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Reigniting the flame of education: professor Ma Qingfa's commitment to Xinjiang


In 2020, China expanded a national initiative, known as the National Silver-Age Teacher Action Plan. As part of broader steps to narrow regional gaps in education, this initiative also strives to make better use of an aging society by encouraging retired teachers to return to the classroom.

Since the launch of this initiative, 17 retired teachers from ECNU have volunteered to supplement the teaching resources in China's western region, including the Karamay campus of China University of Petroleum (Beijing), Yili Normal University, and Xichang University.

Among the dedicated ECNU educators, Professor Ma Qingfa stands out for his enduring passion for teaching and his profound impact on the academic community in Ili.

In August 2023, upon learning about the National Silver-Age Teacher Action Plan, Professor Ma immediately signed up to volunteer at the faculty of Yili Normal University. "I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to return to the classroom and contribute my expertise and experiences as a lifelong educator," he said.

Prior to his departure, Professor Ma adjusted his daily routine, starting each day with a half-hour jog to prepare physically for the challenges of teaching in Xinjiang. Despite initial challenges adjusting to the local lifestyle, he quickly adapted, finding joy in his teaching responsibilities. Professor Ma mainly stays on campus, occasionally shopping at local markets and supermarkets. He admitted that adjusting to Xinjiang's schedule and cafeteria food was challenging, but after two weeks, he had no major issues.

Dedicated and Industrious

"He is incredibly dedicated, spending weekends and holidays in the office or library with books in hand. We all feel ashamed in comparison. I often tell our teachers to learn from him. If everyone worked and studied like Ma, our educational quality would improve rapidly," said Ma Yongquan, Dean of the School of Educational Science.

Teaching is not just work for Ma but also a passion and the realization of his educational ideals. He takes on around 10 class hours weekly, teaching undergraduate courses "History of Chinese and Foreign Education" and "Research Methods in Elementary Education”. He also teaches a graduate course in "Comparative Education." Additionally, he offers thesis guidance sessions for both undergraduates and graduates, supervising ten undergraduate thesis projects.

Students at Yili Normal University have expressed deep appreciation for Ma's engaging teaching style and his ability to simplify complex concepts in education.

"Professor Ma's classes are not only informative but also highly interactive, fostering our critical thinking skills," said a junior student in the elementary education program.

"Ma is stylish and approachable, making his classes highly beneficial," said Wang Qi, a graduate student in curriculum and teaching theory. Ma adapts his teaching based on students' needs, even working late to address their queries.

Wang Qi shared a personal experience about the deep impression Professor Ma left on the class. Professor Ma asked her to collect the comments of 17 classmates in his class regarding the topic selection of her graduation thesis. Due to her delay, she only collected and sent it to him the night before class. "Ma read it overnight, and the next day in class, he conducted a detailed and in-depth analysis of each student's questions." Later, the students showed Professor Ma the proposal, which was at least a dozen pages long, with some students writing 20-30 pages. "Ma used his rest time to correct it, and almost every page was filled with annotations with pencils. He provided very detailed and comprehensive guidance from expression to topic selection to the overall framework."

Building Academic Bridges

Professor Ma's impact extends beyond the classroom. He has played a pivotal role in mentoring young faculty, organizing academic competitions, and fostering collaborations between Yili Normal University and ECNU. His efforts have significantly enhanced the institution's academic environment.

"Ma proactively discussed plans with me to implement the support framework agreement between ECNU and Yili Normal University," said Ma Yongquan. They drafted a detailed plan, hoping to establish a solid cooperation with the Faculty of Education of East China Normal University through the bridge relationship of Ma, and promote the high-quality development of the School of Education Science at Ili Normal University.

Besides teaching, Professor Ma contributes to talent development, discipline construction, and scientific research. He advises faculty on high-level project applications, doctoral program applications, and talent training plans.

"Professor Ma has been a guiding light in both teaching and research," said Wei Saiya, a young faculty member mentored by Ma. His initiative in establishing the "Blue Project," aimed at supporting young educators, has been particularly influential. Under this program, Ma has provided invaluable guidance, helping young teachers navigate their professional journeys.

"As a silver-aged teacher from ECNU, I feel a heavy responsibility and a sense of honor," Ma said. Professor Ma is knows as the “old dream-chaser” for his ongoing efforts and cooperative vision in education. He is full of energy and enthusiasm while teaching students in Chinas remote areas. “This is a place to chase dreams, and I am an old dream chaser.”

Author: Wicky Xu, Tian Bolan

Copy editor:Philip Nash

Editor: Xu Xincheng