnerable natural environments.

4.2 Active Participation by Civil Society


Market-driven non-governmental educational institutions

Non-governmental educational institutions are those established by civil society organizations using their own resources. For more than two decades, they have been developing quickly, and they play an important role in the training of rural workers. These institutions normally offer paid training programs based on market principles. According to the law of the People's Republic of China on Promotion of Non-governmental Educational Institutions, all educational institutions in China are non-profit institutions. That means that social benefit is the main purpose, and is highlighted more than monetary gain. There are independent financial management and monitoring regulations for these institutions.

Now there are about 8700 institutions operated by civil society organizations. Adults in rural areas are one of their major target groups. Non-governmental educational institutions follow the needs of the education market generated by the boom in the manufacturing and service industries, and cover large areas of skills and industries. These include hairdressing, driving, computing, sewing, machine tools, handcrafts, cooking, repairing of TV sets and CD players, vehicle repair, etc.

Extensive participation by international NGOs

International NGOs are active in education and training in rural and urban communities, with rural workers as their main target group. About 210 international NGOs have established their offices in China, and many training programs focus on rural workers (International Development Brief, 2007). The gaps and need for integration between rural and urban areas draw much attention from these international NGOs.

The international NGOs recognise that migration and social integration reflect the poverty and social exclusion in China. In urban areas, migrants generally experience limited security, poor access to the labor market, poor legal protection of their rights, and extremely limited access to social services and welfare. The international NGOs operate at central, provincial, county and village levels in both rural and urban areas, aiming to work with migrants and poor people to mitigate the adverse and strengthen the positive effects of migration, and to press government at various levels for effective policy solutions that will ensure protection of rights and utilization of the potential that migration brings with it for the development of both rural and urban areas, so as to improve social integration.

Since 1999, with the support of the Levi Strauss Foundation, the Asia Foundation has developed outstanding activities that have provided services to more than 740,000 migrant women workers in more than 200 factories in 22 cities and districts in China's Pearl River Delta, the Lower Yangtze River, and Beijing Municipality. The major thrusts are: to engage local stakeholders in addressing community needs; to build social support networks for disadvan taged migrant women workers; to help integrate them socially in their communities; and to empower them economically with the skills to adapt to local communities. This direct-services program for migrant women workers provides a model for replication in other provinces. The Ford Foundation, the Cyrus Tang Foundation, World Vision International and other international NGOs have been actively involved in bridging gaps and improving integration in rural and urban communities. (International Development Brief, 2007)

4.3 On-the-job Training

On-the-job training is today the main means of training among young rural workers. It is closely related to the situation of the labor market and the mechanisms for employing rural workers. Some rural workers may benefit from the contracted training programs organized by local authorities and get jobs in urban areas, but most of them search for jobs with the help of their relatives and friends, or go to the informal labor market for jobs. Once they find a new job, they will be tutored by skilled workers, the relatives and village friends who introduced them to the job in the urban area. As only a small percentage of rural workers have the chance to participate in organized or non-formal training in the present situation, the majority of them actually learn by on-the-job training, namely workplace learning and training in pairs, or learning by doing.

4.4 Learning for Self-development

Some rural workers have a strong aspiration to be skilled and knowledgeable, and even want to set up their own business. They regard work experience in urban areas as preparation, learning and practice for future development, aiming at persistent personal progress until they can manage their own enterprise. They write diaries or journals to record their new ideas, events, knowledge and skills. They acquire and collect knowledge and information in accordance with their own needs, interests and plans for the future.

Everything about their self-initiated projects is kept in diaries and journals, which is an effective way of learning anywhere and any time in their own way. They are the managers of their knowledge, and what they collect builds up into a body of knowledge that gives them real power in their field of interest. Productivity, expertise and information motivate them, and give them the confidence to be entrepreneurs and shape their own action plans.

In Yiyuan county, Shandong province, rural workers' diaries have become a knowledge kit. Many rural workers have taken down their findings and ideas gained during their job search, their negotiation and establishment of contracts with employers, their salary claims and protection of their rights, and their lives as rural workers in the urban community (Liu Wenning, 2007). During their writing of the diaries and journals, they summarize and reflect on their experiences and expertise, which also relieves their psychological pressure. Some rural workers have accumulated their own body of knowledge and now work as managers and heads of various sections in their workplaces.

4.5 Thematic Activities

The issues of rural workers and social integration are often hot topics in the media, in legislation, transportation and the labor market. In 2003, a rural woman told the Prime Minister of the Chinese State Council that the difficulty her family confronted was that her husband had not been paid his salary long after the work had been finished. The Prime Minister helped the rural worker to obtain his salary, which started a campaign nationwide to help rural workers get their salaries. The woman was elected as one of the ten annual News Personalities of the Central TV Station. In 2007, ten building companies were expelled from Beijing because they did not pay the rural workers they employed.

Self-development oriented learning
Source: Wang Qiang 

On 28 September 2007, the People's Congress of Chongqing Municipality (the People's Congress is a legislative authority) came to an agreement to name the first Sunday of November every year "Rural Workers' Day" (Wei Wenbiao, 2007). The four million rural workers in Chongqing will have their own celebration day. The purpose is to create an environment that makes governments, business owners, the media and the whole of society aware of the rights of rural workers. Their rights and interests should be respected, cared for and protected. As November is close to the end of the year, violations of rural workers' rights will be widely exposed. Today, instances of delayed payment of salaries and more than eight hours' work a day still affect rural workers. In pursuit of local economic developmental indicators, some local government officers and legal officials are inclined to favor the interests of business owners. Some urban residents are also still prejudiced against rural workers. Accordingly, informal education and awareness fostered by the media will play an important role and have a great impact.


Social integration has its political, social, economic, cultural and educational facets in China's dual social structure setting. But adult education could play a cross-cutting role in fostering social integration. There is extensive evidence of the effects and impact of adult education. Adult education increases awareness of human rights among government officials, communities and migrants themselves, and this can be seen in changing policies and the involvement of politicians and civil society. Adult education directly provides migrants with the knowledge and skills for better employment opportunities and improves their quality of life. It also enhances the understanding and cultural appreciation between the rural and urban population, which are primary factors in social integration.


International Development Brief. Activities Implemented by International NGOs Registered in China. jsp/2007-08-10/2007-10-29.

China Economic Research Center of Beijing University. 1998. Legal Support to Rural Workers. Beijing: Beijing University. Liu Wenning. Self-development Oriented Education of Rural workers. Workers Daily. 2007-09-27. Mao Lei. Migrants Over 140 Million in China and Legal Protection of Human Rights Urgently Needed. Beijing: People's Daily. 2005-07-27. Ren Yuan. 2006. Integration of Farmer Workers in Urban Communities. In Journal of Population Research. 2006 (3).

Shen Yuan. Citizenship is Primary Basis for Harmonious Society. Department of Social Science, Qinghua University. asp/2007-08-10/2007-09-20.

State Council. 2003-2010 National Plan for Training of Rural Workers. 07-09-22.

Wang Chunguang. 2003. The Social Identities of New Generations of Migrants form China's Rural Areas. In Social Science in China. Beijing: Chinese Academy of Social Science.

Wei Chaoan. Speech on Sunshine Program for Transfer of Rural Laborers at National Conference. htm/2006-11-13/2007-09-20.

Wei Wenbiao. Rural Workers Day and Equal Exercise of Rights. Beijing: Prosecuting Attorney Daily. 2007-10-08.


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