Last week we looked at my first hand experience in a rural college, and we explored the current state of rural schools and a few of the underlying problems. Today we’ll be looking at why there are few great teachers in the countryside.
Two kinds of teachers
The first type is a “certified teacher”, and is considered to be on par with other gov’t employees. These positions are very stable, and the pay is decent. It is a coveted position, with 60% of the salary guaranteed by the national gov’t. However in rural schools this kind of teacher can be hard to find.
Village teachers only earn 1/3 of what they could earn at a county level school. This has led village teachers to move from rural to urban areas, and from the relatively poor west to the much richer east. It is a sad fact that many village teachers could earn more working menial factory jobs, so many actually leave the field of education. English teachers have the highest rate of flight from village schools because of the allure of foreign companies (I personally know a handful of these former teachers).
The second type of teacher is known as a “substitute teacher”. These are uncertified, unofficial school employees, meaning that most of them do not have even a 2-3 year degree. They earn roughly 1/3 of what the certified teachers make, but have no health benefits or pension. The schools use these teachers to cheaply staff their classes (largely due to a restricted budget) even though the practice is considered illegal. The school will fire these teachers just before an inspection to clear them from the records, and then hire them as soon as the inspectors are gone (I covered school inspections earlier).
These teachers accept these conditions because they hope to some day be hired as certified teachers. They also often work in multiple village schools and teach a variety of subjects, which they may have had no prior experience in.
Virtually all high school teachers are expected to work more than 50 hours a week (sometimes 60-70 hours), in order to supervise the students’ preparations for the college entrance exam. Standards from the city to the countryside also vary widely. In Guangxi several colleagues told me that they had accepted the position in the college, because in their home province they would only have been qualified to work in high schools, and they didn’t want to work that much.
Due to these often uninspired teachers, some counties have student dropout rates nearing 50% in extreme cases.
A tiny ray of hope
Increasingly universities and local gov’ts have created programs for recent graduates to work in rural schools. Many of these teachers only stay in the countryside long enough to qualify themselves for special treatment in graduate school programs. While most of these grads come with the best intentions, local teachers often criticize them for being naive and lacking experience.
According to a reliable source, there is a major obstacle to overcome to solve these problems in education: Local gov’t officials are only looking for short-term solutions, since these gains net them handsome promotions. China’s educational system needs major long term reform, which will offer no direct benefit to these local officials. Local officials also recognize that improving education means that more of their villagers will leave, and the town will not recoup their investment in these children, so they allow educational funds to be “borrowed” by other local ministries to be spent on infrastructure and new projects. This money is never returned to the struggling schools.
Until the National gov’t makes teaching positions in the countryside attractive, and provides the funding to actually hire qualified teachers, students in the countryside will face massive hurdles when trying to work their way up in the new China. Local gov’ts also need to be made accountable for hiring uncertified teachers and skimming money from the already small pool of educational funds.