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China’s Disappearing Rural Schools: Teacher Keeps School Open for Two Students

In a rapidly urbanizing China, small rural schools are slowly disappearing. This teacher keeps his school open for two remaining students.

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In a rapidly urbanizing China, small rural schools are slowly disappearing. As children move out to the cities with their parents, some schools – once lively village institutions – have now become empty buildings. In the mountainous region of Youyang County, one teacher keeps his school open for two remaining students.

A typical People’s Daily “warm China” (#温暖中国#) Weibo story recently featured a teacher from a village in the Chongqing region who multitasks at his school for the two students that are left in the mountainous area. The story was initially published by the Chongqing Morning Newspaper on January 13.

Mr. Yang cooks for his students during lunchtime.

Yang Jinhua (杨进华), 54 years old, has been working at the village school in the Youyang county – southeastern Chongqing – for 35 years. As there are less and less children in the area, Yang is now working at the school all by himself; he fulfills the tasks of teacher, concierge, and cook for the two students that are left.

“I would do the same if there’s just one child left,” he told the Chongqing Morning Newspaper.

Ringing the school bell for the two students left on this remote village school in the Chongqing region.

According to the Chongqing Newspaper, Yang’s teaching career has seen many ups and downs. There were times when there were over 100 students at the school and only three teachers. But all that has changed now.

The story received ample attention on Chinese social media recently, where many netizens praised the teacher for his good work.

Teacher Yang and his two pupils.

The story about Yang and his two students, heartwarming as it is, represents a much bigger societal issue; that of China’s disappearing rural schools. The small schools in remote areas that are still around, also referred to “sparrow schools” (麻雀学校), are struggling to keep their doors open.

 

“63 rural primary schools, 30 learning centers and 3 middles schools closed on a daily basis.”

 

In 2001, the Chinese government launched a reform campaign for rural schools across the country as a result of the country’s rapid urbanization. It entailed the closing of remote village schools, shifting the focus to centralized county or town schools.

In 2013, China.org reported that rural schools were closing at an alarming rate in the decade following the reforms, when 63 rural primary schools, 30 learning centers and 3 middle schools were closed on a daily basis.

Due to the mass closing of village schools, some students from the more remote parts of China’s countryside had to walk for hours to reach the most nearby school, often making it unsafe or even impossible for village children to travel to and from school (Lam 2016, 82).

While many children dropped out of school, and when centralized schools were getting overcrowded, the government halted the plans to shut down small village schools in 2012 – but thousands of schools had already closed, while those that survived were struggling to stay open.

The lack of students is not the only problem for China’s ‘sparrow schools’; there is also a lack of good teachers, as those who are qualified often rather go to a central school than a remote village one.

As for Yang: he started working at the village school when he was just 18 years old. Throughout the years he has taught himself how to be a teacher by reaching out to experienced teachers from other schools, and by ordering books on education and preparing himself to be a good tutor. By now, with over three decades of educational background, he has become an experienced teacher himself.

 

“Amidst the giant rush to the city, many rural places in China are becoming more isolated and empty.”

 

Amidst the giant rush to the city, many rural places in China are becoming more isolated and empty. This process has started since the beginning of the post-Mao era, when agricultural production went up after farmland started to be partially privatized.

A surplus of rural labor and an increased labor demand in the cities caused a huge flow of peasants moving to the city to look for jobs there, leaving rural schools practically empty as children go with their parents who leave to work in other provinces. In 2015 alone, nearly 169 million rural workers migrated to cities.

But there are also those children who are left behind by their parents to go to school. China’s hukou or ‘household registration’ system – that is assigned at birth based on one’s community and family – makes it hard or even impossible for migrant children to be accepted at state schools in the cities where their parents work.

Here comes the catch: even if parents choose to leave their child behind under the care of family members for the sake of their education, their journey to school may be too long or dangerous to undertake. When families do not have the means to let their child attend boarding school in a nearby town, they soon become drop-outs.

 

“We simply cannot guarantee the quality of education here, but at least this is much better than letting these kids herd the sheep.”

 

The hyped story of Teacher Yang and his two children comes at an important time, as the Chinese Ministry of Education is expected to release guidelines this year on new standards to govern the levels of funding allocated to rural schools (Caixin 2016).

The problem of China’s disappearing rural schools has been going on for years, and has become a vicious cycle. Even if village schools stay open, the lack of students and teachers is negatively influencing all parties involved.

On Weibo, some criticize the existence of schools like that of Yang: “With only one teacher, although I applaud him, nobody can guarantee the quality of his teaching,” one netizen says.

Others see these school in a different perspective: “We simply cannot guarantee the quality of education here, but at least this is much better than letting these kids herd the sheep. At the very minimum, they can enjoy some sort of education and will not be illiterate.”

“The media is misleading,” another person says: “So many of these schools have already been torn down. The editor [of this article] would not even think of letting their child attend a small village school like this. These children are part of a society that is going through enormous changes, and the fact that they are educated like this is shameful (..) – instead of only praising the teacher, we should perhaps also advise him not to just place emphasis on himself.”

But many disagree with this view. One post-1990 netizen from Chongqing (@于杨鱼羊) writes: “My uncle also was a teacher for over a decade (..) and he put all of his energy into his students (..) Without having him, I would have since long dropped out of school to start working, and would have been lost in the waves of migrant workers. If it weren’t for him, I would not be where I am today.”

“There are many ways to take within education, but taking the way of education is always the best way,” another person writes.

Perhaps the students of Yang indeed are amongst the ‘lucky ones’, as bittersweet as it may be. Different from many children their age, they receive the full attention of their tutor and are able to attend school while still being close to their family.

Teacher Yang makes sure they get home safely; he personally walks them back to their house every day after school. It is one of the perks of attending a “sparrow school.”

– By Manya Koetse
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References

Lam, Sara G. 2016. “From Rabun County to Yonji County: The Foxfire Approach and Community-Based Education in Rural China.” In Hilton Smith & J. Cynthia McDermott (eds), The Foxfire Approach Inspiration for Classrooms and Beyond, 73-83. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Sheng Menglu and Li Rongde. 2016. “Battered by Closures, Rural Schools Await New Guidelines.” Caixin Global, Dec 14 http://www.caixinglobal.com/2016-12-14/101026544.html [15.1.17].

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Marisa Vosloo

    January 23, 2017 at 9:02 am

    I have just seen a documentary on CGTN about this admirable teacher. He loves his students, and he is teacher, father and grandfather to them. What a wonderful person he is!

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China Digital

Key Players, Digital Trends & Deep Dives: China Internet Report 2021

SCMP just launched its latest China Internet Report. (And What’s on Weibo readers can get a 30% discount on the Pro Edition!)

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As China’s tech sector has been facing an ongoing crackdown by Beijing regulations, a lot has been changing in the country’s digital environment over the past year. The new China Internet Report 2021 by SCMP gives an overview of the latest trends and developments.

When it comes to China’s online landscape, nothing ever stays the same. Over the past year, political, economic, and social developments and measures have once again changed the Chinese digital environment.

Giving a comprehensive overview of the key leaders and major trends dominating the Chinese online field, South China Morning Post (SCMP) issued its fourth annual China Internet Report.

China’s internet population has now risen to 989 million – last year’s report indicated an internet population of 904 million. By now, there are 853 million mobile payment users, which indicates that over 86% of the entire mobile internet population uses mobile as a way to pay.

As China’s internet population is still growing, and new online startups are still popping up every day, there have been tightening regulations on multiple fronts.

As laid out in SCMP’s report, regulations mainly focus on the four areas of antitrust, finance, cybersecurity, and data privacy. Regulatory actions targeting the monopolistic behaviours of China’s biggest internet companies are still ongoing, and the new Data Security Law came into effect on September 1st of this year.

While Chinese tech companies are seeing increased scrutiny at home, they have also been facing intensifying geopolitical tensions between China and other countries. Over the past year, the various probes and shutdowns into Chinese companies by countries such as the US and India have meant a serious blow to the market share of Chinese apps.

Meanwhile, the SCMP report highlights the trend of various older and newer Chinese (e-commerce) apps “downplaying” their Chinese origins when entering foreign markets. Shein is a good example of this development, but other players including Zaful, Urbanic, and Cider are also experiencing more success outside of China while not explicitly marketing themselves as Chinese e-commerce apps.

Another noteworthy trend explained in the new report is how China’s shifting demographics are creating new niche segments to compete over. The COVID-19 crisis is partially a reason why China has seen an increase in senior internet users, with an increasing number of online products and content catering to the elderly.

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) even issued special guidelines earlier this year for web pages and mobile apps to carry out so-called “elderly friendliness modifications.” Since this user group is still expected to see significant growth, the “silver economy” is an area that will only become more important in the years to come.

To check out all the main trends for 2021, China’s latest internet statistics, its top tech competitors, internet companies, and more, here’s a link to the free report.

The free report is 55 pages long and gives an overview of China’s latest internet numbers and players, covers the top cross-sector trends for 2021, including the tightening regulations and the bumpy road ahead for China’s tech IPOs.

The Pro Edition of China’s Internet Report 2021, also launched by SCMP, is 138 pages long and provides a deep-dive into ten relevant sectors – featuring insightful and useful analysis, data, and case studies relating to China’s e-commerce market, content & media, gaming, blockchain, fintech, online education, healthtech, smart cars, 5G, and Artificial Intelligence.

The China Internet Report Pro Edition is priced at US$400, but the team at SCMP has kindly reached out and made it possible for us to offer a special 30% discount to What’s on Weibo readers.

You’ll get the discount by using the discount code: WHATSONWEIBO30, or by clicking this link that will automatically include your discount code.

By Manya Koetse

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Insight

Goodbye 996? Weibo Discussions on Changes in Overtime Work Culture

Beijing made it clear that working overtime is illegal, but netizens are concerned about the realities of changing working schedules.

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Many people are tired of being forced to log long hours, but are also worried about how a national crackdown on ‘996’ working culture could impact their workload and income.

In late August of 2021, China’s Ministry of Human Resources & Social Security (人社部) and the Supreme People’s Court issued a joint clarification on the country’s legal standards of working hours and overtime pay.

Their message was clear: the practices of ‘996’ (working 9am-9pm, six days per week) and ‘007’ (working 24 hours seven days per week, referring to a flexible working system worse than 996) are illegal, and employers are obliged to obey the national working-time regime.

On Weibo, China’s state broadcaster CCTV published a 10-minute long video illustrating the 10 typical cases of overtime work laid out by the ministry and the top court. The moment was marked as the first time for the state-owned broadcaster to publicly comment on overtime work practices.

The Weibo post pointed out that “striving for success is not a shield companies can use to evade legal responsibilities,” and made it clear that employees have the right to “say no to forced overtime.”

The topics of overtime work and China’s 996 work culture generated many discussions on Weibo, with the hashtag “Ministry of Human Resources & Social Security and the Supreme Court Clarify 996 and 007 Are Illegal” (#人社部最高法明确996和007都违法#) generating over 420 million views on the social media platform.

 
“Without implementation and enforcement, the law is useless”
 

The current labor law in China bars employees from working more than 44 hours a week, and any overtime work must be paid.

Although the 996 practice is technically prohibited by law, many companies still enforce the hours informally.

Many employees revealed online that, although the 996 practice is legally prohibited, they were nevertheless being assigned job tasks that exceeded the prescribed working hours.

“Just finished work,” one Weibo user (@介也没嘛) posted with this picture, showing it’s nearing 11PM.

“I wonder if the workload will decrease after all. If it doesn’t change, it means people will now have to work voluntarily,” one Weibo user commented.

People also indicated that, since the start of the pandemic, remote work has become a new norm. Many companies have moved from office to working at home, making it harder to draw the line between regular working hours and overtime hours.

“What really matters is whether working from home includes overtime hours,” one Weibo user wrote. Many netizens complained that their companies wouldn’t explicitly stipulate a 996 schedule; instead, most of them disguise the overtime hours as ‘voluntary’ work.


Many commenters say it takes more comprehensive legislation and tougher law enforcement to really solve the issue of overtime work.

“These regulations are good, but they are basically impossible to implement. Even if they ban ‘996’ and ‘007’ there is no way to regulate the so-called ‘voluntary work,’” one Weibo user wrote.

Some people said that their companies have various performance assessments and that they feared that refusing to work more hours would make them lose their competitive advantage: “The burn-out (内卷 nèijuǎn, ‘involution’) is severe. It is too difficult for us. I have only one day off during the week and I’m so tired,” one person commented.

 
“We don’t need those who comfortably work 8 hours”
 

China’s 996 work culture has been championed by tech leaders and denounced by workers for years, and it has become an unwritten standard – not just in the tech sector but also in other industries.

While working long hours has been ingrained in Chinese workplace culture since the early days of the country’s internet boom, it later also started to represent ‘a road to success’ for Chinese tech entrepreneurs.

Many Chinese netizens blame Alibaba’s Jack Ma for praising the ‘996’ work system. In 2019, Ma called the 12-hour working day a “huge blessing,” causing much controversy online. During his talk at Kyiv International Economic Forum, Ma said: “(..) ‘996 is the spirit that I encourage Alibaba people to follow. If you want to have a bright future, (..) if you want to be successful, you have to work hard.”

On another occasion, the tech mogul reportedly said: “If you join Alibaba, you should get ready to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why do you come to Alibaba? We don’t need those who comfortably work 8 hours.”

Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba Group described 996 as a ‘blessing’.

However, after the shocking death of one Chinese delivery man working for food delivery platform Ele.me and the widespread discussions about the ‘996 ICU’ project – which called on tech workers to add names and evidence of excessive hours to a ‘blacklist,’ – the 996 work culture has come under increased scrutiny.

Some people argue that the overtime culture is draining employees and creating an unhealthy work-life balance; others argue that they work for themselves and believe that putting in extra hours will eventually translate to individual success.

While economic growth has slowed down during the pandemic, most companies are persisting with long working hours because they are under pressure to achieve results.

According to an online survey conducted by an influential tech blogging account (@IT观察猿), more than one-third of participants claimed to have one day off per week, and more than one quarter claimed they didn’t have any weekend days off.

 
“The workload is the same, but the income has reduced”
 

Starting from August 1st, ByteDance, the Chinese company behind the popular short-form video app TikTok, dropped its ‘big and small week’ (大小周) – a schedule that previously required employees to work six days in a row every other week.

ByteDance is not the only Chinese tech company that has begun to cut back on its long working hours. More and more companies have decided to drop grueling work schedules.

Kuaishou, another Chinese short-form video app company, stopped scheduling weekend work in July. Since early June, Tencent – China’s largest game publisher – has encouraged people to clock out at 6 pm every Wednesday.

Although these changes seem to signal a positive development, there are also many people who do not support the new measures. When Bytedance announced the changes to its working schedule, news came out that one-third of the employees did not support the decision (#字节跳动1/3员工不支持取消周末加班#).

Those relying on overtime pay said abolishing overtime work will cut their take-home pay by around 20%. Indeed, the first pay-out after the new implementation at Bytedance showed an overall drop of 17% in employees’ wages.

“The workload is the same, but the income has reduced,” one Weibo commenter complained.

One trending discussion on Weibo focused on the question “Do companies need to make up for employees’ financial loss after the abolition of weekend work?” Many comments revealed the situation faced by thousands of struggling workers who value free time but value their income more.

Many on Weibo still wonder whether a company that abolishes ‘996’ will come up with an alternative to compensate those employees who will otherwise inevitably lose vital income.

By Yunyi Wang

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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