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Rural Education Innovators Program

RCEF invests in rural educators in China by creating an individualized and ongoing adult education system of personal and professional development that supports them in their experimentation with innovative teaching methods and curriculum.


Currently in China, there is a growing vanguard of reform-minded rural educators making breakthroughs in the delivery of quality rural education. These reformers belong to three main groups: 1) rural school teachers; 2) NGO workers based year-round in rural communities; and 3) short-term volunteers. RCEF’s own co-founders and staff have directly served as a part of all three groups. Based on our own working experiences, we have analyzed the following needs of educators in these positions: 


  • Need for Professional Understanding of Education: Many education workers are extremely passionate about improving education but lack an accurate foundational understanding of education theory, child development theory, and pedagogy to help them analyze their students’ needs and set informed, realistic teaching goals. 

  • Need for Appropriate Trainers: Most training models are led by trainers who have not spent much time teaching rural children themselves—for example, university academics and urban, or even foreign, schoolteachers. There exists a practical gap between the training methods and trainers and the real conditions of the teachers and children whom they target.

  • Need for Follow-up: Trainings are usually “one-size fits all” with little to no follow-up afterwards to help educators solve problems that come up in their unique classrooms. 

  • Need for Personal Growth: Significant personal fortitude and skill is required to persevere in education reform despite generally low levels of support from parents, supervisors and colleagues who often oppose reforms. Existing trainings focus mostly on technical skills while overlooking the need to effectively and sensitively help educators build personal self-confidence, resilience and positive methods of coping with inevitable challenges and set-backs. 

  • Need for Peer Support Networks: Educators often learn best from peers grappling with similar challenges. They benefit from knowing that they are not alone in their difficult work. However, rural educators need organizers with the network and resources to bring them together and facilitate knowledge-sharing and mutual support amongst like-minded practitioners.

  • Need for Financial Stability: Educators serving rural children often have to leave the profession due to low and unstable pay. They may find their work extremely meaningful, but it is difficult for them to make a living and satisfy their families’ needs long-term, causing many to leave their posts reluctantly and before they have matured into their potential as teachers and leaders in advancing sustainable education reform.  


Based on our years of experience on the frontlines of both rural teaching and teacher coaching, RCEF is highly motivated and well-positioned to develop services to meet the above needs. 


RCEF solicits applications for Rural Education Innovators from individual educators through our network of contacts in rural schools and NGOs. From 2012 to the present, we have supported 17 Innovators working in more than 10 schools and community centers. RCEF's support consists of varying combinations of resources: 


  • Financial Support: Monthly Stipends and/or Annual Performance Bonuses give Innovators the ability and security to focus full-time on teaching and professional development. Fellows can also apply for grants to fund teaching materials and supplies.

  • Professional Coaching: Teaching coaches and consultants help Innovators to develop their Individualized Professional Development Plans and follow-up with coaching throughout the year in the form of site visits and email and phone meetings to observe and give feedback on their teaching and studies on educational theory and methodology.

  • Broader Learning & Networking Opportunities: We help Innovators identify and attend outside trainings, conferences and study tours to gain new ideas and perspectives, meet like-minded practitioners, and share ideas, support and best practices to benefit and inspire other educators.

RCEF's signature curricula are Service Learning and Reading:

  • Service Learning integrates learning with community. For example, students would research ways to address village issues and take steps to implement those. RCEF has published a handbook on service learning, intended as a resource for rural educators throughout China. RCEF Rural Education Innovators mostly teach Service Learning within a mandory class called Integrated Practice Class. Read more

  • Reading goes beyond basic reading skills. It starts with choosing books that are not only age-appropriate but also relevant to rural communities. Frequently, the books our teachers choose feature characters who experience physical or emotional difficulties that are relatable to rural children. The book is only the starting point for discussion, and follow-up could consist of acting out stories. Read more

The Rural Education Innovators Program is RCEF's longest-running program (since 2008). RCEF's Rural Education Innovators have worked in Shanxi, Henan, Guangdong and Sichuan Provinces in China. In addition, RCEF's previous programs include a Summer Volunteer Program (2005-2007) and a small-grants program (2008-2010). RCEF has also contribtued to the building of school and village libraries (Shanxi, Yongji), and to a place-based environmental education textbook (Lashi Hai, Yunnan).

General information and



Mailing address

Rural China Education

P.O. Box 224
New York, NY 10276

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