Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Can we have no-gift Teachers' Day, please

By Fang Zhou ( Updated: 2014-09-09 10:58

Parents or teachers troubled by the increasing popularity of gift-giving should find welcome relief in the intensified measures taken by educational authorities against the malpractice. A few days before this year’s Teachers’ Day, which falls on Sept 10, the Ministry of Education issued a notice banning activities funded by public money and gift-giving, as well as extravagance in educational institutions, including schools.

The move is expected to curb the practice of parents gifting gifts to teachers, restore people’s trust in the sanctity of the education system and cleanse the campus atmosphere.

It would be a shame for the education system — in fact, the nation as whole — if Teachers’ Day were to become a time for parents to wrack their brains thinking about what gifts to give teachers to ensure that their children get “special treatment” or to prevent them from being discriminated against in class.

To give or not to give gifts is a decision that puts huge pressure on parents whose children are in school. Several surveys conducted by Internet portals, forums and special survey agencies in recent years have indicated that a majority of Chinese parents had been haunted at least once by such a dilemma before Teachers’ Day.

Apart from flowers, fruits, watches as well as expensive handbags, jewelry and shopping vouchers or cards, some parents have also gifted cash to teachers. A few wealthy parents have even arranged overseas trips for teachers.

The commercialization of “gift-giving” has become such a big social problem that some parents have used the Internet to suggest the extreme: abolish Teachers’ Day altogether. An online proposal — whether or not Teachers’ Day should be abolished — floated in 2010 was supported by 94 percent of the respondents.

Surveys, however, have also shown that some teachers do not enjoy the gifts they receive from students’ parents. Quite a few teachers who responded to surveys said they usually make a painful choice between accepting and declining a gift. In 2012, some 10 well-known elementary and middle schools used the Ministry of Education’s website to appeal to teachers across the country to decline gifts from students and their parents. The appeal resonated strongly across educational institutions and was welcomed by many parents.

Traditionally, teachers have always been held in high esteem in Chinese society. Most Chinese people still believe in the maxim, “a teacher for a day is a father for a whole life”. We have also long viewed teachers as “engineers of the human soul” and “hardworking gardeners” helping “flowers” blossom for the motherland. We also know that the nation cannot fulfill its aspiration of greatness without the selfless dedication of its teachers, who nurture talents from one generation to another.

Therefore, the entire society should respect teachers. And indeed it is understandable and acceptable that students gift a token gift to teachers to show their respect to and gratitude toward them. But the sacred relationship between teachers and students is soiled when students give gifts to teachers with some ulterior motives — to get favors or special treatment, for example.

Many people desperately wanted the education authorities to take measures to check the commercialization of dealings between teachers and parents, and that is precisely what the Ministry of Education has done.

But then the creation of a series of Internet technologies and means for giving and receiving gifts, such as e-vouchers and e-cards, and WeChat red packets, have made the malpractice difficult to detect. So the education authorities, aside from passing rigorous regulations banning the malpractice, should also take stricter measures to improve the education system as a whole to ensure that there is no room for corruption.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

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