Volunteer teachers a boon to rural schools

Updated 2018-03-16 09:40:08

Children of Xiaxia Elementary School in Gansu Province take a class taught by a volunteer teacher live on a TV screen.(Ti Gong)

Schoolchildren in remote Chinese mountains can now view Picasso paintings and see how Singaporeans live, all through a TV screen.

A nonprofit organization in Shanghai has linked 105 volunteer teachers from China and across the globe with children in 33 remote village schools in China to make it all possible, serving about 1,400 per semester.

The organization, called "Project Volunteer Online 2.0," was honored last year as one of the 10 best volunteer programs in Shanghai.

Zhu Junliang, who is in charge of the organization founded in 2014, said the program aims to support teaching in rural China "down to the last mile."

"Village schools are much more poorly staffed than town and county schools, especially when it comes to art, music and technology teaching," she said.

In many remote villages, young children live with their grandparents while their parents work in large cities. The so-called "left behind children" often develop psychological problems.

"Broadband infrastructure in some underdeveloped parts of China has proven much better than we expected, but children still suffer from lack of communication with parents and teachers," Zhu said. "Our volunteers teach through interaction with the children, hoping to reach their hearts."

Volunteers prepare each class aimed at about 20 pupils, which in some cases comprises the entire enrollment in a village school.

Cheng Tianxiao, a mother of two girls who lives in Singapore, is a volunteer who began teaching children at the Hanjiagou Village Elementary School in northwest China's Gansu Province in September 2015.

She conducts a weekly class via video link called "Growth." In it, she shows pictures of life and attractions in Southeast Asia, tells the children how Eastern and Western holidays are celebrated, and shows them how to make holiday paper decorations.

Cheng has to seek some solutions to make up for her absence in the classroom. For example, she had to let some children help others when the class was making paper lanterns.

"Skills are really less important than confidence," she said. "The fact that these children have someone who cares about them is important, no matter how far away that person is."

Yao Lan, a high school student in Shanghai, is the youngest volunteer in the program. She has been teaching chess to children in an elementary school in Anhui Province since 2016. "It was my dream to teach chess to children in remote villages, and I'm happy that I can now do that from afar," she said.

Some volunteers donate books or winter garments to the children, and a few have made trips to remote areas to meet their young friends in person.

From Shanghai, Zhou Chun has taught information technology to children in the Liuyao Village Elementary School in Gansu for over three years. She said she will never forget the moment she met them for the first time last September.

"When I stepped into the classroom, a pupil presented me a large bouquet of roses and all 34 children chorused in one voice 'Miss Zhou, welcome,'" she recalled. "My eyes welled up with tears because I never thought I would experience anything like that."

Zhou said the trip was beneficial because she got feedback from the children. The program has grown to include English and natural science classes, and volunteers whose mother tongue is not Chinese are also welcome to participate.

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