An SNNUer's Three Years in West Yunnan
Those days were a hard time for Zheng Peng when he first arrived at Jinggu county in the west part of China's southwest Yunnan province. A teacher of Shaanxi Normal University, he gave up the comfortable environment of a university and joined the university's counterpart aid program to become an interim deputy country chief of Jinggu county, a remote mountainous county mostly inhabited by Dai and Yi ethnic minority groups. For better communicating with local villagers, he had to change his northern Shaanxi accent and begin to learn the southwest dialect. He was not a good drinker, but he purposefully practiced drinking more in order to become integrated with them. But what most unforgettable for him was the three-month visit to the ten towns in Jinggu county. "During the first few visits, I felt a little dizzy when I looked outside the van as it ran on the zigzag country road. But I got used to it soon." said Zheng Peng. Although the country road was dangerous, he completed his visit.
After the visit, Zheng had thorough knowledge of Jinggu county's status. He found out that the education there was very behind. Many of local residents did not give enough care to children's education, nor did teachers give enough devotion to their work. He was troubled with this and thought about it even late into the night. When he came up with some ideas, he consulted with local educational bureau and participated in the compilation of the Survey Report of Jinggu Education. A report which comprehensively and objectively analyzed the current situation and existing problems of teaching quality of local senior high school education and put forth the suggestion of "Strengthening teaching staff development and improving teacher's welfare", based on the recognition of prioritized development of education. The Jinggu educational bureau recognized the feasibility of this opinion and introduced some new measures. "After the new measures were introduced, teachers could receive 100% salary instead of the previous 70% and local government also appropriated 10 million yuan fund for educational reform. Teachers' initiative had risen." said Pu'er city mayor Zhang Ruolei, who was head of CPC Jinggu Branch.
The backwardness of the educational administration also had an impact on students' admission rate in college entrance exam. Only less than 20 students from the county got admitted to first-tier universities in 2013. Zheng Peng just could not live with this fact. "I found out from my visit and later surveys that Jinggu had not introduced teachers from outside for almost ten years and the schools are seriously understaffed." said Zheng Peng, "At this moment, I immediately thought about my university. We have many tuition-free teacher-training students at Shaanxi Normal University and I can ask them to come and teach at Jinggu." He reached out to SNNU and set up an internship base for tuition-free teacher-training students at Jinggu. In September that year, 42 SNNU students, led by Mr. Lu Zhongyang of School of Life Science, arrived at Jinggu and began their three-month teaching internship at Jinggu First Middle School, Jinggu Second Middle School and Jinggu Minority Middle School. "When we came to the school, we didn't expect to be in such a harsh teaching environment. The minority middle school was short of English teachers so I had to teach junior grade one English as a life science major. I taught fourteen classes a week and I also looked after students during their evening self-study. When I looked at the innocent and expecting faces of my students, I knew they needed us." said Lian Xiang, one of the SNNU student teachers.
"Many schools in Jinggu don't have a sports field or even an enclosure wall. Some school libraries don't have several decent books." exclaimed Zheng Peng. He managed to obtain RMB 1.28 million yuan from China Education Development Foundation and used the money to build sports fields and enclosures for eight schools. In the meantime, he sought help from teachers in other counterpart-aid programs to obtain 30,000 books from Zhejiang University and Ministry of Education's Equipment Center, which were given to ten local schools. "We used to have very few students reading in our library. Now with the donated new books, more and more students are coming to read." said Li Jiang, principal of Jinggu Second Middle School.
Change in educational concepts and school administration is slower and more difficult that improvement in educational resources. Zheng Peng came back to SNNU during one National Day holiday, but he did not come back just for vacation. He visited Prof. Zhang Xiongfei, who was in charge of the research project "An Experiment Study of Inquiring Learing Method". Invited by Zheng Peng, the 75-year old Prof. Zhang visited Jinggu twice and brought with him his advanced teaching methodology. Prof. Zhang also invited Mr. Xu Dehai and Mr. Liu Chuanyin, both vice principals of Shandong Yanggu Second Middle School to help improve school administration. With these efforts, administration of Jinggu schools became more organized and regulated.
Jinggu county abounds in tropical rain forests, broad-leaved forests and Pu'er coniferous forests, but the rich forestry resources did not contribute much to local economic development. Zheng Peng was worried about this. "I always wanted to turn the knowledge I learned into productivity. Jinggu gave me the chance." He visited many natural reserves in Jinggu and found the environment there was suitable for growing medicinal plants. "As a doctoral candidate of the National Engineering Lab for Northwestern Endangered Medicinal Plant Resources Development, it's my obligation to have this done." said Zheng Peng. He invited the lab director Prof. Wang Zhezhi to visit Jinggu to do a field survey. After consultation and planning with local forestry bureau, work was begun to plant rare medicinal plants 4,000 mu (267 hectares) land. He also reached out to famous pharmaceutical companies such as Sunflower Pharmaceutical Group, Buchang Pharmaceutical Group and Guangzhou Pharmaceuticals Corporation to help sell the medicinal plants, and also in an effort to push forward the development of GAP Medicinal Base. He also tried to promote Jinggu's featured industrial projects with Xi'an Qujiang National Cultural Industry Demonstration Zone. Presently, projects of Jinggu's cultural and tourism industry, coordinated urban and rural development and new urbanization development are being planned or under construction.
Zheng Peng has lived in west Yunnan and he is now a senior secretary of Pu'er city mayor. "It's my honor to be of service to west Yunnan. Working here is a challenge to my abilities as well as a valuable experience for me." said Zheng Peng, "I am an man of SNNU and I will do more, do better here."