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Student Teachers’ Voices: A Historical Exploration of Teacher Education in Shanghai, China (1949-1982)



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In 2007 a new government-funded initial teacher training programme was introduced in China. Emergent problems associated with the implementation of this policy call for a new research agenda that is able to illuminate aspects of the history of teacher education in China. Through the exploration of the hidden and often untold stories of ordinary teachers’ lives from the past, this research project seeks to construct a more authentic and comprehensive historical account of teacher education in China from 1949 to 1982. It also strives to help in raising an awareness among teachers, researchers and policy makers of the significance of reflecting on the history of teacher education, in both individual and collective ways. Three types of qualitative sources, namely documentary, visual and oral data were assembled from archival and online searches, and by the conducting of 40 in-depth oral history interviews.

Drawing on former student teachers’ testimonies, this thesis investigates key features and major trends marking the formal pattern of the Chinese teacher education system since the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. It is argued that despite a number of radical structural and theoretical changes brought about by political campaigns over time, from the perspective of the student teachers themselves, continuities were more fundamental in this particular historical period. Aspects central to these continuities were a tiered teacher education system and two major approaches to teacher training. Compared to teacher education in the higher education sector, the normal school approach was recognised as having a systematic advantage in preparing teachers for classroom teaching.

This dissertation also scrutinises the impact of educational reforms upon the teaching profession and teachers’ identities (individual and collective) from a rhetorical perspective. Evidence from a variety of documents, visual materials and interviewees’ recollections suggests that, as an inherent linguistic and cultural characteristic of the Chinese language, metaphor, together with narratives and other literary devices, plays an important role in shaping key concepts relevant to teacher education in China. The thesis resists conventional perceptions which associate a collectivist ethos among teachers chiefly with political propaganda, attributing it rather with traditional Chinese cultural values.





Gardner, Philip


Teacher education, Oral history, History of education, China study


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge