Teachers' poverty stirs discontent

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An Internet post claiming that some rural teachers in southwest China's Guizhou province are paid merely 25 yuan (3.96 U.S. dollars) a month has provoked public anger and prompted local authorities to offer them raises.

Ding Rui, editor of a Guiyang-based education magazine, posted photos of five teachers' pay stubs on t.qq.com, a Twitter-like microblogging service run by Chinese Internet portal Tencent, on May 31.

The five teachers -- Sun Yan, Wu Xuemin, Liu Xingyou, Huang Youjun and Li Lingui -- were all temporarily employed by a village school in Nayong county and were not on the school's official payroll.

A photo of their payslips dated Jan. 31 showed that each of them were paid only 25 yuan a month for their "temporary teaching" at the Guoquanyan Village Central Primary School.

Ding claimed the sum was their total monthly income, as all of the other blanks on their pay stubs -- including those for basic salary, bonuses and allowances -- were empty.

An older photo from January 2011 showed that their situation was slightly better last year, with each of them receiving 60 yuan a month.

"Their pay was cut to just 25 yuan a month starting in January," Ding wrote on his microblog. "Their plight deserves public attention."

His post stirred an uproar on the Web, with Internet users expressing sympathy for the teachers and discontent with the local government.

"How can they live on 25 yuan a month?" said a netizen using the screenname "retiree's comments."

"That is not even enough to buy a kilo of pork. It's not a matter of poverty, it's insulting to these teachers," the user wrote.

In China, salaries for all public school teachers are covered by local treasuries. In underdeveloped western regions, however, many village schools have to recruit temporary teachers -- people who are not properly trained but are better educated than the average villager -- to fill up job openings that are ignored by college graduates.

These teachers, hired just on a temporary basis and often lacking proper labor contracts, are therefore not on the government's payroll. The schools still try to pay their wages, but typically offer meager amounts held in arrears, as country schools are almost always in deficit.

An official from the Nayong county government insisted that the 25 yuan was not the teachers' total income for the month.

"It was just the government subsidy. The teachers earn extra money from their schools and farming," said Long Ying, deputy chief of the county government, in a Friday interview.

Still, the uproar in cyberspace was a wake-up call for the local government. On June 5, the Nayong county government decided to include the teachers' wages as part of the government's expenditures.

"They will each get 1,000 yuan a month, and the county's finances will pay for their pension and unemployment insurance," the government said in a statement published on its website.

The government's decision was applauded by some, but was not enough to quell public discontent.

"Had the teachers' plight not been disclosed online, would the government have continued to turn a blind eye?" wrote one netizen using the name "blade."

One of the five teachers, Wu Xuemin, was invited to an online debate organized by t.qq.com on Wednesday. Wu, however, said he was happy and grateful for the government's decision. "I have nothing to complain about now," he said.

Wu has been a temporary teacher since 1988, teaching choral classes, physical education and social skills to first- and second-graders. The school pays him 100 to 300 yuan a month, but he lives mainly on the 800 yuan a month he earns by working as a village official.

Nayong county employed 344 temporary teachers as of the start of this year, said Long Ying.

"Eight of them passed qualification tests in February and became permanent teachers, while 144 were hired under a national program to improve rural students' diets," said Long.

Wu Xuemin, who speaks with a strong regional dialect, did not pass the standardized Mandarin test that played a big part in determining the teachers' qualifications.

"I'm not willing to cook or take up other positions on campus," he said. "I hope I can continue teaching."

Guizhou province has about 10,000 temporary teachers like Wu. The provincial education authority decided to dismiss the teachers in 2004, saying they were unqualified. Most of them are still working only because no qualified teachers are available to take their place.

"The local government should increase these teachers' wages and provide them with adequate training," said Tang Xianliang, an associate researcher with the Guizhou provincial academy of social sciences. "After all, the children need them and we should do something to improve their situation."


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