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Schools band together in rural area

Reporter: Feng Xin 丨 CCTV.com

07-23-2016 12:58 BJT

In the first episode of our Rural Recovery series, we start with children's education. Nearly 70 percent of the elementary schools in rural China have disappeared since the turn of the century. This rapid decline is partly a result of massive rural-urban migration.

The rural schools still open continue to face tough challenges, such as a lack of teachers and a difficulty to retain pupils. But, some areas have taken it upon themselves to improve their situation. In the Guangyuan prefecture of Sichuan province, 20 small rural schools have come together to make sure no student is left behind.

Fifty-four - that’s all the students Fanjia Elementary School has to teach.

The children all come from nearby villages. They are the sole ones remaining in the area, because their families can’t afford to migrate to cities.

The school had a hard time retaining students several years ago. That's because few teachers wanted to work in a rural school and even fewer parents had any faith in rural education.

“When I made home visits to some families, I found that many students, whose families aren’t affluent at all, have transferred. They left for cities, not because their parents have the ability and skills to settle in cities, but because the parents wanted a better education for their children,” said Zhang Pingyuan, principal of Fanjia Elementary School.

Most primary schools in the Lizhou district are nestled in remote mountain areas. Nearly half of them – that’s 16 schools – have fewer than 150 students. Almost every teacher has to cover several subjects, but few are trained to do so.

That problem is even more prominent at Jingtian Elementary School, where the average age of the teachers is over 50.

“Every school official and teacher bears a big workload. Although the number of students is quite small, we still have to offer a full curriculum,” said Wang Sanlie, teacher of Jingtian Elementary School.

Many rural schools in Lizhou district are quite advanced, because they were rebuilt after China's massive 2008 earthquake. But a lot of principals I met say, it’s teachers, not classrooms or computers, that they desperately need.

Zhang Pingyuan reached out to several of his fellow principals who were in similar straits. Sixteen of them formed a rural school alliance in December 2014 to help each other and share resources. That was when the Internet came into great use for the educators.

Wen Junying is the only trained music teacher in all of Lizhou’s rural schools. With the help of a web camera and online class software, Wen is now able to teach and interact with all of the 3,000 students in the area at the same time.

“The whole point of live classes is interaction. I can see my teaching outcomes and what I should improve. I think it greatly benefits schools that don’t have music teachers,” Wen said.

The same method works for art classes as only two trained teachers cover the entire alliance. To make sure that the students who watch the live video feeds are involved, each class also has an on-site teacher who acts as an assistant.

But forming an alliance means much more than offering online classes. Establishing bonds between previously isolated schools helps motivate students and create learning communities.

Teachers from different schools now host weekly discussion sessions in turn, sharing their teaching material, experiences and problems. The exchange of information helps these rural schools gain more help and support from each other and stay stronger.

“The disappearance of rural schools will lead to massive migration of the residents. The disappearance of villages will mean that of land and therefore our foundation. A school should be the most important cultural place in a village. It should be the civil high ground of a village,” said Zhang Pingyuan, director general of Micro School of Dev't Alliance of Lizhou, Guangyuan.

It’s the end of the day. Students at Fanjia school are getting ready for some bedtime stories. And there will be more tomorrow and the day after. That's because for many children in rural China, school is where they will turn the pages on the first chapter of life.

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