China's Rural Areas in Severe Need of Quality Teachers

September 10, 2013
Editor: Sun Xi
A rural teacher (R3) and some of her ethnic minority students pose for a group photo. China's rural areas are currently facing a shortage of teachers. []
A rural teacher (R3) and some of her ethnic minority students pose for a group photo. China's rural areas are currently facing a shortage of teachers. []

China's rural areas are currently facing a shortage of teachers, despite the fact that the country now has over 14.62 million professional teachers working in 530,000 schools, supporting the world's largest educational system.
When their basic salaries are not even guaranteed in some poor rural areas, it is not surprising that rural teachers often leave for urban areas where they are provided with not only salaries, but also additional housing, pensions and medical subsidies. 
In some areas, such as Gong County in southwest China's Yunnan province, there are over 60 village schools with only one or two teachers who are responsible for teaching all subjects at all grade levels. 
Audit authorities of east China's Shandong Province also disclosed recently that there are 13 rural schools in four counties in the province that only have one teacher each responsible for all the subjects from grade one to three.
Cui Lianmin, 56, has been a rural teacher for 36 years. "I teach a class of 60 students by myself. I am their Chinese language teacher and also the head teacher. But now I'm old and lack energy. In addition, my knowledge is outdated, which means I can't provide high quality education to the children." 
However, Cui is still the main teaching force in his school. Of the 26 teachers in the school, only three of them are below age 40.
National curriculum reforms launched in 2001 promote creativity and critical thinking but they have yet to trickle down to rural educational practice because rural teachers lack the training, resources and supportive environment that urban teachers have to change their practice. 
Thus, the well-meaning curriculum reform is ironically widening the already large gap between rural and urban education. Providing rural youth with quality education relevant to their life needs is crucial to China's future.
Although senior teachers retire every year, new teachers do not always replace them in time. Teachers lack incentives to remain in poor and remote villages that cannot even guarantee their basic living expenses. 
These instructors are ultimately compelled to move to urban schools, even though they might have to teach less and handle more administrative matters. In an urban junior high school in central China's Henan Province, there are 10 former teachers from nearby rural areas doing administrative work. There are innumerable cases like these where rural areas have lost teaching personnel to more advanced and better-regarded urban areas. 
"Young teachers leave every year because of the inconvenient living conditions in rural areas," said Zhu Anxing, a government official from the education department of a town. 
Limited government financial investment is also an issue. According to relevant policies, the number of teachers should be in certain proportion with the students. But many of the quota spaces are officially filled by teachers who have already left in reality, mostly due to age and health reasons.  
"We need to improve the rural conditions and adopt more preferential policies for rural teachers," said Xin Jinghua, a rural school principal, adding, "Moreover, we need to open a clear promotion channel for teachers."
Shandong Province is working on a plan to rotate urban teachers to rural schools. Teachers who want to get promoted must accumulate at least one year of rural teaching experience in the next five years.
About 60 percent of China's elementary-school-aged children attend village elementary schools, according to the China Educational Statistics Yearbook 2009 published by the Ministry of Education. Studies have shown that in some rural areas, nearly half of rural students do not go on to high school, in stark contrast to urban areas where most children finish high school. 
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