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Exhibition on Rural 'Substitute Teachers' Opens

Wang Bo, a farmer-turned photographer, who moved the Chinese audience by a series of 24 photo exhibitions on rural school drop-outs (1990-2004), wanted to do it again. This time, by a photo exhibition on teachers in the rural areas of China.

The exhibition, held at Beijing Library on June 19-25, displays Wang's 150 photos  recording the hard, poor living and working conditions of the primary and middle school teachers in the remote rural areas of central and western China.

The individuals in the photos all belong to a group of so-called "substitute teachers" -- teachers who are not on the government's regular payroll. Most of them make less than one hundred yuan RMB (some US$12) per month and some of them have big families to support.

"From November 2005 to last April, I went deep into the mountains and villages in seven provinces across the nation and visited over one thousand rural teachers, wrote down their stories and took pictures of them. Most of them are substitute teachers," Wang said.

"I'm totally shocked by their conditions. When I began to take photos and record the stories of rural drop-outs over ten years ago, I had much contact with them and I knew they were poor," Wang added. 

"But how poor and what kind of difficulties are they facing? I didn't know," he admitted.

"This time I can tell through what I've seen and experienced, the difficulties these substitute teachers are facing are the real problems of our rural education," he sighed.

Due to lack of government-paid regular teachers, for years "substitute teachers" have made up the majority of teaching staff and accomplished a huge amount of assignments in many of the areas of China. They number tens of thousands.

However, their work is not supposed to be paid by the government. When compared with the problem of rural drop-out kids, their hardship is often to be neglected when people talk about China's rural education system.

They are more than often over-worked, yet they are unfortunately among the poorest in the villages. "The only thing keeping them in their career is their strong sense of responsibility to the rural kids," Wang stressed.

"I know there are many difficulties. But I want to try. I hope through my vivid representation of them, the society can get to know these teachers and offer their help," he said.

Wang's photo exhibitions on rural drop-outs over more than ten years have helped raise the necessary funds to return over 12,000 of them to schools. So this time, Wang hoped the  exhibition would also finish the task to help these dedicated yet desperate adults.

Good news to all,  education in rural areas of China has already caught more attention of the central government. It announced in March that 218 billion yuan RMB (US$27.25 billion) will be allocated to help improve the shools in the rural areas in five years. At the same time, it said a mechanism has already been established to ensure the incomes of the teachers in the rural areas. 

(Xinhua News Agency June 22, 2006)

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