But equipped with a middle school education and a correspondence course from a vocational teaching school, Sun devoted herself to filling a desperate need for teachers in the countryside. She earned $1.60 a month when she began teaching in 1974 and collected a stack of awards and honors over the years. As one of the hundreds of thousands of nonprofessional, or “barefoot,” teachers in this country — peasants with little more than a vocational school certificate who help teach their impoverished neighbors — Sun was part of a special time in Chinese history.
Several years ago, however, government officials announced they wanted to raise the standard of rural education. And now, although many barefoot teachers have qualified to become professionals, Sun and thousands like her have been cast aside. Some have lost their jobs; others, their pride.[Full Text]