A regulation has been introduced for government-paid teaching students at six key universities to help improve education equality, especially in central and western regions.
The regulation, promulgated by the Ministry of Education and disclosed last week by the general office of the State Council, China’s Cabinet, covers thousands of students to be enrolled at Beijing Normal University and five other universities that specialize in normal education, which are directly administered by the ministry.
Tuition fees and accommodation will be paid by the central government, who will also grant these students subsidies for daily expenses, according to the regulation. The 27-clause regulation shortens the service periods for such students to six years to teach at primary and middle schools after graduation, and also provides incentives for government-paid normal students to work in rural areas.
The students should work at primary or middle schools in their places of origin for at least six years, four years shorter than the previous 10-year service period.
Those working in urban schools should serve at least one year in rural schools beforehand.
The regulation was the latest to encourage high-school graduates to learn teaching majors and serve less-developed areas, following a guideline released by the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the State Council in January. The guideline pledged to amend and improve the system for government-paid students.
Experts said the new regulation will further improve the quality of compulsory education in central and western parts of China as more talented graduates are expected to return home and instruct local children, mostly in less-developed regions.
In 2007, the State Council started a pilot program to exempt students from tuition fees at those six key universities. Since then, thousands of students have benefited from the program. They were required to work at least 10 years as teachers in the compulsory education stage, including two years in rural areas.
As of 2017, more than 100,000 students were enrolled for such free education, and 700,000 have started careers as teachers, according to the ministry’s figures. About 90 percent of these new teachers went to central and western regions.
The program then was replicated by 28 provincial-level regions. Each year, more than 40,000 new graduates join the rural compulsory education system, which has improved the allocation of teachers in less-developed regions and helped children in deprived families to realize their dream of going to college.
Zhang Hui, a history major, graduated from Beijing Normal University this summer. As one of the students benefiting from the free education program, she joined six voluntary programs in her four-year college stint.
In Luoyang, Henan province, a boy told her he would study hard and go to a university in Beijing, giving up his original plan to drop out after middle school and become a migrant worker, because Zhang’s teaching skills sparked his interests in attending classes.
Zhang said her job will make a difference for many left-behind children who can alter their destiny through better education.
Last week’s regulation means free education has been replaced by government-paid education at the six key universities.
Sun Baicai, executive director of the China Educational Economics Association, said the change from free education to government-paid will enhance the attractiveness for students to become teachers.
The reduction of service period from 10 years to six years for these students is in line with educational development and personal career development, he said.
“It shows increasing respect for personal choices with greater flexibility in the policy itself, which can endow normal students with more diverse options in their work and lives,” Sun said.
In addition, the attractiveness of being teachers should be enhanced with higher salaries and pride in the profession to employ and retain these normal students when they step out of prestigious universities, Sun added.