[photopress:rural_teaching_China.jpg,full,alignright]A new trial program aimed at improving education standards in rural areas helps pay the university fees of students who will become teachers. This was announced by Premier Wen Jiabao at the National People’s Congress (NPC).
Some 10,000 students will benefit from a free tuition program which will start at six teacher-training universities. The RMB100 million ($12.8 million) trial aims to train more rural teachers.
As matters stand a student spends about RMB10,000 ($1,280) each year at most universities, which is nearly a year’s average disposable income in China’s developed areas.
The free tuition will make a major difference. To be eligible for free tuition the student must agree to work at a rural school for a minimum of three years after graduation.
This pre-requisite is not popular among students from richer families. If you are rich you do not want to work in the bush. Many students from wealthier families will not be applying for free schooling and this is how it should be. It will be poorer students who will be taking advantage of the opportunity.
Students who sign up are not legally obliged to follow it through. Students are allowed to change their mind upon graduation and choose another option, as long as they pay back the tuition fees in full.
Yuan Guiren, deputy minister of Education, said full details with regards to the trial program would be published for further scrutiny.
In a sense the Ministry of Education can’t win. It has already been criticized because the scheme was not extended to more universities. And to other professions rather than teachers. (Never a popular bunch.)
On a blog ‘Tengxun’ asked, ‘Why do teachers always enjoy ‘super citizen’ treatment? They are the only group in China that enjoy three months’ paid holiday while few people are lucky enough to enjoy just one month off work.’ (A possible answer is the future of the country is in their hands.)
Zhang Xinjian, deputy director of the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Culture Market, criticised it on another basis: ‘The preferential policy only targets the potential teachers in the six teaching schools and it is unfair for the students in others. The trial policy will also need remarkable monetary investment and should be carried out only after hearings.’
Lu Shanzhen, a professor at Beijing Normal University, said, ‘Most graduates from the six elite universities are reluctant to go to the rural areas. It’s more practical to carry out the policy in local teaching schools, which actually provides the backbone of training teachers for the rural areas.’
The only possible answer to all of these critics is this is just a test. The idea of practically testing a project may be foreign to all of the critics. According to Finance Minister Jin Renqing, the program is expected to serve as a model for many provincial governments to follow. Indeed, Education Minister Zhou Ji stated that the move aims to encourage more outstanding talents to choose teaching as a career.
Li Cheng, a researcher with the Chinese National Institute for Educational Research, said: ‘The most impressive point in the new policy is that the government is finally playing its role in addressing the imbalances in rural-urban education resources — it’s a substantial and down-to-earth step in the government’s efforts to achieve a fairer education system throughout the country.’
Well said. And damned right, too.