Almost every day, Mi Famei climbs the mountain to reach the school at the top and quietly places the lunch, which she prepares for her daughter, in the school’s dining hall.
During her daily visits, she often sees teacher Yang Wenqing busily shuttling back and forth between three classrooms to supervise her 22 students.
Yang is the only teacher of this small-scale school, more precisely a teaching center, located in Dengyunzhai village, Luxi county, Central China’s Hunan province.
The tiny school was specially built for this remote rural area with a sparse and scattered population. The school arranges different graders from the neighboring areas into one single class.
Situated in a mountainous region with poor transportation, the village cast off poverty in 2016. It is the home to many “left-behind children”, as young and middle-aged villagers have migrated to work in the coastal cities.
“Currently, 15 of the 22 students in our school are ‘left-behind kids’,” Yang says.
The 53-year-old teacher volunteered to come to Dengyunzhai a decade ago when Luxi county set up its highest altitude teaching center to facilitate education among the school-age children in the vicinity.
“Someone has to be there,” Yang says. “The purpose of the teaching center is to provide pre-school care and educate the pupils in the first and second grades. When our students are able to go to the regular primary school 4 kilometers away on their own, they will be enrolled in higher grades.
“I separated the second-grade students from the first-grade and kindergarten kids,” says Yang, adding that she splits her 40-minute class time between the students of different grades.
Besides Chinese and math, Yang is also responsible for at least two music and art classes a week. In order to better teach the students, she attended training programs for music teachers organized by local authorities. “Although I am the only teacher here, children should learn nothing less,” she says.
In Luxi county, there are 128 similar schools, including 18 teaching centers with only one student, and 96 such centers with only one teacher. Nationwide, there are 96,500 such small schools, or teaching centers, to ensure all children could enjoy the benefits of education.
“Education can change the fate of these students. The better foundation I lay for them, the brighter future they can have through further study,” Yang says.
Yang’s work has paid off. For years, the academic results of her students are among the best in the whole county. She has successfully cultivated more than 100 children, who later went on to pursue higher education.
“Limited by inadequate facilities, insufficient teachers and other factors, many rural mountainous regions lack favorable conditions in developing education,” says Tan Zihao, director of the county’s education and sports bureau.
“We are very strict about the teaching quality in the existing centers to make sure rural children can also attain a sound basic education,” Tan says.
At 4 pm every school day, Yang walks out of the classroom and rings the school bell. Upon hearing the bell, the students line up orderly to return home.
After the students leave, Yang carefully cleans the classrooms. She is always the last one to leave the school.
“For the sake of the children, I think I can work in the teaching center for another 10 years,” Yang says.