Meet Chen Haiping, the fingerless "ghost school" guardian

Source:Xinhua Published: 2018/1/12 14:20:37

Spending 27 years alone, teaching students in a small, remote school would be a tough task for any ordinary person, let alone for a fingerless man, but Chen Haiping, 51, has made it.

A teacher at a village school in north China's Shanxi Province, Chen was selected as a role model in a campaign launched by e-commerce giant Alibaba last week, and the story of his selflessness held up as an example to all.

Born without fingers and toes, Chen met the principal of Liujiashan Village School by chance in 1990 and became a substitute teacher as teachers in rural areas were in desperately short supply at that time.

"I was 23 years old then. Nobody recruited me after I had graduated from a junior high school. The job provided me a monthly wage of 50 yuan (around 8 US dollars). I was very satisfied," Chen said.

To be a good teacher, he has overcome many obstacles. He had to get rid of his accent and make his Mandarin more standard to teach the Chinese phonetic alphabet pinyin. He got up early and attended a bigger school 10 km away to learn from teachers there and returned to his school before class started.

But the biggest challenge was to write on the chalkboard. Without fingers, he had to hold the chalk between his palms to write.

"It was a painful process. I got blisters on palms, and the chalk dropped to the ground all the time," Chen recalled.

Located on a hillside in Liulin County, his school is very different today to how it was over 20 years ago.

The two-storey building that was once alive with 100 or more chattering students now sees a total attendance of only seven -- Chen, who is the teacher, cook and cleaner, and his six students, three of them pre-schoolers.

Chen teaches them all in the same classroom.

The situation of Chen's school is not unusual. As migrant parents take their children with them to cities, fewer students attend village schools. A government report said that over 60 percent of children aged between six and 15 live with their migrant worker parents by the end of 2013.

In the early 2000s, some rural schools closed or merged to improve conditions. Most village kids were sent to schools in towns or cities. A very few were left in "ghost schools" like Chen's because the journey to a bigger school is too long or arduously expensive.

"The quality of education in 'ghost schools' is not as good as in bigger ones, but they are still important. Without them, some students would drop out," Chen said.

Feng Qiangqiang, 11, is the oldest student in the school. His stepfather, a coal miner, is never home, and his mother is chronically ill.

"The family is unable to send him to a better school," Chen said. This is part of the reason why he refuses to leave. Local educational authority once transferred him to another school, but he soon returned.

Chen was surprised to be chosen as a role model and delighted to be awarded 5,000 yuan, more than twice of his monthly salary.

But the joy was short-lived. He worries he may be the last guardian of his school as the tough conditions scare good teachers off.

"I will keep teaching even if there is only one student left," he said.

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