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             International volunteer: Ryoko Tomita

 

 

In March and April 2007, I visited the Phelex Foundation's project sites in Hubei , Hunan , and Guizhou provinces and other local schools to study students' academic and life situation . There, I learn ed about the difficulties students and educators are facing daily. This paper will describe and summarize the situations of these schools that I visited during my trip. I will propose possible future projects and long-term perspectives thereby adding to the many years of experience of the Phelex Foundation. As such, the Foundation can provide to these students an escape from poverty, a chance for a rewarding education and a greatly improved life .

 

Contribute to the population coverage rate of nine-year compulsory education .

The Phelex Foundation must continue the current financial assistance to economically challenged students, augment the amount of aid to be distributed to students, and increase the number of schools with whom the Foundation coordinates project. In parallel, the Central Communist Party of China (CPC) has also decided to fully devote itself to improving rural education. In 2003, and for the first time, the State Council organized a conference for rural education in which the State made a critical commitment by approv ing concrete measures to universalize the nine-year compulsory education (Yang 2005). In Oct 2005 the CPC announced the 11 th Five Year Plan for National Economy and Social Development, whic h places more emphasis on rural education. If all rural children enjoy nine years of free compulsory education, it will lessen farmers' burden by 100 billion RMB every year (Asia Times 2005). However, in spite of the Chinese government policy of “two exemptions, one subsidy” or “Liang Mian Yi Bu” which waives textbook and miscellaneous fees and partially compensates dormitory fee from destitute students, many schools I visited in Hubei, Hunan, and Guizhou provinces have not fully implemented this policy1 . Although the textbook and miscellaneous fees are small, amounting to 100 RMB per semester, they are serious burdens to many farmers since income from the sale of agricultural products are barely enough for their own self-sufficien cy (Lu 2007). Although the government has determined to place a great emphasis on the improvement of rural education, it will takeseveral years to completely promulgate the “two exemptions, one subsidy” policy and the nine-year compulsory education. In 2001, the population coverage rate of nine-year compulsory education in China was 85 percent and the objective of 2010 is still 95 percent (Chinese Education and Human Resource Issues Reporting Group 2003). Therefore, combined efforts with the government and educational non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the Phelex Foundation are important as they can accelerate the speed of promulgation.

(1 Among four middle schools I researched, the average rates of students who are exempted from textbook, miscellaneous fees, and those who received financial aid as living expense are 43%, 100%, and 17% respectively. Among six primary schools, the average rates are 46%, 80%, and 61%. Students receive from 50 RMB to 140 RMB as living expense each semester. )

 

Improving students' living condition by establishing sanitary toilets and shower rooms, and reforming dormitories .

Among more than twenty middle and primary boarding schools I visited in Hubei , Hunan and Guizhou provinces, only one had a shower for students; and o nly occasionally do the students rinse their bodies using water from a basin. The entire Dadai Village of Congjiang County, including its school and households, ha d no toilets and no water. As a result, a few of times a day women go to another village, which is about 1.5 km away, to fetch water. Some rural schools I visited do not have sanitary toilets. With respect to rural sanitation, the United Nations reported in 2004 that the Chinese government takes a stance of collaboration with public and individual supporters and endorses a policy of fundraising through multiple sources. Local governments, international organizations, and sanitation advocacy NGOs have already played an important role in promoting sanitation and environmental studies at schools. For example, the Association for Rural Water Supply and Sanitation has greatly contributed to the rural sanitation infrastructure building in various aspects by providing technical counseling, personal training, sharing information regarding sanitation and teaching operation management. Another example is that in 1999 the Ministry of Education launched a joint project with UNICEF to renovate drinking water and toilet facilities in schools of Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang . In collaboration with local governments and experienced NGOs specializing in environment and sanitation, the Phelex Foundation could help refit school facilities such as sanitary toilets and showrooms. P roviding environmental and sanitary education to middle and primary schools is essential because promulgating norms and regulations on environment and sanitation help improve the teaching and living conditions at schools. The Foundation could help teachers and students foster greater understanding of the importance of protecting the environment and of keeping facilities sanitary. To be more precise, it can promote capacity building by training key teachers and by inspir ing their environmental and sanitary awareness. The Foundation can also seize opportunities such as the World Health Day, World Environment Day and World Smokeless day to undertake environmental and sanitary campaigns at school to draw students' attention to these issues, in conjunction with local governments and richly experienced NGOs.

In addition, many schools in rural areas use very old bunk beds where two or three students sleep on the bottom and also two or three students on the top. While I was working for a local NGO called Snowland Service in Yushu, Qinhai in 2006, it applied for a financial aid program of the German Embassy in China . With t he embassy 's aid, Snowland Service delivered fifty new bunk beds to a rural primary school that was both lacking in and using old and unsafe beds. In the end, t his project was relatively easy to launch and complete. In the future, the Phelex Foundation could expand the range of its charitable work by starting such environmental and sanitation projects.

 

Improve the condition of school-provided lunch and dinner , All primary and secondary schools I visited in Hubei , Hunan , and Guizhou provinces in March and April 2007 provide meals for students but the food is nutritionally deprived. The hea l th of school-age children can play a major role in determining their health as adul ts , thus the successful development of a nation. As most students live in a school dormitory, they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at school. Due to schools' tight budgets students are required to bring rice and some vegetables to school. At Fuxin primary school in Congjiang Country of Guizhou province, students bring rice from home and buy a side dish from the school or a nearby store. I interviewed eight 6 th graders at this school and most of them do not eat breakfast. The reasons are both that they are not accustomed to eat ing breakfast and cannot afford it with their only five RMB weekly living expense. Most importantly, a hungry student has trouble concentrating , and thus learning, in the morning . T he Phelex Foundation can improve student performance and education at the Fuxin school by helping students learn the importance of eating breakfast and its positive effects . Of ten school meals I looked at, there was only one dish made of one kind of vegetable with rice; though teachers , by contrast, eat relatively good dishes that include meat. Also, none of the schools make students eat together in their classroom. Instead, after receiving their meal, students eat individually while either standing or walking around. The situation of students' meals including their eating manners needs to be improved to a large degree and the Phelex Foundation should be able to assist them by providing necessary assistance such as promoting nutritional guideline and financial support.

 

Here is the situation of school meals throughout Japan , which can be an example when promoting school meal guidelines to rural schools. In Japan the school lunch program started with a government subsidy in 1932 in order to relieve impoverished children. In 1949 the school meal law was enacted and every school , to this day, has to have a nutritionist planning a menu so that each student can eat nourishing food, which is composed of carbohydrate, a couple of dishes, milk and dessert. One-month menus including detailed nutritious information are distributed to students at the beginning of every month so students can look forward to school meals. Importantly, school meals are made by cooks but served by students, who take turns every week. In each class several students are on duty, and during lunchtime they wear white aprons and hats, go to the school kitchen, pick up meals that are in big pots, and serve meals to every student in a class. When lunchtime starts, students move their desks so that they can face to each other. They wait until meals are served to everyone and start eating at the same time including teachers. This kind of well-structured school meals provides students not only nutritious meals but also eating manners, dietary habits, pleasant relationships with other students, and well-developed soci al skills . As a long-term perspective of the Phelex Foundation, building a relationship with Japanese donors and volunteers will broaden its future activities. By doing so, the Phelex Foundation should be able to recruit Japanese volunteers to introduce the Japanese school meal system. At first, in order to obtain Japanese volunteers it can effectively use the Internet information site called “Developing World”2 that delivers a weekly email to 10000 registered readers in Japan who are all interested in overseas development work. Many NGOs, including overseas NGOs, post job and various volunteer opportunities to this site. This site will also be useful to recruit Japanese volunteers to other Phelex Foundation's planned projects such as forestry projects.

 

2 Developing World: http://www.dwml.net/

 

Introduce usage of VCDs to primary education in rural areas

When the central government advocated the implementation of distance learning in the late 1990s, encouraged the enhancement of the education of remote areas and suggested it could improve the teaching quality of multi-grade classroom, mountainous schools in Gansu province decided to use Video Compact Discs (VCDs) due to the financial impossibility of installing computer networks. Lee and Wang (2005) introduces the case study of the implementation of VCDs in the Tianshui hilly areas of Gansu province: in 1999 The local government spent 2700 RMB for each school to purchase a 25-inch TV, a VCD player and a set of 72 VCDs lessons in which national exemplary and experienced teachers provide lesson demonstrations, excellent teaching methods, and classroom evaluation and discussion. Since the initial implementation,685 VCD stations have been installed in 149 villages and towns. Most schools use the VCDs to conduct the multi-grade classroom teaching more smoothly and provide exemplary teaching skills to inexperienced substitute teachers. According to Lee and Wang (2005), although limited evaluations of the project have been conducted, Tianshui Education Office reported that the academic performance of students improved after the installation of VCDs by a range from 55% to 87%.
 

The Phelex Foundation should consider promoting the development of rural education by setting up the VCDs. Some schools I visited are in a similar situation to those in Tianshui in that they have only one or two substitute teachers who teach multi-grade classes. For example, Dadai primary school in Congjiang County of Guizhou has 103 students registered from 1 st to 4th grades with two substitute teachers and they have multi-grade classes. Since Dadai school provide s classes only up to the 4 th grade, from the 5 th grade students have to go to Darong village where they would have to commute 8 km of steep and dangerous mountainous roads. Due to the inconvenience, hardly anyone continues the education after 4 th grade. Another example is Laohuo primary school also in Congjiang County , where there are 53 students from 1 st to 3 rd grades with only one substitute teacher. There are two classrooms and the teacher goes back and forth to teach. Introducing VCDs to those schools will allow students to virtually bridge that rough terrain and facilitating the improvement of teaching which results in the promotion of students' academic performance. This approach can be a small investment with quick results towards amelioration of rural education.

 

Provide financial help to long term volunteer teachers.

Many schools in rural areas rely on volunteer teachers due to the lack of local government budgets or formal teachers. However, the financial situation of long-term volunteer teachers varies. Changqing middle school in Danzhai County of Guizhou has five fulltime volunteer teachers that teach four lessons everyday for a year and are typically college students, new graduates or young people who are studying to go to graduate school. They teach various subjects, but the school is especially depending on their English ability since young people's English is relatively good. Their monthly allowance is 600 RMB supplied by the local Danzhai County government, which is enough as they live in the school dormitory. On the other hand, some long-term volunteer teachers' living conditions are as severe as the destitute students whom they teach. For example, neither the Bingmei local government nor the school provides any financial support to volunteer teachers in Fuxin primary school. According to a volunteer teacher, the local government cannot afford it as their annual budget as low as 70000 RMB. Instead, they receive 300 RMB per person as a monthly living expense and 900 RMB per a group composed of 6 volunteers as a monthly travel and medical expenses from a NGO called Guizhou Development Forum 3. Their travel expense is costly because there is no public transportatio n. B ut as this is a remote area, they often have to go to a nearby village to buy commodities. A couple of volunteer teachers I interviewed who have been working there for close to two years said, “Although we greatly appreciate the NGO assistance, we are badly off and struggling. But without the NGO's help, we would not have been able to work here”. Those volunteer teachers are well motivated and enthusiastic about teaching children. They voluntarily teach only because they want to contribute to enhancement of rural education. Long-term teachers, however, are not able to work without any financial aid from a local government or NGO s . No aid , or not enough aid , certainly creates an adverse environmental effect on efficiency of their teaching. Promoting the reform of volunteer teachers' unprivileged life is also one means of contributing to improvement of remote areas' education, as their dedicated work is indispensable in these areas. It is likely that there are many long-term volunteer teachers in the similar situation in other parts of rural China . The Phelex Foundation should consider extending a helpful hand to those teachers so that students can enjoy higher quality education.
 

3 Guizhou Development Forum ( 贵州发展论坛 ) . URL http://www.fzlt.org/ Person in Charge: Mao Gangqiang ( 毛刚强 )Contact: maogangqiang@126.com

 

Conclusion

Since the outset of 21 st century, the Chinese government has made a great effort to enhance the education of rural schools by implementing “two exemptions, one subsidy” policy, significantly emphasizing the universalization of nine-year compulsory education, and increasing their budget on education to reform school facilities. At the same time, however, the vigorous work and effort of savvy NGOs like the Phelex Foundation are indispensable in expediting the improvement of middle and primary schools in rural areas. Without any assistance from NGOs and international organizations, it would require a lengthy period of time for the government to improve the situation of rural schools. It can be proposed that The Phelex Foundation widen its projects and activities by promoting compulsory education, initiating improvement of living conditions of poverty-stricken students, improving school meals, adopting VCDs to rural schools, and providing financial assistance to long-term volunteer teachers. By launching these new field projects as a long-range vision, the Phelex Foundation will be a multidisciplinary educational NGO that flourishes in various arenas.
 
 

Interview

Interview with the Principal of Fuxin Elementary School , Lu Dajing on April 9, 2007

References

Asia Times “ China Business”, Oct 13, 2005

http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China_Business/GJ13Cb01.html

Chinese Education and Human Resource Issues Reporting Group, From a Country with a Large Population to a Country with Sound Human Resources, Beijing : Higher Education Press, February 2003

Lee Chi Kin John and Wang Jiayi, “Using VCDs to promote rural educational development in China : a case study in the Tianshui hilly areas of Gansu ”. Open Learning Vol. 20, No.3, November 2005, pp. 257-264

United Nations, Economic and Social Affairs, Division for Sustainable Development. Sanitation Country Profile China , 2004

Yang Dongpoing “ China 's Education in 2003. From Growth to Reform”. Chinese Education and Society, vol. 38, no. 4, July/August 2005, pp.11-45

 


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