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Teaching Profession

The scope of the teacher education system in the People's Republic of China is extensive. In numerical terms, teachers in China form the largest teaching force in the world. In 1998, there were 229 training institutions at various levels with 138,745 education majors enrolled. Yet this massive training system has barely met the demand for the number of teachers required to sustain the even larger school system in terms of both quantity and quality. A range of serious policy problems, organizational barriers, and socioeconomic factors undermine the ability of the teacher education system to make adequate contributions to the nation.

There are two main categories of teachers in China, distinguished according to the source and structure of their pay. The first category is the gongban (state-paid) teachers who are regarded as state employees and earn a regular monthly salary comparable to other civil servants or workers in state-owned enterprises. The second category is the minban (community-paid) teachers who are paid by the local community. Their monthly income depends on the economic conditions of the local community.

The education of teachers is directly supervised by the State Education Commission. The Teacher Education Bureau is one of the 23 bureaus in the SEC and is immediately responsible for formulating policies on teacher education and supervising the development of the teacher training system, including the goals of teacher education, curriculum structure, recruitment of teacher trainees, and accreditation criteria. It also directly administers six key normal universities, namely those in Beijing, East China, Central China, Northeast China, Southwest China, and Shanxi. Provincial education commissions and education bureaus in the prefectures and counties are responsible for teacher education under their purview, and they are expected to implement the policies formulated by the central government.

The system of teacher education comprises two distinct subsystems: pre-service and in-service. Pre-service education is housed in monotechnic colleges or shifan xueyuan (specialized teacher education institutions), which enjoy a unique status within the overall education system. The lowest level of the pre-service subsystem recruits trainees from among junior secondary school graduates who are trained to be kindergarten and primary school teachers. This structure originated from the teacher education system that was first established in 1897 and heavily influenced by Japanese and German models. Because of the need for large numbers of teachers at various levels of schooling, the Chinese government, in different periods, still favored the hierarchical, monotechnic, and specialized teacher education system. In 1953, the Ministry of Education stipulated a three-tier system of pre-service teacher education: normal universities for the large administrative zones, teachers colleges in provinces and metropolitan cities, and junior colleges and secondary normal schools of various types at township and county levels.

The in-service teacher education is designed to provide unqualified teachers with appropriate training and education credentials. It is organized into four levels: provincial college of education; county or city college or teachers' advancement college; county teachers' school; and town and village teachers' supervisory center. Every level has specific target trainees. Provincial colleges are responsible for training senior high school teachers; county or city colleges for junior high school teachers; county teachers' school for primary and kindergarten teachers; and town and village teachers' center for teachers for their own geographic areas. The in-service courses are offered on a part-time basis and are more flexible in length and format. They also tend to accommodate the needs of individual groups of teachers. Sometimes, in-service institutions also organize research to address local problems.

The government maintains strict control over the teacher education curriculum and the SEC outlines the curriculum framework for all normal institutions, as well as specifies basic teaching hours and promotes the standardization of instructional materials by producing national course books for teacher trainees. The normal education curriculum is comprised of five major components: foundation courses, including politics, moral education, second languages and physical education; professional education courses, consisting of pedagogy, psychology, philosophy, history of education, sociology and so forth; subject matter specialization that replicates the major academic subjects in the secondary school curriculum; optional courses, such as art appreciation, computer literacy, counseling and extracurricular activities; and the teaching practicum, which is divided into a two-week and six-week block in the third and fourth year respectively. Besides setting development targets for the teaching training system, the Chinese Communist Party seeks to reaffirm the political and ideological orientation of teacher education, which is "to cultivate cultured persons as teachers with lofty ideals, high morality, strong discipline, and a sense of mission as educators, the engineers of the human soul and the gardeners of the nation's flowers" (Leung and Hui 2000).

Unlike the United States and many other countries, China traditionally has had no system of teacher certification. It was assumed, rather, that teachers were qualified by the professional training they received in their teacher education program. However, due to dramatic influx of untrained teachers in the Cultural Revolution decade, many teachers have not received pre-service preparation and have no claim to technical qualifications. Thus, in the mid-and-late 1980s, the government tried to directly reshape the teaching force through a system of teacher examinations and credentials.

The examinations are standardized for secondary teachers by the central government, while examinations for elementary teachers are the responsibility of each province. The system has a potentially powerful impact as it was designed to be coordinated with teacher ranking and salaries from 1989 on. Generally speaking, primary teachers should have at least graduated from the secondary normal schools or senior secondary schools; junior secondary schoolteachers should at least have a teaching diploma from the junior teachers colleges, while senior secondary teachers should be graduates of the normal universities and teachers colleges or degree holders from other tertiary institutions (Epstein 1991).

The state-paid teachers are categorized into grades according to their years of service and their standard of performance. In 1980, the Chinese government introduced a five-grade system. The highest grade is the super-grade teachers, who occupy 5 percent of the teaching force. The other grades, in descending order, are the senior, first, second, and third grade teachers. In 1990, only 6 percent of secondary teachers belonged to the senior grade, while the majority of secondary teachers were in the second grade. Most primary teachers were in the senior grade and first grade. This pattern of distribution of grades of teachers illustrates that the teaching force at the primary level is more experienced and older than that of secondary school teachers.

The lack of qualified teachers has been a serious problem in China since economic reforms started in the 1980s. Although the in-service teacher education system has contributed significantly to alleviating the problem, the national situation is far from satisfactory. There are two major factors accounting for the inconsistency in the demand for and supply of teachers. First, there is a general reluctance on the part of secondary school graduates to become teacher trainees since the reform of the Chinese economy opened up better paying opportunities for young people. Teacher remuneration became relatively unappealing in comparison with other state-paid occupations, not to mention the more lucrative jobs in the private sectors or foreign-invested enterprises. In 1991, the average annual income of state-paid occupations was 2,563 yuan, but the annual salary of the teaching profession averaged only 2,257 yuan and it ranked among the bottom third of the twelve major categories of occupations. Furthermore, it was not uncommon to see the delayed payment of teachers in the countryside and poor areas. Some villages and townships even paid teachers various factory or farm products instead of cash. Moreover, teachers were seriously deprived of fringe welfare benefits, such as good housing quarters, traveling, and medical care allowances that are critical in Chinese society.

The second factor accounting for the shortage of teachers is the internal efficiency of the school system and the teacher training system in general. The training capacity of the existing normal universities and teachers colleges has reached a maximum level, with an average of 28,000 trainees per institution. Most of these institutions are suffering from overcrowding and large class sizes, yet a proportion of the expansion in enrollment is taken up by non-normal specialties, as schools desperately try to attract more able students by offering more popular specialties such as finance, international trade, law, business management, accounting, and marketing.

The unique aspect of China's teacher training system is the rigid regulation of teacher education by the state and the Communist Party within the context of an economy and labor market that is experiencing a rapid reduction in the degree of state control. Because education remains a state-run business there has been a subtle change in terms of people's perception of teaching profession since the end of the twentieth century. Some young people started to view teaching as a guaranteed job with a stable income (although not very high), and it is better than facing uncertainties in private sectors. The teaching profession is gradually climbing up the occupational ladder. In the twenty-first century, China plans to implement system of teacher certification. After having their diploma and teaching experiences reviewed, current teachers should obtain their certificates quickly. For those who plan to choose teaching as their career, they will need to pass examinations on several educationrelated courses, such as education, psychology, and Mandarin.

Teacher education suffered severe setback during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976 when anti-intellectualism reached its climax. With the death of Mao Zedong, Chinese leaders once again emphasized the importance of teacher education in order to achieve nine-year compulsory education and the nation's grand modernization scheme. In 1987 the Chinese government established a national Teachers' Day on September 10 to honor the teaching profession. Despite the fact that teachers experience the ups and downs and receive low pay for their job, they enjoy unquestionable authority when they deliver knowledge to their students. The universal assumption in Chinese society is that the teacher tells the single and absolute truth, and the job of the students is to absorb the knowledge conveyed by the teacher without question. While some subjects (such as English, geometry, or algebra) provide more opportunities for students to practice or to drill, the structure of the lessons, their pace, and the nature of questioning are all determined by the teachers, who control the nature of classroom interactions. The most common experience for students is to go through the forty-five minute period without talking once, without being called on individually, or without asking a question. Students are taught that important knowledge comes from teachers and textbooks; that learning involves listening, thinking, and silent practice; and that the knowledge espoused by teachers and textbooks is not to be challenged, despite the lack of connection between course material and the immediate lives of the students.

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Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceChina - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education