Educational Equality or Social Mobility: The Value Conflict between Preservice Teachers and the Free Teacher Education Program in China

May. 01, 2013

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 32, May 2013, pages 66-74.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In 2007, the Chinese government piloted the Free Teacher Education (FTE) program in the top normal universities with the aim to enlist high-quality young graduates to join the teaching profession and to improve education in underdeveloped rural regions.

This research inquires into the values held by FTE students by answering the following research questions:
(1) What are the motivations of students in joining the program?
(2( What are their attitudes toward working in rural schools?
(3) How does the professional training process influence their social commitment?

This study is based on in-depth interviews with 19 students enrolled in the FTE program.
All 19 respondents attended one of the six universities piloting the program, which is located in western China.


Discussion and conclusions

The interviews show that university prestige and rank were the top concern in these students’ choice of programs, followed by the advantage of guaranteed employment offered by FTE policy. In terms of attitudes toward rural positions, the respondents were mostly resistant to long-term service in rural schools.
The FTE program may thus face severe challenges in retaining these teachers in rural areas.

These findings exhibit a value conflict between the students’ educational purposes and the goals of the FTE program.
While the program aims at educational equality, the majority of the respondents are driven to join the program and to make their career choices primarily by the goal of upward social mobility.
Finally, this inquiry into students’ learning experiences exposes the lack of proper guidance on values in the FTE program, which leaves the value conflict unresolved in the professional training process.

The discourse of social mobility internalized by most students in the study inherently confirms the social inequality and educational hierarchy.
The respondents associated themselves with the elite and the privileged.
In a way, the hierarchy in the higher education system, thus contributes to reinforcing, reproducing, and legitimizing social inequalities.
In this sense, the FTE program is embedded in the unequal social and educational systems and has a contradiction of values built into the design of the program.

This research makes a special contribution by revealing the ambivalence and moral struggles experienced by the students.
The rural students in particular, because of their own experiences in disadvantaged rural areas, were naturally sympathetic to the social transformational purpose of the FTE program.

In conclusion, this study argues that the curriculum of the FTE program needs to be reformed to combat the social mobility discourse and to include social equity and justice as essential components.

Updated: Oct. 27, 2014