Premier Wen Jiabao called on the country\'s future teachers to be caring and devoted during his speech at a graduation ceremony Friday at Beijing Normal University for representatives of the first group of students in a pilot free-education program for future teachers. Wen said he hopes the state-funded teachers will make a contribution to the nation\'s educational system as dedicated and innovative instructors who love their students. Wen said the free education program for future teachers is intended to show respect for the educational profession and convince more individuals to become life-long educators, while also encouraging them to continue their studies after graduation. \"A teacher is the root of the country\'s education, and their efforts and work is what fosters people\'s virtue,\" he said. Wen praised the program for its remarkable achievements. First initiated in 2007 and launched in six elite teaching universities, it provides a four-year state-funded undergraduate study program for students who pledge to become future teachers as well as a stipend for living expenses. Upon graduation, program participants agree to teach at primary or middle schools in their hometowns for at least 10 years. Over the past four years, the program has enrolled a total of 46,000 students. All program members of the first group will work in primary or middle schools, and 90 percent of them will teach in schools in the country\'s less-developed central and western regions. During his speech, Wen said many of China\'s biggest names, such as renowned writer and critic Lu Xun, scientist Qian Weichang and historian Jian Bozan, started out as primary or middle school teachers. \"Teachers in primary and middle schools have the opportunities to feel the very nature of education from the closest place, as their students are the most curious and pure,\" Wen said. Working in primary and middle schools will also give the teachers the chance to better understand the true situation of the country and its diverse people, Wen said. Their work is also important because current students are experiencing the most crucial periods in their lives, as ideological concepts will shape them for the future, he added. But Wen warned that teaching requires mental strength and preparation, especially in rural and less-developed areas. \"These regions badly need good teachers, and the inevitable struggles will serve to stimulate your courage and confidence and lead you to greater successes,\" Wen said. Although the program is considered quite successful, Wen called for efforts to improve it by allowing participants to change their majors, ensuring that only those who genuinely wish to become teachers remain in the program. He also suggested increasing the program\'s stipends and giving more general awards to outstanding participants.