'Left-behind kids' and stay-at-home teachers

Updated: 2013-09-05 07:43

By He Na and Sun Li (China Daily)

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As we ate noodles at a snack bar in Xiamei village one late-July morning, we could hear the voices of children reading aloud coming from a nearby room.

With the owner's permission, we walked along a narrow corridor and came upon a 15-square-meter classroom.

Eight students were in attendance and a middle-aged woman was writing mathematical equations on a small board that hung on the wall.

The children were listening so intently that they failed to notice our arrival, but the teacher smiled at us and continued with the class.

During a break period she told us about herself. Lu Wenji is a 50-year-old teacher of math and Chinese at Xiamei Primary School. All the children she teaches have notably poor academic backgrounds. They are all "left-behind children", whose parents have moved to the cities in search of work. The kids live with their elderly grandparents, most of whom lack the education to help review their studies or explain difficult concepts.

The situation led Lu to volunteer to hold free classes for these disadvantaged children, something she's been doing for several years now. She has taught at the village school for more than two decades and her award certificates could fill a suitcase. Despite opportunities to further her career at higher-level schools, she chose to stay in Xiamei.

"I was born, grew up, married and work in Xiamei. The village is part of my life," she said. "More important, we have nurtured many college students during the years, but those who have returned after studying can be counted on the fingers of one hand."

The village school has a stable number of left-behind students every year, but when it comes to retaining good teachers, it has little to offer. Although some younger teachers have been employed at the school, most of them moved on after a short time, complaining about the low salaries and the boredom of village life.

"Xiamei hasn't changed too much since my childhood. Most of the families are still earning a living by farming. People in my age group are used to the quiet, simple life here, but when it comes to the young people and kids, I know it's not the life they want to pursue," said Lu.

"Folks like to say that knowledge can change one's destiny. I want to use my knowledge to help the kids become more competitive and have better lives in the outside world," she said.

'Left-behind kids' and stay-at-home teachers

Lu Wenji teaches the children at Xiamei village school. Zou Hong / China Daily

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(China Daily USA 09/05/2013 page7)