Education Minister Chen Baosheng:Building a stronger teacher workforce

Source: Guangming Daily

At the 9th meeting of the Standing Committee of the 6th National People’s Congress held on January 1, 1985, the 10 September was officially designated as “Teachers’ Day”, in recognition of teacher contributions to and the importance of education. In the last 35 years, the Party Central Committee and the State Council have introduced and implemented a range of major policies and measures aimed at improving the moral integrity of teachers, as well as their professional qualifications, working conditions, career development prospects, social status and benefits.

Teacher workforce capacity building as a fundamental task

The Chinese nation traditionally has always had a culture of reverence toward teachers. Bearing in mind the old Chinese adages that “Kindness can be taught, and teachers have an essential role to play in this regard” and that “To rejuvenate a nation, teachers must be venerated first”, the Party has restored respect for teachers and the teaching profession among the general public to keep this tradition alive.

In the mid-1980s, the teacher workforce played an increasingly important, to some digree decisive, role in China’s efforts to open up and further reform its social and economic systems. The establishment of Teachers’ Day represented due recognition of the indispensable contributions made by teachers to the socialist cause, as well as their special social status. The Compulsory Education Law and the Teachers Law were promulgated to enshrine the professional status of teachers, safeguard their legitimate rights and interests, and institutionalize teacher workforce capacity building efforts.

In the 2000s, as China’s social and economic growth accelerated, talent increasingly became a strategic resource for supporting national rejuvenation and building international competitiveness. The Party and the central government timely introduced the national strategy of prioritizing technological, education and talent cultivation programs, in order to build a stronger China. Under this strategy, basic education was strengthened, and the fundamental role of teachers in education was given further weight.

Since the 18th CPC congress in 2012, building a skilled teacher workforce has been the overarching imperative for promoting educational development. The State Council issued the Opinions on Deepening Teacher Workforce Reforms in the New Era, which sets out new trends, tasks and requirements for building a vast pool of skilled teachers. This document serves as an action plan for building a teacher workforce adapted to the educational needs of a new era. At the National Education Conference held in 2018, it was decided that building a stronger teacher workforce be made a long-term essential task. 

Historic achievements in teacher workforce capacity development

In the last 35 years, China has achieved remarkable results in teacher workforce capacity development through relentless efforts. The change could be described as groundbreaking, comprehensive, historic and forward-looking.

The Party and the central government introduced a raft of policies, inputs and measures especially for attracting more people to the teaching profession and creating strong teacher pipelines. The teacher workforce has been replenished and is growing as a result, fully meeting the demand for teachers at all levels of education. In 2018, there were 16.7383 million full-time teachers working at different levels of education, marking an increase of 9.319 million in the workforce from 1985. The proportion of academically qualified full-time primary school teachers rose to 99.97 percent from 60.60 percent in 1985. During the same period, the academic qualification rate rose from 25.10 percent to 99.86 percent for full-time junior high school teachers, and from 39.6 percent to 98.41 percent for senior high school teachers.

Socialist values and moral integrity have been incorporated as a priority in teacher training programs, and professional qualifications and abilities have been placed at the core of capacity building efforts. Teachers have been guided to put students first in their day-to-day teaching, and encouraged to pursue life-long learning in order to stay competitive. Thanks to these efforts, the teacher workforce is now more specialized, diverse, professional and well-rounded. In the last two cycles of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), Shanghai teachers made headlines in the world by topping rankings in multiple categories. 

A favorable institutional environment has been created for teacher workforce development, with laws, regulations, policies, and special programs being constantly improved, providing a solid legal basis for the optimization of teacher workforce structure, capacity building, and innovation. In short, an all-inclusive policy system that covers teachers of all types and at all levels of education has been established, offering guidance on building a stronger teacher body.

A long-term mechanism has been established to increase teacher income steadily. In 2017, the education sector ranked 7th among the 19 major industries in the national economy in terms of average salary. Great efforts have been made in ensuring living allowances for rural teachers in extremely poor regions, and the salaries of rural teachers in general have been raised significantly, thus reducing the income gap between urban and rural teachers.

The social status of teaching profession has been raised, with a positive environment facilitated by the government for teachers to take pride in and stay committed to their job. The value of teachers is widely recognized with the emergence of a large number of national model and excellent teachers, whose touching stories have raised the visibility of teachers’ contribution to the society.

Writing a new chapter in teacher workforce development

China has entered a new era in which the new technological revolution is expected to fundamentally change ways of thinking and learning, posing severe challenges to teacher capacity and quality. To address these new challenges and support the country’s next stride towards its goal of national rejuvenation, the education system should step up its efforts in building a world-class teacher workforce.

First, party leadership must be maintained and strengthened to ensure the right political direction for teacher workforce development. Teachers have a major role to play in fostering the values and beliefs of the next generation. They carry the mission of training all-rounded workers who can contribute to the country’s future development. Therefore, strong political guidance needs to be given to teachers across the board, to inspire them to be good teachers with profound knowledge, strong ethics, kindness and responsibility.

Second, teacher capacity building should be regarded as the central task. The Code of Conduct for Teachers needs to be implemented to raise both the standards of morality and professional competence of teachers.

Third, more efforts are needed to advocate the respect for teaching as a profession, including prioritizing funding for teacher compensation improvement, safeguarding teachers’ rights and interests, reducing their workload, and supporting outstanding teachers’ life-long dedication to their teaching career.  

Finally, a unique roadmap with Chinese characteristics should be followed in strengthening the teacher workforce. China has its unique historical legacies and cultural traditions, which determines that teacher body development should seek its own road based on national conditions, while at the same time emphasizing a global vision and the courage to reform and innovate, with a view to building China into a modernized educational powerhouse.