Long March toward education

Tyler Terrance O'Neil(chinadaily.com.cn) | Updated: 2016-09-05 15:36

Long March toward education

The Red Army school in Sangzhi county, Hunan province. [Photo by Liu Jing/chinadaily.com.cn]

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Sitting atop a hill in Sangzhi County, the Helong Marshal Red Army Primary School sticks out like an especially wide edifice of the mountains in nearby Wulingyuan.

As I approached the school's gate I expected it to be in a state similar to that of the buildings around it. A little dirty or rundown with rubble and unfinished construction projects around the fringes. But what I saw was something much different.

I was first met with a squad of students assigned to sweep the pavement inside the main gate. Just beyond, the well-worn running track was similarly debris free. When we were ushered inside, the rooms had the typical wear of any not-new Chinese building, but everything seemed tidy.

This place was a sanctuary for education, a contrast to the town undergoing transition outside the gates.

The primary school is one of 228 Red Army schools sponsored by former revolutionary leaders or their families in historically significant areas. It has 59 teachers for approximately 800 students, a ratio that is much better than other rural schools.

Approximately 70 percent of those students are "left behind" children, meaning both of their parents have left town to find higher paying jobs and send money back. There is a dormitory for students who do not have family to stay with in town or whose home is far away, often more than 20 kilometers away along twisted mountain roads.

Seeing these children without their parents made the reoccurring message of this "New Long March" tour resonate with me even more. If programs can be successfully implemented in rural areas to boost them economically, then fewer children will need to live without their parents.

But it's good to see that something is already going right. The Helong Marshal Red Army Primary School looked great, and of all the things that can improve a community economically, it's education. That universal ideal if very present in Sangzhi County.

There was another universal principle in play at Helong Marshal Red Army Primary School as well. Liu Jing, another China Daily reporter, and I snuck away from the press conference to shoot a video. As I walked into the classroom, I saw these kids were happy but completely and utterly exhausted after their very first day of school ever. It doesn't matter if you're a kindergarten student in Chicago, Kent, or Zhangjiajie, the first day of school is fun but never easy.

Related story:

Long March spirit remembered in Red Army school


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