In the 2013-2014 academic year, Teach For China Fellows are teaching in over 80 schools spread throughout two provinces in southern China:
Teach For China currently places Fellows in five counties in rural western Yunnan province, close to China’s border with Myanmar. Three of those counties, located in Lincang prefecture, appear in the national Chinese government’s list of high-poverty counties. The remaining two counties in Dali prefecture are also home to a number of low-income communities.
Many families in our Yunnan placement communities respond to economic pressures by sending family members to work as migrant laborers in remote larger cities. Many children in Fellows’ schools thus grow up with one or both parents chronically absent and often receive care from elderly relatives. At the same time, the children themselves face the same pressure to leave school early and find migrant work, and many students drop out of school before completing middle school. Many placement communities in Yunnan are home to large numbers of Chinese ethnic minority groups, including the Bai, Yi, Lisu, Miao, Wa, and Hui peoples. As a result, teachers in these communities face myriad challenges as they navigate not only socioeconomic disparities, but also cross-cultural friction, language barriers, and racial discrimination. Public schools in our Yunnan placement schools are chronically short of teachers. The province has the third-highest student-teacher ratio in China and each class typically has as many as 40-60 students. Students receive little if any individualized attention and support to help them overcome the challenges they face in and outside of the classroom.
Teach For China places Fellows in two neighboring counties in Shantou Prefecture in eastern Guangdong province. The region is known for distinctive music, opera, and food, which set it apart from the rest of Guangdong. Although the province as a whole has been at the forefront of China’s economic expansion of the last two decades, Shantou has been largely excluded from this growth and has been designated by provincial authorities as a high need area. As a result of Shantou’s proximity to the booming manufacturing centers of Guangdong, students there face substantial pressure to forego their studies in order to work. Students work on evenings and weekends at home or in nearby factories to help support their families.
While many urban communities and schools in Guangdong benefit from remittances and other donations from overseas Chinese communities, the schools in Shantou are consistently overlooked and have not benefited from this supplementary source of income. Although Shantou schools enjoy good physical infrastructure compared to schools in Yunnan, these schools are plagued by persistent teacher shortages. Guangdong’s student-teacher ratios run far above the national average, and Shantou has some of the highest ratios in all of Guangdong. Consequently, class sizes are overwhelmingly large, averaging 60-90 students per teacher. Furthermore, teachers have little or no access to support and evaluative systems, such that new teachers do not receive the training and guidance needed to succeed in challenging classrooms.