“Our aim is to help change poverty-stricken people and to improve their lives,” Mr. Xu Shuolin, president of Aba Radio and TV University (Aba RTVU) and secretary of its Party Committee told the reporter cheerfully a few days ago while discussing the “Long March Belt” Project of the Open University of China (OUC).

The OUC (formerly China Central Radio and TV University) launched the Long March Belt Educational Project Targeted at Alleviating Poverty in April 2017. It plans to spend four years (from 2017 to 2020) conducting educational projects targeted at poverty alleviation in 25 national poverty-stricken counties in 12 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities along the route of the Long March taken by the Red Army. As the saying goes, “Education is prioritised as part of poverty reduction and the fight against ignorance comes before that against poverty.” Decades ago, the Long March decades created the sparks of Chinese revolution; how will education and knowledge today spark a light on the path of hope for people in old revolutionary base areas to become rich?

“Anyone Can Learn Anytime and Anywhere”

Rangtang County is in the west of Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. It is a key national poverty-stricken county representing an old revolutionary region, inhabited by minority ethnic groups, surrounded by mountains, with an underdeveloped economy, and a lack of health and education resources. In April 2017, Sichuan RTVU included the county in the OUC “Long March Belt” Educational Project Targeted at Alleviating Poverty. Since then, degree continuing education has been offered free of charge to more than 100 grassroots cadres and people from impoverished households filing for poverty alleviation. The students have been funded to complete their education and special scholarships have been provided.

“My major was accounting when I was in junior college, however, when I visited grassroots communities, I found it was the norm for one person to take on several responsibilities and I became aware of my lack of skills, in particular, my legal knowledge. Since I am willing to solve practical problems for the people, I enrolled to study in the OUC’s undergraduate Legal Science programme”, Luo Gang, a staff member of the Zongke Township Poverty Alleviation Office in Rangtang County, said. “Since grassroots cadres like me are fully occupied with work, it’s impossible for us to take time out to learn. The OUC’s flexible system go learning and length of schooling really suit me.” Speaking about the influence of continuing education over his work, Luo Gang said that he was now more confident when he explained policies to the people. “When the villagers have conflicts caused by debt disputes, I can now positively lead them to a legal solution and the villagers have also gradually improved their legal awareness.”

President Xu Shuolin told the reporter that the educational resources offered by the OUC were especially suited to remote areas like Rangtang. “Without the restriction of space, the advantages of the internet can be brought into full play. The characteristic ‘anyone can learn anytime and anywhere’ is well justified. It is very difficult to retain cadres from outside the county, while local cadres have no sense of achievement in their own job positions because they cannot obtain higher level professional titles or salary increases. It is necessary to improve either their work competence or their future development with the RTVU serving as the bridge to educational improvement. You can see that only when the cadres buckle down and work hard can they guide the villagers in becoming rich. It necessary to stabilise the team of cadres in areas inhabited by minority ethnic groups, which also gives impetus to national solidarity and social stability in remote and frontier areas.”

Add Practical Courses that match Students’ Reality and Work Needs

In Cangxi County Integrated Service Centre for E-Commerce, Miss Xue Juhua was giving a classroom packed with OUC students a lecture on “Integrated Construction of Agriculture and Tourism Products and Internet Marketing.”

Deputy general manager Li Yijun from the Mass Innovation and Entrepreneurship E-Commerce Co., Ltd of the Sichuan Youth Federation said to the reporter, “The most striking characteristic of our courses is relevance. Some students are leading members of the grassroots village Party branch committees and villagers’ committees, and they hope to sell the farmers’ agricultural products via e-commerce. We teach them how to open a shop and how to promote it so as to make more profits from their products.”

Li Bosi, deputy director of Hegang Village, Yuanba Township and a student majoring in Administration said, “I learnt in the e-commerce class that many things that seem worthless to people in rural areas have their own value and that a market can be found for them through e-commerce. Take honey as an example. I was a timber trader and I knew there were many bees on the mountain. I used to stay at a respectful distance from them and didn’t think that honey had any value until I learnt about e-commerce. After I returned, I set up more than 10 beehives and made over RMB 10,000 in one year.

Integrate Local Industries by Making Tutorial Centres for Poverty Alleviation

In Jiangjun Village, Cangxi’s Yuanba Township, agricultural expert Yan Shugui was giving a lively training class on kiwi fruit planting technology. He went into the field with his shears to give an on-site demonstration of methods and skills for kiwi pruning. This is Cangxi RTVU’s Teaching and Practice Centre for Kiwi Cultivation and part of the non-degree education programmes in “the Long March Belt” Educational Project Targeted at Alleviating Poverty programme.

If we say that degree programmes are only given to registered students, then non-degree programmes are more inclusive, embodying the mantra “teaching knows no class distinction.” “We hope to integrate the tutorial centres with poverty alleviation through community education study stations. We invite experts in agricultural science to answer questions raised by farmers and choose technicians from people with the gift of cultivation in the community so as to train the villagers locally in their own fields,” Yang Jiandong, a responsible person from Cangxi RTVU, said.

Hidden deep in the mountains east of downtown Cangxi is Huanma Township, famous for its intangible cultural heritage folk craft, Huanma paper-cutting. In May 2018, the first training class to pass on the technique of this folk craft was given as part of the OUC’s “the Long March Belt” non-degree programmes. Inheritors of this intangible cultural heritage, special grade art teachers, “paper-cutting masters”, and some members of art studios were invited to the training class as teachers and instructors. More than 90 art teachers and paper-cutting lovers participated in the training.

“We developed this activity in the hope of pass on the technique of “Huanma paper-cutting” to a wider audience by gathering the strength of art schools throughout the county. The promotion of its inheritance in among communities and families will not only foster the villagers' environmental awareness and aesthetic interest but also generate income for left-behind women to help with poverty alleviation,” Yang Jiandong said.

By Zhou Shixiang, Guangming Daily