A LIT­TLE LEARN­ING

Ru­ral schools en­dure, de­spite lack of fund­ing— or pupil­s坚守中的农村“微小学”

The World of Chinese - - NEWS - TEXT AND PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY XIANG MANHONG (向满红TRANSLATED BY LIU JUE (刘珏) )

乡村“微小学”

A tiny school in ru­ral China rep­re­sents a grow­ing prob­lem for ed­u­ca­tors. As young coun­try-dwellers in­creas­ingly fa­vor ur­ban mi­gra­tion, left-be­hind chil­dren and dwin­dling funds are see­ing small schools shut at an as­ton­ish­ing rate. But for these ne­glected students, school is not just a place of learn­ing, but a home away from home

It’s the first day of the fall se­mes­ter in Ganx­ip­ing El­e­men­tary School (甘溪坪小学) in Hongjiang, Hu­nan province, and the whole school has gath­ered for a com­mence­ment speech from the head­mas­ter. There are only 15 peo­ple in at­ten­dance—13 students, two fac­ulty mem­bers.

Most students are “left-be­hind chil­dren” from the lo­cal vil­lage, left in the care of their aged grand­par­ents while their par­ents seek work in the city. With fund­ing short­ages and ag­ing fa­cil­i­ties, Ganx­ip­ing is far from an iso­lated case. Rather, it’s the norm for many young ru­ral students in China’s mid-west­ern in­te­rior, where they are known as “micro” or “in­com­plete el­e­men­tary schools,” since they lack the re­sources to cater to all the grades. In­stead, students of dif­fer­ent ages and de­vel­op­ment stages share teach­ers and class­rooms.

In the last two decades, ur­ban mi­gra­tion and low birthrates have led to a sig­nif­i­cant de­crease of in­com­ing students and in turn, a de­cline in ru­ral school­ing. As a re­sult, a na­tional cam­paign to re­dis­tribute ru­ral re­sources has started. But in many places, this has trans­lated to sim­ply clos­ing down schools. From 2000 to 2010, ru­ral el­e­men­tary schools closed at an as­ton­ish­ing rate—63 per day, ac­cord­ing to Yang Dong­ping, di­rec­tor of the 21st Cen­tury Ed­u­ca­tion Re­search In­sti­tute.

In­stead, re­sources are poured into big­ger schools in nearby towns or cities, which ru­ral students are en­cour­aged to at­tend. The re­main­ing lo­cal schools, their class­rooms built decades ago and barely main­tained since, can of­fer the most ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion, of­ten by sub­sti­tute fac­ulty. For left-be­hind chil­dren who can’t af­ford the com­mute or lodg­ings in town, these micro schools are their only choice—they charge next to noth­ing, ac­cept all, and are close to home.

Yet for chil­dren left with­out par­ents or much in the way of home com­forts, micro schools are of­ten havens.

When lo­cal stu­dent Xiang Wen­tao was only 1 year old, his fa­ther left for Guang­dong for work. Xiang was raised by his grand­fa­ther and is used to his fa­ther be­ing away. “We speak ev­ery few days,” Xiang says, “I usu­ally tell him about my stud­ies and the call is of­ten only few min­utes long.”

Out­side the class­room in Ganx­ip­ing, there’s a small court­yard for the students to play. The head­mas­ter told me that just 50,000 RMB in fund­ing could make a dif­fer­ence—a brighter class­room, a big­ger play­ground, and more sports equip­ment than just a plas­tic ball.

TEACHER XU HAS WORKED IN GANX­IP­ING PRI­MARY SCHOOL FOR 36 YEARS

WITH NO DESK AT HOME, A STU­DENT FIN­ISHES HIS HOME­WORK ON A WOODEN STOOL

LACK­ING ANY FA­CIL­I­TIES, STUDENTS OF­TEN SPEND THEIR EX­TRACUR­RIC­U­LAR HOURS SIM­PLY CHAT­TING

MOST OF THE STUDENTS ARE LEFTBEHIND CHIL­DREN, WHOSE PAR­ENTS ARE AWAY FOR LONG STRETCHES OF THE YEAR, WORK­ING IN THE CITY

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