June 12, 2017 -- Shangduke Township Central Primary School in Zamtang County, Ngawa Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province just had the liveliest Children's Day in recent years. More than 500 people including teachers, students, and parents gathered together at the primary school's playground, as children happily participated in Tibetan circle dance and performed recitations and skits.
However, the scene would be totally different if time went back to five years ago. In this remote primary school, the classrooms would be empty and playground silent.
This village school has changed drastically over the last five years: the number of students has jumped from about 100 to more than 360. Children who used to spend May and June in digging cordyceps have returned to school for regular classes.
In Zamtang County, the annual per capita income is less than 8,000 yuan (1,177 US dollars). However, a single full-grown cordycep about 4 cm in length can be sold for 50 yuan (7 US dollars).
Cordyceps are wild and grow in alpine grassland areas about 3,000 and 5,000 meters high.
Children have good vision, and they are quick, so they can dig for cordyceps just as well as adults. For these reasons, they have become an important labor force for their family.
Driven by high prices, more and more people, including children, are joining in digging for cordyceps.
"When I arrived at the school in March 2011, I'd only have 15 students come to class half the month; usually just six would come," said 30-year-old Tseja, a Tibetan mathematics teacher. From May to June, sometimes only two students would come to school. The children were all out digging for cordyceps.
In 2012, 18 teachers in the school held a meeting to discuss how to solve the problem of students' cutting class and dropping out. At last, they decided to visit each student in his or her home to help them return to school.
But it was a hard task.
In order to find one student, a teacher named Pema Trinley rode a motorcycle 10 kilometers across a grassy mountain, and all his clothes were wet with mud. Another teacher, Sherab Tashi, rode 300 kilometers, over potholes and marshes, to find one student's family in Baima County, Qinghai Province.
In addition, Sichuan Province has promoted free education in recent years, which has lifted the economic burden off parents and allowed them to send their children to school.