China / Society

Teachers deserve a much better deal

By Wang Yiqing (China Daily) Updated: 2012-11-29 19:59

Lian Si, a scholar at the University of International Business and Economics and author of Ant Tribe, conducted a survey covering 5,138 young college teachers at all levels in Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan, Xi'an and Guangzhou. Almost 80 percent of the respondents said they earned between 30,000 yuan and 60,000 yuan ($4,755 and $9,510) a year. Also, 84.5 percent of the teachers said they were part of the middle or lower class, with more than 70 percent claiming to be under heavy pressure in their work and life.

In his survey report, Lian describes the group of young teachers as "worker bees", who comprise the majority and do most of the work in a hive but are assigned a low status. Many people may not like the use of "worker bees" to describe the young intellectuals, but in more ways than one it is an apt description for the young teachers. In fact, it is an apt description for the whole group of teachers in China.

In 2010, the average annual salary of people employed in urban units was 36,539 yuan. The figure for Beijing was 65,158 yuan. All the respondents to Lian's survey are residents of big cities, their profession cannot be described as a high-paying one, because their cost of living is expected to be comparatively high. But given the stable nature of their jobs, and the high social status and other benefits that come with them — like urban hukou (household registration) and even their children's education — they cannot be classified as a "lower-income group" as almost half of the respondents claimed.

Teachers in schools and other institutions face more economic difficulties and job pressure than college teachers. Many primary- and middle-school teachers, especially those in the countryside, receive a low salary but shoulder a rather heavy teaching burden.

Moreover, there are hundreds of thousands of teachers who teach for years in citizens-managed or State-managed schools but are not paid the salary of a normal teacher by the government. According to some media reports, some teachers in rural areas have taught in remote mountainous regions for decades on extremely low salaries. And after retirement, they don't even get pensions from the government because they are not considered "officially employed" teachers.

The teaching profession as a whole is vexed by low remuneration, which is a matter of great concern because teachers play a crucial role in social development. Teachers not only disseminate knowledge, but also shape the next generation leaders, scientists, doctors, engineers, intellectuals, writers and artists to lead the country. So if they are not paid properly, the profession may not attract the best talents compromising the future of our society.

Gu Binglin, president of Tsinghua University, told the media recently that the salary of young college teachers is too low for them to afford the high housing prices. Gu is worried that this could lead to brain drain from the profession.

In many small cities and rural areas, there is dearth of teachers qualified to impart basic education, such as kindergarten and primary-school teachers, because their salaries and social status are low. Yan Yanhong, a kindergarten teacher who recently ill-treated some children in Wenling, Zhejiang province, didn't even have a teacher's license. Media reports say that only 40 percent of kindergarten teachers in Wenling have teaching licenses. The acute shortage of qualified teachers has, therefore, forced many kindergartens to hire people without teaching licenses or even necessary training.

More importantly, besides teaching, college teachers also play an important role in scientific and technological research. Intellectual product requires a certain amount of investment and long-term research and development. After all academics is an area where quick success and instant benefits are rare.

Surveys show that about 60 percent of the young college teachers get less then 5,000 yuan a year each as research funds, and 61.6 percent of them don't get any such funds from their colleges. Many college teachers who devote their life to research lack funds, which is more frustrating for them than getting low salaries. Without necessary financial support they can hardly achieve anything in their research, which is something that not only teachers but also the authorities should worry about.

Education is important for the future of the entire nation. The authorities should realize that the more attention they pay to teachers and the teaching profession the better the future of our country will be.

The author is a writer with China Daily.


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