2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
Teachers College Columbia University

TC Media Center from the Office of External Affairs

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China's Unsung Education Hero

They may not know it, but millions of children in rural China have TC faculty member Mun Tsang to thank for their education.

In 1993, at a conference convened by the World Bank, Tsang called attention to a major problem: China’s decision to decentralize its economy and public financing had left poor rural villages responsible for funding their own schools. Many lacked the necessary resources, and when they passed the cost on to local parents in the form of “miscellaneous fees,” families simply kept their children (especially girls) at home.

In subsequent papers in the Economics of Education Review and the Harvard Education Review, Tsang called for China to institute a “regularized, substantial and transparent scheme of intergovernmental funding” for China’s poorest schoolchildren. And from 2002 to 2005, he himself raised grants from the Charles Schulz Foundation and other sources that provided 5,100 scholarships for the poorest children in rural areas of Yunnan Province.  

The program was so successful that in 2006, China’s central government announced a similar program effort nationwide. Since 2007, the Central Ministry of Finance has provided over 240 billion yuan (about $35 billion US) in additional funding to compulsory education—nine years of primary and lower-secondary school—so that China’s poorest children are exempted from paying miscellaneous school fees. The program serves from 5 -10 percent of the country’s 120 million primary students and 65 million lower-secondary students.

Tsang’s work is just one example of TC’s longstanding global focus.  In the early 1900s, the College was the birthplace of the field of international and comparative education.  In the 1920s, through what was then the College’s International Institute, a star-studded cast of scholars traveled and studied education systems in countries around the world.  Over the years, TC has launched ground-breaking teacher training and curriculum development programs in East Africa (work that served as precursor to the Peace Corps) and Afghanistan; operated a branch campus in Japan; launched one of the world’s leading programs in TESOL (the teaching of English to speakers of other languages) 

Still, no country has been a greater or more constant focus for TC than China. During the early 20th century, the College drew a group of remarkable Chinese students who subsequently returned home to modernize their nation’s education system. Among them were Zhang Boling (later Chair of China’s National Advisory Council, and President of Nankai University); Jiang Menglin (later Secretary General of the Executive Yuan and Minister of Education, as well as President of Peking University) and, most famously, Tao Xingzhi , who founded the Morning Village Normal School in Nanjing, which trained rural teachers and functioned as the center of all political, social and economic activity in the community.  

Today, the College – together with the China Center for International Educational Exchange and the University of International Relations in Beijing -- operates year-long Pre-College Program that readies top Chinese students to apply to the best U.S. schools. Individual faculty do work in China that ranges from helping museums and art schools rethink their roles to helping China create community colleges that can serve the nation’s vast population of migrant workers.

"Appreciation for the discipline and tradition of Chinese education is growing throughout the United States,” said TC President Susan Fuhrman told an audience in Beijing during a spring 2010 visit. “Our two education systems are moving closer together.”  And, just as it did more than century ago, Teachers College is paving the way.

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