The Jack Ma Foundation has announced grants totaling RMB20 million ($2.85 million) in support of rural educators in China.
As part of a ten-year, RMB200 million ($30 million) initiative launched by the foundation in 2016, a hundred teachers will receive Rural Teachers Awards of up to RMB100,000 ($14,400) over three years, while twenty school headmasters will receive Rural Headmasters Awards of RMB200,000 ($29,000) as well as an additional RMB300,000 ($43,000) for training and overseas study trips.
While literacy rates in China among those age 15 and up have improved from 65 percent in 1982 to 96 percent in 2018, progress nationwide remains uneven, with the quality of rural education posing significant challenges. To address the urban-rural education gap, Ma, the foundation's founder and former chair and CEO of Internet giant Alibaba, emphasized the need to "train the trainers," with a focus on empowering the more than two hundred thousand headmasters of village schools in China to improve educational quality.
According to the foundation, rural headmasters face a number of challenges, including the challenge of improving student retention rates, which sometimes involves riding up to five hours on horseback to persuade nomadic families to keep their children in school. Undaunted, Aer Wuge, a teacher in Sichuan province, passed up the opportunity to teach in city schools and chose to stay close to home, earning less than $300 a month for teaching a class of seventy children. Her dream, said Aer, was to dedicate her career to teaching children left behind in villages by parents forced to leave home in search of jobs in cities.
"[Education reform] is not only a national challenge but a human challenge for every individual and household," said Ma, who worked as a teacher for six years before founding the Alibaba Group in 1999. "When I was a teacher, I behaved like an entrepreneur," he added. "I believe principals are the CEOs of their schools. They are the entrepreneurs of education."