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Program raises quality of grassroots education

Zhao Yimeng
Updated: Mar 23,2021 09:04    China Daily

The recruitment and stability of teachers in the countryside is still a major problem, despite recent achievements in developing teaching teams.

In 2006, the Ministry of Education and related departments launched a recruitment program for rural teachers across the period of compulsory education — from kindergarten to ninth grade — which aimed to employ university graduates to work in the central and western regions.

Three years later, the program was expanded to include impoverished counties in 22 provinces, covering a teacher shortage and improving rural education.

It has seen the recruitment of 950,000 teachers in 30,000 rural schools across 1,000 counties so far, and 51.6 percent have bachelor's degrees or higher, according to the ministry. By the end of last year, more than 270,000 rural teachers were employed through the program.

In the past 15 years, 71 billion yuan ($11 billion) has been invested to pay salaries and subsidies for housing, transportation, training and social insurance, benefiting 1.27 million teachers in poor regions.

The number of teachers recruited rose from 16,000 in 2006 to 105,000 last year, and each can receive a maximum annual subsidy of 38,200 yuan.

Priority has also been shifted from middle schools to primary schools, while more teachers in subjects such as music, art and information technology have joined the team.

In 2015, the State Council, China's Cabinet, issued the first support project for building the teaching team in rural areas, making it a national strategy.

In 2018, it urged that the average salary of rural teachers should not be lower than that of local public servants.

Meng Xiaomei, an official with the Xincheng county education bureau in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, said she earned more as a teacher at a local primary school, but the situation depends on location.

"The treatment of teachers has improved a lot. When I started teaching in a town in 1993, I earned a monthly salary of 40 yuan. Now, experienced teachers' salaries in Xincheng can exceed 5,000 yuan," she said, noting that the amount varies according to each teacher's experience.

They are eligible for food subsidies of 330 yuan a month and short-term lodgings (at 17 square meters per person) in the village school, she added.
The county has 28,688 primary school students and 1,681 teachers, so there is one teacher for roughly every 17 students.

"It is still not enough. Rural schools are so remote that teachers come and go," Meng said.

More than half of the long-serving teachers in Xincheng have families and local hukou, or household registration.

"Others usually work for less than three years and then head to places with better transportation facilities or return to their hometowns," Meng said.
The other concern for teachers in mountainous and remote places is the difference in subsidies with peers in less isolated areas.

"If the financial support for teachers at village schools or smaller education centers were double that of county-level teachers, more gradates would stay for longer," Meng said.

Last year, a student who graduated from a junior high school in the county was enrolled by the prestigious Tsinghua University, a first for the school.
"It's a sign that we are making progress in rural education and of the higher quality of teachers and students," Meng said.