This is Mr. Tian, he is a sixth grade homeroom teacher in Guangzhou, China. He works for a privately-run, entirely for profit primary school which largely serves the children of Guangzhou's migrant population. Migrants are not considered part of the city population, and as such they are not entitled to free public education outside of their home villages. South Korean documentarian Haryun Kim follows Mr. Tian and three of his students as they complete the last year of primary education.
As a teacher, and one who currently teaches 5th and 6th graders who look very much like Mr. Tian's students, and who write in a system which is based off the system used by his students, this hit me pretty hard. I chose to go to South Korea first, and I found a home in Japan, but I could easily have ended up in China instead. It is not a great leap to think that these students could have been mine or very much like mine.
By the end of the documentary, I was (am, since it was only about ten or so minutes ago) bawling. "I treat the children as my own," Mr. Tian tells us, "but there are many here who do not share my view.... They think the children will just end up in the labour market anyway. Why should they care?" Mr. Tian's passion is palpable, and his condemnation of his employers, of his fellow teachers, and the Chinese education system doesn't just make me sad—it makes me angry.
These are the children who, like 14 year old Zhou Ya Fang, end up making "digital goods." For who? For us. These are the children who make our iPhones and our laptops and our tablets and our LCD big screen TVs. They leave poorly maintained, poorly staffed, poorly funded for-profit schools because even if they stay in school there is no good chance that their education will actually help them or their families.
As an educator, this simply breaks my heart. I just want to hug these kids.
Watch the whole thing on Al Jazeera English here.