Pandemic, the Turning Point for Chinese Education Reform: Interview with Xiangwei Huang

As one of the largest and most academically rigorous China forums in the UK, Oxford China Forum has launched a series of interviews to explore the impact of the pandemic on education, entertainment, science and technology, politics and medical treatment etc.

This interview focuses on the online education industry. As we all know, the importance of online education was particularly evident during the outbreak. With students and teachers staying at home under lockdown, online education is in full swing. We have the pleasure to have invited Huang Xiangwei, President of Longzhimen Education and President of Beijing No. 4 Middle School online school, to share with us his experience of online teaching.

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To ensure the smooth continuation of students’ study during the pandemic, education authorities across China have taken measures encouraging schools to switch from in-person classes to online teaching. The teaching platform of Beijing No. 4 online school is widely used in the whole country. Such a big trial for the education industry has shed a different light upon online education platforms and made students and parents appreciate its value. “This pandemic has set off a new era in the construction of the online education ecosystem,” Huang said.

Online teaching ‘very feasible’

Facing many people’s doubts about online teaching, Huang said online teaching is feasible. However, high-quality online teaching, in President Huang’s opinion, is not the direct copying of traditional classroom teaching by means of online broadcast, but the design of student-centered education by using internet technology, which is also in line with the trend of China’s current education reform.

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Huang said that in response to the educational reform, the potential of traditional classroom teaching has been maximized. If education reform is to continue, “what we need urgently is a revolution in teaching methods, and such a revolution in teaching relies on educational informationization.”

The so-called educational informatization refers to the process of comprehensively and deeply using modern information technology in the field of education to promote educational reform and development. It will remedy or even solve many drawbacks of traditional education:

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First of all, one of the major problems facing China’s education reform is the lack of awareness of individual differences, which makes it difficult to truly “teach students based on their aptitude”. The accurate feedback mechanism of online education can solve this problem well. Through education informatization and data collection, online education can develop personalized learning methods and plans according to individual differences of each students, accurately identify students’ weaknesses in their understanding of knowledge, and help them improve efficiently.

Secondly, there is a large gap in education among different regions in China, with unequal distribution of educational resources. Students in remote and poor areas have no access to the renowned teachers and high-quality resources like those in developed cities. Through online education, high-quality teaching resources can be transmitted to all parts of the country through the Internet. As long as there is signal, all students can get the highest quality educational resources, and the gap between urban and rural education will be gradually narrowed.

In addition, education informationization can be very helpful to “reduce the burden” for students. Reducing the burden is not to reduce the content, or downgrade the difficulty, but to improve the efficiency of learning per unit of time. Through the accurate feedback system of online teaching platform, online education can avoid many repetitive and tedious exercises, such as the boring  copying and answering similar questions, thus reducing students’ learning pressure.

The future trend of online education

Although online education has been widely promoted during the pandemic, in-person education is irreplaceable. This online-only education has also created a lot of problems:

Physiologically, pure online education will reduce students’ time for physical activity, which is not good for students’ health; With regard to psychology, students in the long vacation tend to get bored, and lack of communication with peers can easily produce mental health problems with various degrees of severity; From a wider social perspective, a child’s growth includes civic education, social work and life education in addition to academic learning. In-person education teaches children to integrate into the society, while online education cannot do this as well.

Huang said: “We should reflect on how to more constructively engineer education informationization. The pandemic shows us that education informationization does not only depend on a single platform, but also requires a very complex and all-encompassing ecosystem.”

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It’s unrealistic to have one business that can cover everything needed for online education. Many large companies, such as Baidu, Tencent and Ali, build their ecosphere by providing leading platforms and cooperating with other companies. Therefore, the cross-platform cooperation of educational informationization may become the mainstream.

The pandemic has exposed that the government investment did not pay off as expected. In order to build up the resources for online education, more enterprises have to take part. The future of education informationization is likely to be government led, with active contribution from companies.

In addition to enterprises and governments, the development of educational informationization is inseparable from the support of schools, teachers and parents. For months, students, parents, schools, teachers and education authorities have been forced to familiarize themselves with online education. Many people’s attitudes towards online education have changed from fear at first to appreciation now. Many people have got into the habit of participating in online education, their impression of it changed. These experiences will play a very positive role in the development of online education, which is almost impossible to achieve with conventional marketing.

“I am optimistic about the future of online education,” Huang said. “This pandemic has set off a new era in the construction of the online education ecosystem.”

Chinese education reform: The Chinese education reform was officially launched in 1985 with the ‘Decision of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Reform of the Educational System’. By 2000, China had basically achieved the strategic goals of universalizing nine-year compulsory education and eliminating illiteracy among young people. By 2006, China had made the 9-year compulsory education free at a national scale. At the current stage, along with further promotion of primary education in rural and underdeveloped areas, the education reform also focuses on ‘quality education’, emphasizing the reduction of burden for students and well-rounded development.

Interviewer: Qifeng He

Editor: Yuqing Weng

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