Teacher Training in Migrant Schools


Over the past three decades, hundreds of millions of rural Chinese have migrated to cities in search of new opportunities created by China’s industrialization. However, the “rural” registration status (or hukou) of most migrants has not changed. Regardless of their urban tenure, these migrants are classified as “rural,” and their children are not routinely allowed to enroll in urban public schools. As a consequence, thousands of privately run elementary schools have cropped up to serve these migrant children. Unlike public schools, however, these private “migrant schools” require tuition and fees. They are also very weakly regulated and the educational outcomes they produce are often dismal. A conspicuous gap in educational achievement has therefore appeared between migrant children and both their urban and rural counterparts.

Migrant school teachers are not generally well trained. Often they do not have the credentials or experience required to secure jobs in public schools. Poorly funded migrant schools offer low wages (about 500 RMB/month) and crude accommodations, yet saddle their teachers with heavy teaching burdens.

Read REAP's Educational Challenges Report on migrant education in China.



The Summer Fresh participants and

REAP is dedicated to making migrant schools better places of education for children. But REAP is equally dedicated to finding out what methods work best to this end. Short term teacher training programs are often employed to raise educational attainment among vulnerable student populations. REAP set out to ascertain whether such programs actually achieve this goal. “Summer Fresh" is an English training course sponsored by REAP that was offered to English teachers from dozens of migrant schools in Beijing Municipality from July 20, 2009 to August 9, 2009. REAP aimed to assess the impact of the course on the educational outcomes of migrant students over a six-month period, and answer the following questions:

  • Can English training programs improve the language skills of teachers?
  • When English teachers improve their English, is there a comparative improvement in their students’ grades?



Baseline testing

REAP randomly chose 105 English teachers from 135 migrant elementary schools scattered across the Beijing area from Chaoyang to Langfang to Shunyi. The teachers had been teaching English to fourth and fifth graders. REAP brought the teachers to a central testing site and administered a standardized English exam to get a record of their English skills before training. Each teacher returned to their respective schools and administered a REAP designed English test for a total of 4725 of their fourth and fifth grade students. These examinations served as the baseline tests for this experiment.


REAP then randomly divided the group of 105 teachers into three subgroups as follows:

  • 35 teachers to participate in the training program.  These participants were compensated with the following supply-side incentives:
    • 500 yuan stipend
    • 700 yuan for room and board
    • 100 yuan for books and supplies
  • 35 teachers to receive a financial incentive but no training. These participants received a letter detailing the following demand-side incentive deal:
    • “We assume you want to improve your English.  Study on your own and we will give you a China’s ‘Level II’ standardized English exam in two months. If you pass the exam with a grade of 80 or more, we will pay you 800 yuan.”  
  • 35 teachers to receive no training and no incentive. These participants were not invited to join either the training program or the incentive deal. This group will serve as the control group.

Training program

The training team for this program consisted of English teachers from the United States, English teachers trained in China, and volunteers from various universities and institutions—from both China and the United States. The training focused on English proficiency, English teaching skills and English conversational skills.

Scenes from the Summer Fresh training program

The training was full-time, five days a week for three weeks. In the mornings the trainers gave lectures on English proficiency and teaching skills; in the afternoon they conducted conversational drills and exercises. Participants in the training that completed the training requirements were awarded certificates of completion at the end of the program. Those who demonstrated particular excellence in completing the training were also honored with Certificates of Distinction. During the training, REAP provided participants with free room and board (except for dinner on Saturday and breakfast, lunch and dinner on Sunday). Students were also paid a stipend while attending the class. Students must have attended all classes to receive their full stipends. The schedule of stipend payment was as follows:

Training program instructors

  • Ms. Lisa Yiu has taught high school Chemistry in America for 3.5 years, as well as conversational English to Chinese professors and migrant children in China. Currently, she is a 3rd year PhD student at the Stanford School of Education. Her research interests focus on at-risk youth and urban education in the developing world.
  • Ms. Diana Diao (Diao Suqin) has been a teacher of English for 27 years. She has taught English (grammar, pronunciation, listening, speaking, etc) to junior high, senior high and college students, and has helped with junior high school teacher training programs twice. Currently she’s a teacher at HEBCPC and she also works as an online English tutor at to help students from all over China and abroad.
  • Mr. Adam Ma (Ma Defeng) has been teaching college English for 9 years, including to English majors and non-English majors in China. Meanwhile, he has experience in different teaching and training programs in Beijing and Changchun. Currently, he is not only a lecturer in the College English Department of Capital Normal University, but also a 2nd year PhD student at Beijing Normal University, majoring in linguistics and applied linguistics. His research interests focus on language teaching and learning in China.

Click here to read personal stories from the Summer Fresh classroom.



REAP retested all 105 teachers and their students at the end of the fall semester to assess the value of the training and financial incentive scheme.


After retesting all teachers and their students at the end of the fall semester, REAP discovered that there was no significant increase in student achievement in the intervention group versus the control group following the training program. This is true despite high enthusiasm among both students and teachers in the intervention group throughout the duration of the training. These results raise serious questions about the degree to which short term teacher training programs, no matter how well staffed or well run, can positively and sustainably affect student educational attainment.