This evening, Catherine (Yin Ying) will be arriving here from southern Luzhou city (loo-joe), my former teaching placement with the Amity Foundation. I taught at Luzhou Vocational and Technical College for 5 years and will be returning there once again after the summer. In order to do so, Catherine (the college’s new foreign affairs director) must submit my documentation to the provincial government office here in Chengdu. After 20 days, a formal invitation letter to teach in Luzhou will be issued to me. I then return to America to apply for a Chinese work visa. Work visas can only be issued outside of China, thus the return to America is necessary.
Here is a good time to introduce you to the Luzhou Vocational and Technical College so you’ll have a little understanding as to where I will be returning in August, especially if you are followers of this site. (To learn more about Amity Foundation teachers, check out the website: www.amityfoundation.org.)
Luzhou Vocational and Technical College (LVTC) is located on the outskirts of Luzhou (loo-joe, pop. 3 million) in southern Sichuan Province. The small campus is directly next to the Yangtze River and rests on a high bluff. In other words, it’s a very nostalgic, traditional view of China and there’s no fear of flooding as we’re so high up.
The current school is a 2002 merger between three colleges in the city: Water Resource and Electrical Power College, Luzhou Educational Institute and Luzhou Teacher’s College. Two campuses were sold and the last, along the Yangtze, is the current one which is used today. It is where the former Luzhou Teacher’s College was located.
About 3-year Colleges
Colleges in China are divided into many categories. Luzhou Vocational and Technical College is a 2-year and 3-year institution, meaning that it gives certificates of graduation, not degrees. Only 4-year universities/colleges in China can give degrees.
Years ago in China, only the top students who had high entrance examination test scores could attend higher educational institutions, which were namely 4-year universities. The government likewise paid for their schooling. Now, however, students entering universities must pay themselves ($800 – $1,000 per year). Also, because a greater number of students is being admitted to universities, test scores do not have to be quite as high as before although they still must be high enough to pass the given university entrance examination cut-offs.
The 2-day university entrance examination, taken by high school seniors, means everything. A poor test score leaves one with little choice but to take the test again the next year or choose a lower-rank school.
Many students in China from countryside schools, which offer a poorer quality of education, or those who have difficulty taking standardized tests, are left with very low entrance examination scores. It’s impossible for them to attend a university so they settle for 3-year schools. Some students also have no intention of going on to study after high school but their parents force them into it, insisting they need more education to get a better job. Therefore, they end up at 2 or 3-year vocational schools to study a trade.
The students attending colleges such as LVTC are often not the best or the brightest. Some work extremely hard in their studies and do very well; others just float through in disappointment at their “bad luck” in attending a low-level school. Still others don’t really care about getting an education so this becomes their “play time,” so to speak.
Students at these colleges are also among the poorest in China. At LVTC, a majority of the students are from the countryside. Their parents are farmers who make as little as $50 – $70 a month. They have saved and borrowed money throughout their entire lives to see their child enter school, especially as many parents are illiterate. In some cases, my students in Luzhou said their parents had only a 4th grade education or none at all. In fact, they are the very first child in the family’s history to have an education.
While costs for LVTC are comparitively lower than a well-known 4-year institution, they are still a great financial burden on farming families. Depending on the major and field of study, tuition costs are 3,000 – 5,000 yuan per year ($430 – $714), not including housing, books or food. English majors in education pay 4,000 per year ($517).
Amity Teachers Teach Only English Education Majors
There are many areas of study to gain a 2-year or 3-year certificate. These include industrial arts, mechanics, art, computer, management, business, dance, music, and teaching.
Amity Foundation teachers only teach English majors who will one day be teachers themselves. Currently in China’s city schools, 4th grade to sophomores in university are required to study English. In the countryside schools, currently junior high and high school are required to have daily English classes. However, with new reforms, this will change to include the lower grade levels as well.
Why is English so important? Currently in the world, English is the main language for business ventures, international consulation affairs, medical and scientific field research, and computers. To produce young people to enter such fields and excel, China is fully aware they must start young. Also, the university entrance examination has a large testing portion on English language ability. Due to this, the teaching of English in China is extremely important, especially for those in the lower grade levels. A strong foundation in studying English with a good teacher will only increase their chances to eventually receive better test scores and better opportunities in their future.
This is why the government is pushing to improve the education level of new and veteran English language teachers. Amity Foundation teachers, being native speakers and qualified in their fields of education, are needed much more for these education majors than for English business majors or others studying English for other purposes.
Teaching Certificates Awarded: 2-year and 3-year
In Chinese gradeschools, one teacher does not teach all subjects him/herself but specializes in one subject only, as they do in U.S. grades 7 – 12. English majors, therefore, will only be teaching English to their students.
There are several teaching certificates awarded in China. As I understand it, a 2-year study of English will allow a graduate to teach English in kindergarten, usually with the many after-school private language schools that are popping up all over the country. Parents wanting their kids to get a head-start in language learning usually enroll their children in these evening or weekend programs.
A 3-year certificate, however, allows graduates to teach in public grade schools and some junior high schools. High school teachers are required to have a BA degree but because many of those enrolled in LVTC are from the countryside, they most likely will return to their hometowns to teach even at the high school level. No BA degree holder is going to want to return to his/her hometown where conditions are poor and opportunities to make money are nearly impossible. Thus, many in the LVTC English department’s teaching program will teach in high school in their hometown schools, only because there is no one else to do so.
Stats For The College
1) Current student population: 8000
2) Number of students living on campus: 5500
3) Number of students living off campus: 2500
4) Number of faculty on campus: 345
Stats for English Language Department
1) Number of faculty in the English department: 35 Chinese English-language teachers, who are required to teach English to all 8,000 students, not
just English majors (Remember, English teaching is a requirement of all institutions up to sophomores in college or university)
2) Number of native English foreign language teachers: 0
(For over a year, there has been no native speaker to help with teaching, curriculum
development or extra-curricular English language activities. This is the major reason
why I requested a return to Luzhou)
3) English Majors in Education: 500
4) English Majors in Business: 100
There are thousands of colleges such as Luzhou Vocational and Technical College throughout China, all of them struggling to snatch up high school graduates to come to their institutions. Years ago, the government assigned jobs to individuals but now in China, you’re on your own. Finding a job in your field is now becoming extremeley difficult. Many with university MA and BA degrees can’t find a decent position due to the competition. Some wind up as shop assistants or even street cleaners. For those in vocational schools, it becomes even more difficult as they search out positions which are easily filled by millions of others who have similar college certificates. Luckily enough, our English majors in education will always be able to get a job somewhere in a small community but it’s a hard life. The pay is extremely low ($70 – $90 a month), the classes are packed (70 – 90 students), the workload tiring and the hours long, plus the school conditions are poor (only desks and chairs in the classroom, no computers or tape recorders and certainly no necessary supplies to supplement curriculum).
Despite the difficulties, the dedication of many LVTC students wanting to enter the teaching field is truly touching. They honestly feel they can make a difference in the lives of their students and their country. This is probably the one reason why so many of us in Amity feel moved to teach in such smaller institutions. Our students motivate us, making us better teachers and better people for having known them.
From Chengdu, soon to be moving on to Luzhou, wishing you an evening "Ping An!" (Peace)