Fire again at SenJiMeiDuo Tibetan Charity School

After a fire burnt down half of the school in Nov last year, again the students at SenJiMeiDuo were faced with a fire again.



This time it was a forest fire that came within 500 meters of the school, and luckily for all the students and staff none of the buildings were damaged.


In these photos you can see the students have developed such a love for reading that they kept on reading as the fire passed them by.


The students kept reading ……




And reading….

Earlier this month we sent a small shipment of books up to the school to “tie them over” until we arrive next week with our first major delivery. This first shipment of books was made possible by a donation from Englearner, the English division of the Jilin Government Publishers ( and money donated by Single Malt Online (, an online whiskey investment company based in Hong Kong.

Previously the students in SenJiMeiDuo didn’t have access to books that they could read for pleasure and since this initial donation they have devoured every word of the books, with such a love for reading that they continue to utilize every minute of their time out of class, and when they are not busy with the reconstruction process, reading and rereading these books.

On Sunday the 31st May 2015, Dr Robert Lockyer and Kitty Zhang, will travel to a city close to SenJiMeiDuo to give a speech on literacy and to open the first stage of the library project with a larger donation of reading and reference books. This trip is being funded wholly by their own funds so as not to drain any funds away from the project work of One Million Words or away from the students and schools we assist.

This trip will require a 24 hour stopover in northern Yunnan, so as to acclimatize to the altitude of the school, before taking the 8 hour “goat trail” track up to the mountains where SenJiMeiDuo is located. The pair will spend two days in SenJiMeiDuo with thee students giving them lessons in both Chinese and English as well as playing a wide range of learning activities with the students.

Daily updates of the donation and trip to reach this remote school will be posted on the One Million Words Blog as well as on the indigogo campaign site,

Whilst this project has started out great and we are getting close to achieving our goal of supplying textbooks, reading resources and a library for this school we are still very short in our funding.

We strongly encourage those who have thought about making a donation to take the leap and click on either our “Indigogo Contribute” button or our PayPal “Make a donation” button on our website and help this project achieve its goal.

We thank you in advance and hope you will follow our updates and post as we travel to this school.

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Rise in number of children reading for pleasure



Dystopian teen novels such as the Hunger Games trilogy are likely to be one reason for children being increasingly likely to say they enjoy reading, say literacy experts.

A new survey from the National Literacy Trust reveals that 41 per cent of children aged 8 to 18 said they read daily outside class in 2014, up from 32 per cent in the previous year.

And the proportion of teenagers aged 14 to 16 who say they enjoy reading has jumped from 37 per cent last year to 43 per cent this year – although overall levels of enjoyment remain lower than for younger children.

National Literacy Trust Director Jonathan Douglas said there could be a number of reasons for the rise in the number of older teenagers who enjoy reading. “A new wave of hugely popular fiction such as the Twilight and the Hunger Games series has played its part in engaging readers,” he said. “A series of major campaigns and initiatives including Bookstart, the Summer Reading Challenge, and the Young Readers Programme have combined with the attraction and ease of digital reading.”

While the most popular form of reading for all children was text messages – which are read at least once a month by 73 per cent of pupils, the survey also found that 47 per cent of children read fiction, 31 per cent read newspapers and 60 per cent read websites. Magazines were the only format that had seen a decline in popularity, from 58 per cent picking them up once a month in 2010 to 49 per cent last year.

Those who read each day outside lessons are five times more likely to be above the expected level in the subject for their age group, compared to youngsters who never read outside school.

But the annual study of 32,000 students also shows a continuing gender gap, with boys less likely to enjoy reading than girls, and suggests that many youngsters would still rather watch TV than have their nose in a book.

More than half (55 per cent) of those polled still prefer watching TV to reading, although this is down slightly on the year before, and three in 10 say they cannot find things to read that interest them.

Just over one in four say they only read when they have to and 24 per cent say their parents do not care if they spend any time reading.

Malorie Blackman, children’s laureate, said: “We must continue to work to ensure that all our children develop the reading for pleasure habit to improve their life chances.  To this end we must ensure that each child has access to the literacy tools they require – including school libraries and public libraries – to fulfil their true potential.”

Michael Morpurgo, author of War Horse, said: “The government should remember that literacy must first and foremost be enjoyed, if we are to engage our most reluctant readers. And remember too that libraries and librarians, both in schools and in our communities, must be a priority.”


Literacy in China


Trying to find a consensus on the growth of literacy in China is like trying to find a grey rock in a quarry of gravel. The one agreement is that literacy is growing, but sorting through the data for the most reliable information proves challenging. For the first fifty years of the 20th century, illiteracy (不识字或识字很少) in China remained at a steady 85-80% of the population. Thereafter, the figures start to vary. Below is a broad view of literacy rates:

By 1959 rates among youths and adults (aged 12-40) fell from 80% to 43%.  By 1979 this figure had dropped to 30%, by 1982 to 25%, and by 1988 to 20%. China’s national censuses of 1964, 1982, 1990, and 2000 reported slightly different declines of illiterates as a percentage of the total population (which increased during those years from approximately 694,580,000 to 1,265,830,000) from 33.58%, to 22.81%, to 15.88% to 6.72%.


According to 2000 census data, 86.992 million adults in China were illiterate, 20.55 million of whom were between the ages of 15 and 50.  Three quarters of these illiterates lived in rural areas. Seven provinces and regions had the highest illiteracy rates, including Tibet, Yunnan, Guizhou, Gansu, Qinghai, Ningxia and Inner Mongolia. Tibet’s illiteracy rate was 37%-38%, the illiteracy rate of Yunnan, Guizhou, Gansu and Qinghai varied from 10%-15%, and the illiteracy rate of Inner Mongolia was 7%-8%.


History’s role
History shows that Chinese have long held literacy as an important “moral template for cultural identity and modernity.” Wisdom and education have been highly regarded in China, and literacy campaigns appeared throughout the 20th century and continue today. Despite the importance of education, literacy has not been easy to achieve. During the Cultural Revolution when secondary schools were closed between 1966 and 1968, the number of illiterate citizens rose, and the population boom further destabilized learning.

Prior to 1978, adult education had always taken precedence over children. The report says, “Adult literacy was given first priority in literacy campaigns designed to ‘sweep away illiteracy’ (saochu wenmang). Because 80% of adults were illiterate they were targeted as crucial for securing new China’s economic security.” It may sound cliché, but reading was (and continues to be) power, and leaders knew that the literate could have considerable influence.

In 1950 the government set recognition of 1000 characters as the standard for literacy and 300 for illiteracy. A reading primer for peasants was distributed in 1951 to rural people. Pinyin was developed (there was even talk of doing away with characters), Putonghua became the standard for the Chinese language, and characters were simplified in an effort to make the written language more accessible to the public and to unify the country under a singular language system.

When the primary school curriculum was standardized in 1978, the focus shifted to a more consistent national education program for the younger members of society, and adult education began to decline (of course, it was no longer as necessary since the newest generations picked up the language quicker). Literacy among children increased; however, the years before had seen a decline in literacy despite the campaigns to eradicate it. The trend changed however during the ‘80s and ‘90s when the literacy rate rose considerably and China reported a 15.9% illiteracy rate (1990). UNESCO reports that the majority of those who remained illiterate were (unsurprisingly) women.

Gansu China. Classroom. 2005

Gansu China. Classroom.

What is the standard of literacy?
In China, literacy is measured by the number of characters recognized. For urban dwellers, the current literacy standard is 2000 characters while rural dwellers need know only 1500. Minority languages and dialects do not generally factor in. Over the years other criteria has factored into what counts as literacy including ability to write reports, read popular publications, etc.

The actual statistics published by China have made critics outside of the country skeptical. With the size of the population, condition of rural education, and other factors to consider, it does not seem possible that the literacy rate in 1990 could be as low as 15.9%. The age range represented in literacy censuses has not been consistent or clear over time, which makes statistics hard to reconcile when combined with the shifting literacy standard.

What are the barriers to literacy?

  1. Rural education. China has made great inroads to better rural education—lessening the cost of primary and secondary education, sending or subsidizing books, etc; however, there is still a significant gap between the rural and urban education systems.
  2. Gender disparity: male children are still chosen to receive more education than female children, especially in rural settings.
  3. Population: with over one billion citizens, educating the huge population is decidedly challenging. Factor in the minority culture and tradition of minority peoples, the difficult to monitor rural populations, and the millions of migrant children living in cities with barebones education and you can understand how difficult educating the country is.
  4. Disabled students: “China’s reported disabled population of 60-70 million represents approximately 5% of the overall population, 1/3 of which resides in rural areas.” Disabled students are not given the same educational rights as other children, and schools that do specialize in caring for the disabled and those with learning disabilities are expensive and are almost nonexistent outside urban areas.