The Jack Ma Foundation has announced a ten-year, 300 million yuan ($45 million) commitment in support of future teachers in rural areas of China.
The Rural Pre-Service Teacher Initiative will provide select graduates of teacher-training universities in Sichuan, Chongqing, Hunan, and Jiling provinces who teach in rural schools with grants of 100,000 yuan ($15,110) over five years as well as training support. An initial investment of 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) in the inaugural cohort of a hundred recipients will be initiated in January, with the pool of participating schools and grant amounts expected to grow annually thereafter. The only way to improve rural education, said Ma, a co-founder of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, is to encourage top graduates from teacher-training programs in China to become educators in rural villages and towns, where an entire generation of teachers is aging out of the profession.
A 2015 study by Beijing Normal University found that low salary — averaging 2,500 yuan ($378) a month — and a feeling of isolation were the biggest hurdles in retaining young teachers in rural schools. As part of the initiative, the foundation will leverage Alibaba technology to create an online community where new rural teachers and teachers-in-training can ask questions and get answers from top-tier teachers in other parts of the country.
Ma, who was an English teacher before he founded Alibaba, also launched two programs for working teachers and headmasters in remote areas in recent years. “Wherever the problem is, that's where opportunity lies,” said Ma. “Rural education may be the best place to see a breakthrough in China's education.”