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The education and finance ministries of China have announced a project to recruit 10,000 teachers beyond the retiring ages in the coming three years to teach in primary and junior middle schools in the country’s vast rural areas.
It is reported that the first batch of veteran teachers under the “silver-age” project will restart their teaching careers this coming semester, which will begin on Sept. 1. They will serve for at least one academic year and those who pass assessments are encouraged to extend their service. With a focus on schools in poverty-stricken areas, the project is aimed at improving the quality of rural education and helping balance the development of education between urban and rural areas in China.
To improve the quality of grass-roots education is the precondition for China’s great ambition to reinvigorate its countryside. And the first and most difficult step is to let parents see the difference education can bring to their children and thus attach due importance to education. Recently, a township court in Bama, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has charged four pairs of parents with violating the country’s Compulsory Education Law because they forced their children to drop out of junior middle school. According to media reports, none of the four families are too poor to afford their children’s compulsory nine-year education, which is almost free of charge. However, all the parents demanded their children to go to work as migrant workers in cities as soon as possible, believing that education is totally useless. Frankly speaking, the accused parents are not alone in regarding education as waste of time and money, as this idea is now very common in rural China, especially when the country embraces a market economy and most people are money-oriented.
Poor quality of primary and middle school education in the countryside also contributes a lot to the embarrassing situation. With low salaries, unpromising prospects and an arduous living environment in rural areas, few young college graduates are interested in teaching at these places. Even if they have no choice but to teach in remote schools, most young teachers only regard their teaching position as a temporary stepping stone, but not a lifelong career they will pursue.
Unqualified teaching will further derail China’s rural education and trap it in a vicious cycle. Under these circumstances, the recruitment of retired teachers will serve as a good complement to the shortage of qualified teaching staff in the countryside. Compared with young fellows, these old teachers are more experienced and enthusiastic. Most of the newly recruited retirees worked in schools for decades until retirement. At present, the retirement ages for female and male teachers in China are 55 and 60 years old respectively and the average life span for women and men in the country are 78 and 73 years old respectively. This means that retired teachers are vigorous enough to continue teaching for five to 10 years even after their retirement.
Meanwhile, these old teachers will be paid a stipend provided by the Central Government, and their retirement pension and other social welfares will still be covered by the cities where they retired, thus greatly lowering the financial burden on local governments in remote areas. And more importantly, these experienced teachers are invaluable assets. In addition to giving classes, they can also evaluate other teachers’ work, hold open lectures and workshops, give guidance and help schools improve their management and teaching skills.
From a broader perspective, the recruitment of retired teachers will also serve as a pilot program for China to fight against its irreversible aging process. It is estimated that the number of elderly people in China will continue to increase in the coming years and climax in the middle of this century at 400 million — more than 30 percent of the population — meaning that almost one in three Chinese people will be more than 60 years old by then. Based on this estimation, it is sure that research on the re-employment of the aged people, especially retired professionals, will become an urgent topic for China in the coming years.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)