Seniors urged to return to give education a needed boost
China has ramped up a national initiative to encourage retired teachers to return to the classroom as part of broader steps to narrow regional gaps in education and make better use of an aging society.
The action plan, jointly rolled out by the Ministry of Education and nine other central government departments, sets a target of bringing 120,000 teachers out of retirement to fill gaps in the nation's higher, vocational and basic education fields in the next three years.
The initiative, known as the National Silver-Age Teacher Action Plan, covers retired or retiring educators no older than 65, enabling them to use their expertise and experience to help build a higher-quality education system.
Authorities must regard retired teachers as important human resources and encourage them to help strengthen intellectual support for China's key sectors both domestically and abroad, the plan said.
Similar plans to hire more than 20,000 retired teachers to teach at primary and secondary schools and universities in western regions were released in 2018 and 2020, as part of the nation's broader push to raise education standards and advance the poverty alleviation campaign in less-developed areas.
The number of people age 60 and above is set to reach 300 million, or 20 percent of the Chinese population, in the next two years. The nation is also set for a wave of teachers retiring during that period, the Ministry of Education said in a news release.
Previous programs rolled out by the nation have effectively lifted the level of education in less-developed regions while enabling retired teachers to contribute their strengths, it said.
Retired teachers who take part in the latest program must have a high level of professional ethics, competence and dedication, in addition to being healthy and tenacious, the ministry said. They are expected to guide the growth of young teachers and help raise the level of teaching standards and school management in the regions they serve, and also use their strengths for the care and protection of children, the ministry said.
Ren Youqun, head of the ministry's Department of Teacher Education, said that the gaps in education standards between the nation's eastern and western regions have remained a "very real problem", even though the poverty alleviation drive has markedly improved school facilities.
"It is impossible to replenish the lack of high-quality teachers in remote areas within a short period of time," he said in a recent interview.
Meanwhile, there is a large number of experienced and highly qualified teachers who are willing to continue playing a role in the education system even after their retirement, he said.
To incentivize retired teachers to participate in higher education, the action plan will prioritize institutions with strong potential and those located in ethnic minority regions. Measures will also be taken to promote collaboration among higher education institutions and to help them attract talent from overseas.
To facilitate the flow of retired educators to vocational colleges, measures will be rolled out to take advantage of the pairing-off programs — in which prosperous regions provide assistance to underdeveloped areas — between eastern and western provincial areas as well as support for institutions that desperately need their school conditions to improve.
The plan to enable older educators to continue serving in the basic education system will continue to focus on primary and middle schools located in regions that have just been lifted out of poverty and less-developed areas, such as border and ethnic minority regions.
Applicants should be retired school principals, who could serve as vice-principals during their re-employment, and senior teachers, who could teach, give lectures and organize symposiums and seminars.
According to the action plan, the funding for retired teachers to support higher, vocational and basic education will mainly come from local authorities, with the central government providing guidance and support. Private schools taking part in the initiative will need to fund the recruitment drive themselves.
Zhang Baojun, a retired teacher who is now taking part in the action plan at the Huanxi School in Xiaochang county, Hubei province, said one of the biggest challenges she has had to face is that the majority of students at the school are left-behind children whose parents have traveled to urban areas for work.
"Many of the students are poorly motivated and weary of school life, and some of them show a lack of self-confidence," she said.
Zhang, who studied philosophy and psychology, set up a special room for psychological counseling at the school to offer services for both teachers and students.
She also teaches courses, including calligraphy, to diversify the curriculum for the students.
Hu Hong, a teacher at the Huanxi School, said she welcomes the idea of more retired teachers joining the schools as it would expand graduates' skill sets and improve their employment chances.
"For the students, their arrival could open up new horizons. They could also share their experience and expertise and help with the development of young teachers," she said.
The national action plan also calls for steps to enhance pre-job training and support for re-employed teachers, including measures to protect their mental and physical health and offering them a sound teaching environment. Local authorities and schools are required to provide insurance, healthcare, accommodation and transport.
Pu Rui, a professor in education at the Central China Normal University in Wuhan, Hubei province, said only by raising the quality of teachers can the nation properly solve some of the biggest problems troubling the education sector in less-developed regions.
"That is why we need to encourage retired teachers to use their professional strengths and lead the way for the personal development of teachers, especially young teachers, in rural and ethnic minority areas," she said.
However, to enable older teachers to mesh back into the basic education system, Pu said it would require education authorities and schools to lay out institutional platforms and further clarify the duties of these teachers.
Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said many teachers, including his own mentor, have a strong desire to continue their teaching careers, even after their retirement.
However, with many retired teachers being encouraged to serve in regions with relatively poorer medical services, the government must come up with strong healthcare guarantees for older teachers, he said.