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One's heart goes out to teachers in rural areas
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Yesterday's People's Daily carried a moving photograph: a woman pushing a tricycle in the rain. She was drenched but the goods on the vehicle were well covered by plastic sheets. A placard hung on the handle read: "I buy reading materials, magazines and auxiliary teaching materials for primary school students."

The woman in the photograph is Li Ling, headmistress of a primary school in Huaiyang county, Henan province. She was in Zhengzhou, the province's capital, collecting second-hand books for her students back in the Hope School she set up seven years ago in her hometown after she graduated from a local normal school.

Her deeds began circulating online a few days ago, and netizens lauded her as the "most beautiful rural school headmaster born after 1980". In fact, the 27-year-old woman is not pretty and looks much older than her age - apparently a result of her hard work and the harsh conditions she lives and works under.

Her selfless devotion to the education of children in a rural area is touching. And she is not alone. There have been many reports about teachers who have dedicated their lives to children's education in poverty-stricken and remote areas.

Take two people that the Chinese media reported about last October. Shen Qijun, a 45-year-old man, taught farmers' children in a mountainous village school in Hanyuan county, Sichuan province, for 26 years. He was the only teacher in the school, which stands on a cliff above the Dadu River valley. His students and their parents loved him very much. And he said his wish was that his students in the secluded village do not lag behind other children in the outside world.

In another mountain village in Luodian county, Guizhou province, Li Zixi, is the lone teacher in the school. Though he is not a native villager, Li kept teaching there for 13 years for an annual "salary" of 180 kg of corn, though he could have earned much more if he had chosen to go to coastal Guangdong province like his brother. He took up farming to support his family. Thanks to his efforts, none of the school-age children in the village dropped out during the years.

Li Ling, Shen Qijun and Li Zixi are all common people, and have no impressive career success to boast of. But they represent millions of rural teachers who work diligently to impart knowledge to kids in the countryside. It is no exaggeration to say they shoulder the responsibility of education the majority of our nation's future generations because rural residents still make up 72 percent of China's population, and rural families generally have several children, while urban families usually have one child each.

But education in rural areas still needs more funds. State budget spending on rural schools is far less than what it should be, considering the importance of rural education. We should not rely on the "conscientious contribution" by teachers in the countryside who are battling with the poor conditions.

Chinese enterprises, both State-owned and private, should donate more, too, to rural education. During the past three decades of fast economic growth, Chinese entrepreneurs have amassed a huge fortune. Though the pool of their wealth remains opaque because of poor statistics, their extravagant lifestyle - splendid villas and lavish spending in foreign countries, for instance - reveals their affluence.

Donating for rural education is their obligation rather than charity, for their fortune mostly comes from exploitation of cheap labor provided by rural migrant workers and the unreasonable gaps between prices of industrial and agricultural products.

E-mail: liushinan@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily July 8, 2009)

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