Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What is real tribute to Teachers' Day

September 10th has been set as the National Teachers' Day 24 years ago, when China's government began to realize the important role national education plays in a country's comprehensive strength. Since then on, 'to pay a tribute to teachers, and attach importance to education' has been known to every Chinese as a widespread slogan not only in urban areas but in the vast countryside as well.

May 12 Sichuan massive earthquake smashed the beautiful dreams of nearly ten thousand school children, but, just born in the debris of the collapsed school buildings were the episodes of hero-like teachers and students, and their sagas, distilled with time, are still touching people. In face of deadly disasters, people's qualities would be fully brought out and tested.

So 'what does it mean to be a teacher?' has become one of the hottest topics in the post-earthquake days, attracting readers and bloggers from every corner of the country into the discussion. Almost all of them deem teachers' professional ethics should cover as wide a range as protecting the students from danger and coming to their rescue in crisis. Some even cited examples in their discussion: one of the teachers sheltered the young students with her own body when the quake hit, as a result, all the three kids survived but she did not. Another teacher, in her 20s, helped all of her students out of the classroom when she sensed the shock, but she was buried in rubble when the room suddenly fell in.

On the other hand, people finger pointed one notorious teacher surnamed Fan, denouncing him in chorus 'a shame to all teachers,' or 'an ignoble person disguised as a noble teacher,' as the guy disappointed everybody in his deeds and words, when the quake happened, first fleeing for safety himself and leaving the entire class behind; later he defended himself explaining it out of instinct and in human nature.

Conventionally, teachers' role in the Chinese culture has been defined as 'a guide or an instructor,' and China enjoys a long history of showing respect and even paying tribute to teachers. Confucius, for example, is said to have tutored more than three thousand pupils and wins the all time worship in China. But the ten havoc years of the so-called 'Cultural Revolution' acted as the nightmare for all then Chinese teachers, some persecuted to death, some put in detention, others robbed of teaching to accept 're-education through labor.' What a relief to them in 1978, when China was finally ushered in the policy of Reform and Opening up to the outside world. The late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping pointed for the first time in China's modern history that 'science and technology serve as the No.1 productivity.' The Chinese teachers have since been regarded highly and won the highest social status than ever before.

In 1993, China issued Teachers Law, providing protections for the teachers' basic interests and rights. Although there are some loopholes in its implementation, teachers' living and working conditions have been generally improved since its enactment. In some economically advanced coastal areas in China, the local authorities have also staged some very constructive supplementary regulations to benefit education and the teaching staff.

For example, Guangdong Province has set up a long-term mechanism ensuring teachers' wages and other benefits. The local government also stipulated that education fund must be spared in any financial budget, and the public resources must first go to meet the needs of education.

Admittedly, due to the uneven distribution of resources and development, the status quo of education differs from region to region. It is also manifest that in some backward regions teachers are still struggling for livelihood with the meager income or even hard to meet ends because of the long-delayed wages.

By Teachers Law, teachers' pay should be tantamount to that of the civil servants of the same level. The State fiscal expenditure of education fund will have to account for 4 percent of the country's GDP. Unfortunately, the implementation of the particular articles stipulated in Law is far from enough.

Prompted by the Sichuan earthquake, Professional Ethics Standards for Primary and Middle School Teachers have been passed immediately following the disaster, which has greatly elevated the threshold to be a teacher and further tightened the qualifications testing for the existing teaching staff, including not only the standard academic skills, but also good qualities as a responsible person. Even so, the de facto is still far from satisfactory.

The number of students passing the entrance examinations is still taken as the only yardstick to judge a teacher qualified or not in many parts of China, which has catalyzed some undesirable cases like cheating and bribery, and the reputation of the teachers involved has been ruined. If not deterred promptly, it could mar the image of teachers as a whole.

It has long been acknowledged that rights and responsibilities coexist in any occupation, to which teaching is no exception. On the very day of the nationwide teachers' festival, we will not only appeal for the early settlement of teachers' suspending cares and rights, but pin hope on all the teachers, as they are taking in charge of the country's tomorrow.

By People's Daily Online

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