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Yunnan - China

Both teacher and ‘mother’

Yang is a teacher in a rural boarding school in Yunnan province in China. During her (more than) 14-hour long work days she is not only a teacher but also plays the role as mother to the children who are often homesick. Her hope is to change the lives of the children for the better.

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Maidi Primary School is a boarding school located at Yangjiang Township, Yangbi County in Dali city, Yunnan. It takes about two hours’ drive from the nearest town to this school and the road is very bumpy and can become dangerous with landslides during heavy rainy days.

Almost half of the 610 students live at the boarding school, with only 30 teachers to take care of their academic performance and daily life.

Math teacher Yang Yingping, who has been teaching for 18 years, finds her job “fulfilling and meaningful”.

“I do believe that if you work hard and are a nice person, you can break the poverty cycle and change students’ life for the better,” she says.


 I work six days around the clock every week in the school. So basically, this school is my home 

Challenges of teaching in rural China

As most teachers in rural China, Yang has been using traditional teaching methods in her classes where the teacher talks while students passively listen most of the time. Compared with their urban counterparts, village school teachers have lower qualification and far less training opportunities.

“As my students are from rural areas, their parents, who are usually poor educated, can hardly help them with their school work,” says Yang, adding it is hard for her to pay attention to every student in the classroom with more than 50 students. 

Child-centered teaching skills

To improve teaching quality in rural boarding schools, Save the Children has organized the first “Training for Trainers” workshop for more than 90 teachers from 25 BESTSELLER FOUNDATION project schools in May, 2016. Anne-Sophie Dybdal, Psychologist and Senior Child Protection Advisor at Save the Children explains why the child-centered approach is important: “Child-centered education draws on children’s own experiences and enhances cooperation in the peer group. It also activates different areas of children’s brains and can provide a lasting motivation and confidence to learn new things”, she says.

The training focuses on teaching skills such as active listening, participatory studying, and intensive group work. Yang enthusiastically took part in the workshop. “I think by using various teaching methods, my students can be more engaged in class. They respond pretty well with new teaching methods. And as a result, their academic performance can be improved,” Yang says.

A teacher and a mother

Working hours in China’s boarding schools are unbelievably long and demanding. Teacher Yang works from 6:00 AM to 8:30PM every school day and the teachers take turns in taking care of the children while they sleep and eat.

“My main and most important role in the boarding school is being a mother,” she says.

Students in this rural area can only go home once every week, while, a large number of them are left-behind children, who may only see their parents once or twice a year at most.

“Separation from parents and siblings can, for a child, be compared to grief in an adult. It can lead to loneliness, anxiety and high levels of stress. This is sometimes called being homesick. Being homesick can affect the memory, concentration and also affect the self-esteem and motivation of the growing child,” Anne-Sophie Dybdal explains.

Yang has also realized how profound the negative impact of long-term separation with parents on a child can be from students she taught.

“One boy in my class is really naughty and sometimes causes trouble. We have to call and ask his parents to come to the school during school days to discuss issues raised by their son. However, parents’ school visits did not make any difference. Once I talked with the boy to figure out why he kept his bad behaviors,” she says.

“He later revealed that only in this way, he could meet his parents more often instead of seeing them only once a week. So I realized it was because the boy was homesick,” she stresses.