NGO founder reaching out to rural students

Updated: 2012-09-23 07:59

By Li Aoxue(China Daily)

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 NGO founder reaching out to rural students

Pasinetti says every child needs a good education. Provided to China Daily

A dense thicket of sugarcane lit by the moonlight, and homemade chicken soup are some of the fond memories Andrea Pasinetti has of his first visit to a Chinese village. He was on his way to a school in Shuangjiang county, Yunnan province, to learn more about rural education in China, when the truck he was traveling in became trapped on a muddy road.

Pasinetti waited near the sugarcane thicket until the school's principal arrived - with a pot of chicken soup - to pick him up on a motorcycle. He was left with a very warm and welcoming impression, which is exactly the type of people he hopes to recruit for his nonprofit organization.

Pasinetti is the founder of Teach for China, an organization that aims to reduce the educational imbalance between children in urban and rural areas in China.

The 26-year-old Italian-American has visited almost 500 rural schools in remote areas of Yunnan, Henan, Guangdong and Qinghai provinces, and in Beijing.

Since TFC was established in 2008, it has worked as a bridge to send 150 graduates from top universities in the East and West such as Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Tsinghua, Peking and Fudan, to teach in rural areas that have a hard time attracting good teachers.

The thought of establishing such an organization came to Pasinetti when he was working on his dissertation in 2007 at Tsinghua University. He found 20 percent to 50 percent of students in rural China could not pass the entrance exams for secondary schools.

According to TFC, 70 percent of students in major cities in China go to universities, but only 5 percent in rural areas.

Pasinetti says the US was in a similar situation when Wendy Kopp first established Teach for America in 1989. Nearly 33,000 teachers have since joined that organization, including the 9,000 who are currently assigned to 43 urban and rural communities in the US.

"It is a fact that where children are born determines their educational prospects, but we strongly feel every child should receive a very good education," Pasinetti says.

So far TFC has recruited more Chinese fellows than US fellows, but some American fellows are of Chinese descent. Between 2010 and 2011, TFC visited 126 universities in China and the US. They recruited 49 fellows from 30 universities in the US.

"Not everyone can become a teacher in these rural schools in China, as they need to have many qualities, such as care, leadership and humanity," Pasinetti says.

One of the benefits of TFC, Pasinetti says, is it provides recent graduates an opportunity to develop their leadership skills as well as their sense of responsibility.

Although the organization was created less than four years ago, the number of fellows has increased rapidly from the original 14 to 150.

The founder, who was selected by China Newsweek last year as one of the top 10 influential people in China, majored in public policy at Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University.

"One of the most important things that shaped my outlook was my education, as Woodrow Wilson School is focused on service ... and some of my course mates also went to work for Teach for America," Pasinetti says.

But family also helped form his compassionate attitude.

Pasinetti's father is a medical professor at Cornell University in New York, and his mother operates a family business with his grandfather in Milan.

Although Pasinetti was born in Los Angeles and moved to New York when he was 8, he visits Milan twice a year to spend time with his grandparents and cousins. "China and Italy are very similar in that both of them have a lot of family businesses and place strong emphasis on family," Pasinetti says.

(China Daily 09/23/2012 page5)