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'Silver-haired' teachers return to classrooms in western areas

By Zhao Yimeng | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-27 09:19

National initiative recruits retirees to make up for shortfall in educators

It has been three years since Li Ming came out of retirement and returned to a classroom in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region.

Before retirement, the 66-year-old law lecturer used to work at Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, as well as China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing.

In 2021, he answered a national call that encourages retired teachers to return to classrooms to support the development of universities in western regions.

The initiative, known as the National Silver-Age Teacher Action Plan, aims to make up for a shortage of teachers, especially at newly established universities in western areas, according to the Ministry of Education.

The plan was launched in 2018 for primary and secondary schools and expanded to higher institutes in 2020. So far, more than 20,000 retired teachers from primary and secondary schools and 1,400 retired university lecturers have been recruited, the ministry said in a circular last month.

It is expected that about 120,000"silver-age" teachers will be at teaching positions covering higher, vocational, basic and lifelong education in three years time, according to the initiative.

Li's parents were among the founders of the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in 1950, which later became a leading platform for legal studies in the country. When a new law university was established in western China, Li thought it was his turn to make a contribution.

"As an experienced and retired law lecturer, we not only complete regular teaching assignments, but make more efforts to instruct young teachers for their future development," Li said, adding that sustainable education development is necessary in the region.

Students from ethnic groups in Xinjiang lag far behind their counterparts in the capital in terms of basic legal knowledge, but the disparity can be reduced by taking advantage of their rich ethnic relics, Li said.

When he was a lecturer at Southwest University of Political Science and Law, he had access to legal resources in ethnic regions, such as customary laws and the law on regional national autonomy.

"Given the diverse ethnic background of students, legal education in Xinjiang focuses on clauses related to their life and the cases happening around them," Li said.

Although they lack legal theory, students from ethnic groups can better understand legislation through cultural relics and research cases. "These resources are rich thanks to geographical advantages in the region," he said.

The lecturer hasn't returned to his hometown in Southwest China's Sichuan province since he came out of retirement, and instead conducted research in Kashgar and Tumxuk during his winter vacation to learn about the development of ethnic groups and organize lectures for local communities.

The results of his research have become teaching references for the new semester. The presentations of his courses are usually shown on two screens, one with teaching outlines and the other with pictures of relics he has collected and traditional customs he has observed.

"The best way to tell legal history is to let history speak for itself," he said.

Retired teachers like Li have been welcomed by college students as the quality of their teaching often goes beyond their expectations.

These students are encouraged to stay in the region after graduation and find a job in the local legal system to supplement the talent gap with eastern China, Li said.

"I don't feel any burden teaching after retirement. Life between 60 and 70 years old is the second golden era. My happiness has grown from teaching and my teaching career," Li said.

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