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English>>China Society

No apples for teachers in rural China

(Xinhua)    19:03, July 10, 2015

WUDU, Gansu, July 10 -- Meng Yuqiang sets out at dawn and treks an hour through craggy mountains to the only primary school in his village.

At 55, Meng is the only teacher for the 40 students at Tieshanli Village School in Wudu District, one of the poorest areas in northwest China's Gansu Province.

He has taught there for more than 30 years as a "temporary teacher", earning only 15 yuan (2.4 U.S dollars) a month. The status means he is not properly trained or employed as a formal teacher and is therefore not on the government payroll.

"If not for him, the school would have been closed many years ago and local children would have to hike at least four hours to the nearest school," said village chief He Fujun.

This staffing issue is a major focus for the government, which issued a circular last month stressing the need to recruit an army of younger and more qualified teachers for rural schools.


But the circular made no mention of increased pay, and job satisfaction cannot help veteran teachers like Meng out of poverty. The hardships he faces and his paltry diet understandably make it tough for him and other rural teachers like him to do their jobs well.

Meng earns 0.5 yuan a day -- not enough even to buy an egg.

His wife, who is ill and illiterate, has never been able to understand why Meng, the most knowledgeable man in the whole village, should end up in such a humble situation.

From time to time, the villagers, most of whom were Meng's students, give the couple some flour and vegetables to help them get by.

Meng is one of 6,816 temporary rural teachers in the underdeveloped Gansu Province. Most of them live on a meager monthly wage of 15 to 50 yuan and have to toil on farms after returning home from school.

These teachers, most of whom finished only middle school, play an irreplaceable role in China's rural education. They are underpaid on the basis of a lack of qualification, but few qualified, university-educated teachers are willing to take their jobs: The poverty-plagued mountain villages in western China are generally not the place to sustain their dreams and ambitions.

There used to be 55,000 temporary teachers in Gansu in the 1990s, but a revamp starting in 2003 forced nearly 90 percent of them to leave.

Teachers under 45 were offered training and chances to gain qualifications and secure steady teaching jobs. But most of the older ones were simply made redundant -- Du Zhanke was one of them.

But Du soon returned to his job, as the primary school in a deserted courtyard in Sancang Village had only four teachers and could not find a better recruit.

Du became a teacher in 1983, the year he finished senior high school. "In the first three years, I was paid 150 kg of grain a year and no cash," he said. Du found the pay fair, close to an average peasant's annual harvest.

From 1986, however, he was paid 15 yuan a month and no grain was rationed out. He had a pay rise in 1990, to 40 yuan a month.

By the end of last year, his 28 years of cash income added up to 10,640 yuan, but his debts totaled 175,000 yuan.

Forever cash-strapped, Du often buys daily necessities on credit, and has borrowed cash from all his friends and relatives. Most of the money was spent on his two sons' education. Both have entered university.

His wife often complains about their life and is particularly anguished at having to rely on the sons to repay the family's debts.

But Du hopes at least one of his sons will inherit his teaching job. "They should do something for their hometown," he believes.


Over the past decade, underpaid rural teachers have voiced their grievances to education authorities and the media, arousing widespread attention and sympathy.

Li Yingxin, a rural education specialist with Northwest Normal University, thinks underpaying rural teachers is "unreasonable, inhumane and illegal".

Li has written many letters to the Ministry of Education demanding better pay for rural teachers.

In response to these pleas, central authorities have demanded pay rises, or at least some additional allowances. But poor areas like Wudu have real difficulty coming up with any extra money.

"We have two options: to increase all teachers' pay to 1,000 yuan a month, or to dismiss all the temporary teachers and compensate them 1,000 yuan for each year they have taught," said Huang Keliang, Wudu District's education chief. "But we cannot afford to pay so many people all at once."

Wudu has about 800 temporary rural teachers. Last year, locals reported an average annual income of 3,855 yuan, far less than what an average wage-earner in Beijing made in a month.

The hardship in rural teachers' lives worsens the disparity between education in Chinese cities and the countryside, according to Prof. Fang Lehua with East China University of Political Science and Law.

"While rural schools often have poorer facilities, fewer teachers and less access to information, the plight of their teachers makes the situation even worse. This is unfair for rural children, who lag behind their city peers from the very start," said Fang.

The future of China's vast rural areas is at stake over this issue, he said.

Prof. Zhang Xiaode of the Chinese Academy of Governance said the central government should strive for an even distribution of education funding. "To start with, the central treasury should allocate more funds to support rural schools, so as to help them catch up with city standards."

Meanwhile, the government should encourage more private investors and NGOs to support the rural education sector, Zhang said.

The State Council's circular last month promised "capacity building" for rural teachers in the coming five years.

"That's good news for the children," said Meng Yuqiang. "Younger, better-educated teachers will open up the outside world for them, and they will have a better future."

Meng is hopeful that the funding problems will ease soon. "I hope I can teach for another five years before I retire. By then, the school will be in better condition and I might have some pension income," he said.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Kong Defang,Bianji)

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