Volunteers and policies go hand in hand to improve rural education
By Ji Jing  ·  2020-06-25  ·   Source: NO.27 JULY 2, 2020
A volunteer teacher reads together with students at a primary school in Longan, a county in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in south China, on October 16, 2019 (XINHUA)

When Zhang Chengxiang, a teacher from a technical college in east China, recently went to Xiliushui Hope Primary School in Guizhou Province in southwest China to be a volunteer teacher, it was her second mission in that isolated area. When she first got there, she was daunted by the high mountains that encircled the village and cut it off from the outside world. However, she could feel the children's eagerness to know about the outside world and their hunger for knowledge. She told China Youth Daily she thought she had made the right decision to come to this remote village over 2,000 km away from her home in the port city of Qingdao in Shandong Province.

Over the past six years, Qingdao Technical College, where Zhang works, has sent 53 volunteer teachers in batches to teach at the primary school.

Changing mindsets

Sun Caini is one of them. When Sun started her volunteering, she found several students were skipping class, with one absent for over a week. To find out why they didn't show up, she decided to visit their homes. Since most of the youngsters were left-behind children whose parents had gone to make a living in cities, they stayed with their grandparents.

Sun had to walk over an hour on the steep mountainous road to visit them at home and when she got there, she was struck by the abject poverty. Some of the houses had leaky roofs and the rooms were very dark.

Most of the grandparents weren't aware of the importance of schooling and some said it didn't matter if the kids didn't go to school because they could help with the farm work. But Sun didn't want to give up. Her purpose in coming to the village, she told China Youth Daily, was to ensure that not one single child was left behind in education.

When she managed to persuade one grandfather to send his grandchild to school, she felt exhilarated. "The most urgent thing is to change people's mindset. An old mindset has restricted children's development in the village," she wrote in her diary.

Wang Tao was among the second batch of teachers to go to the village five years ago. At that time, he taught second graders and promised them he would come back to see them when they graduated. Five years later, he returned with new volunteer teachers.

Talking of his experience, he said it is important to nurture learning habits in youngsters. Once a student didn't hand in his homework and said he was unable to focus at home. To help him acquire the habit of doing his homework, Wang encouraged him to do it in school before he left for home. The child began doing so and his scores improved.

The volunteer teachers also become their students' friends. Hu Xin, who had taught at the primary school for over a year, told China Youth Daily that most of the students don't know who they can turn to for help when they have problems. When a student's parents got divorced, the girl lived with her father, who wouldn't let her contact her mother.

"When she told me she missed her mother, I gave her my phone so that she could videocall her mother," Hu said. "We are not only the students' teachers but also their friends."

When Sun first arrived in the village it was winter and many children had chilblain on their hands as they did not have money for gloves. Sun told her college about it and the college organized a donation. "I will never forget the day the students were given new gloves. They were thrilled and showed their gloves to each other," Sun said. The college has organized multiple donations of both money and goods for the school.

Volunteer teacher Qiu Yujun sends students home after school on September 10, 2019. He has worked as a volunteer teacher in a village primary school in Liaoning Province for several years (XINHUA)

Nurturing local teachers

Given volunteer teachers' contribution to rural education, the government has decided to continue sending them to poor rural areas. The Ministry of Education recently announced that over 22,000 teachers would be selected as volunteer teachers for impoverished remote areas, ethnic minority regions in border areas and revolutionary bases for the 2020-21 school year.

However, sending teachers to rural areas is not enough to solve all the problems in rural education, more needs to be done, according to Cao Dongbo, an associate professor of Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. Cao, who once temporarily served as the deputy head of Yuanyang, a county in Yunnan Province in southwest China, told China Education Daily that he found teachers in Yuanyang often quit after working there for only a short time. It made the quality of education unstable and affected students' motivation and interest. As a result, many students dropped out of school.

Cao said the teachers left because many of them were not local. Teachers from other places had been recruited because many local candidates, not as well educated, could not pass the exam for teachers' posts. But teachers from outside usually do not want to stay on for long. So Cao's suggestion is changing recruitment rules so that more local candidates can teach in their county's schools.

Xue Eryong, a professor of education policy at Beijing Normal University, told China Education Daily that a larger proportion of the education budget should be spent on teachers' salaries to ensure their income is no less than public servants' to improve the quality of rural teachers.

Wang Bingming, vice head of Weixian, a county in Hebei Province in north China, suggests providing training to improve the capability of rural teachers. The county offers different trainings to teachers according to their capabilities.

A serious problem in rural education is students' lack of confidence in how education can improve their lives. Rural schools are regarded as of poorer quality than their urban counterparts. Cao said many parents worry that even if their children go to school, they will lose to their urban rivals when competing for jobs.

Cao therefore asks the college students volunteering to teach in his county to describe their college life to the students to widen the latter's horizons and make them realize the greater possibilities education can bring them so that they are encouraged to change their fate through education.

The problem of left-behind children is also a serious issue in rural education. Lack of a family environment gives rise to development problems among these children, and also causes them to drop out of school.

Lu Dewen with the rural governance research center of Wuhan University proposes a measure for solving the problem of left-behind children. He suggests industrial parks in east China offer workers accommodation so that they can bring their children to live with them and send them to schools nearby.

However, this also means substantial expenses for the parents, and for local governments that shoulder the bulk of migrants' children's education expenses. Therefore more needs to be done to ease the financial burden.

(Printed Edition Title: Lessons With Love)

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

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