A screen that may change lives of China’s underprivileged kids
Photo: image.baidu.com
 
A feature story depicting how students in China’s remote and poverty-stricken areas had benefited from watching live broadcasting of classes in a prestigious senior high school in Chengdu over the past 16 years went viral recently, shedding light on the imbalance in educational resources, and how network technology and dedication could make a difference.

“Over the days, our reporters were trying to learn more about the project”, the special report by the state-run China Youth Daily stated, “Students from 248 middle schools in impoverished areas have been attending classes, doing homework and taking exams along with those of the renowned Chengdu No.7 High School through live video streaming.”

The practice reportedly has changed lives of many underprivileged young kids—some schools have cultivated top scorers in their province, and some now boast much higher college enrolment rates.

“Over the past 16 years, 72,000 students who are considered being at the “far-end” have followed the Chengdu No.7 High School to finish three years’ learning, and most of them have successfully enrolled into college, with 88 being admitted into Tsinghua University or Peking University” said Wang Hongjie, who’s in charge of the online education platform operating the project. According to him, it’s like “lighting a pit bottom with torch while throwing down a rope, so people down there could have a glimpse of the sky and strive to climb up.”

The China Youth Daily visited those on the “far-end”. At the Luquan No.1 High School in a national-level poverty-stricken county in Yunnan, some students would voluntarily leave their seats and go to stand at the back of classroom, because they usually get sleepy while watching the live streaming of another much more vibrant classroom that’s over a thousand miles away.

On the screen, students of Chengdu No.7 High School often engage in heated classroom discussions. They’re allowed to bring cell phones and tablet PCs into class for receiving learning material any time. Whenever their teacher throws a question, the passionate students vie with each other to share their own views. However, on the other side of the network cable, there was mostly silence, with some yawning a lot, and some staring at the screen seemingly totally at a loss, wrote the China Youth Daily, depicting the scene of a “far-end” class that just joined the project.

According to Liu Zhengde, the principal of the Luquan No.1 Middle School, they lagged well behind even the worst middle school in Kunming, the capital city of Yunnan. “As long as they could leave for a school in Kunming, they would not hesitate.”

Only tens of kilometers away from Kunming, the Luquan County is 90 percent mountainous, said Wang Kaifu, the director of local educational bureau, adding local people started sending their children to Kunming for better quality education many years ago.

“I never expect myself to be this bad,” Wang Yihan, a 10th grade female student at the Luquan No.1 Middle School, repeated several times in an interview with the China Youth Daily. She ranked first in the high school admission exam in Luquan, but failed almost all mid-term exams taken along with students of the Chengdu No.7 High School.

Most students in the obscure schools could not keep up with their peers on the screen at first. They felt frustrated and would cry after big or small exams, wrote the report.

“I have the feeling I’m totally useless,” said Liu Chengyan, a classmate of Wang Yihan.

The China Youth Daily visited Liu’s home in a small village, which is over one hour’s walk on a winding mountain road from school. “It’s hard to imagine for those who live in the big cities. Sunshine and wind enter the house from the wooden roof; ashy bags filled with chemical fertilizer could be seen everywhere; and the smelly hog lot next to the cabin brings flies.”

Liu’s parents are doing odd jobs in Kunming. They regularly call back every one or two months. Several teachers at Luquan middle school said most students’ parents had gone to bigger cities for earning bread for their families.

Huge gap exists between the two groups. Students with the Chengdu No. 7 High School are mostly from middle-class families, whose parents carefully design their learning and extracurricular lives, including even seeking opportunities for them to talk with Nobel winners.

They do sports like practicing boxing and swimming in their leisure time in order to keep fit. Female students learn to arrange flowers in vase or make fancy soap as gifts for teachers. They’re well-educated and have high IQ and EQ.

The kids on the “far-end” could perceive the sharp difference through the screen. Many of them never set foot beyond the boundary of the Luquan County, so they were amazed to hear peers analyze political, geographic and historical issues based on knowledge gained from overseas trips.

“I’m afraid poverty has limited my imagination,” a senior student at a high school in a mountainous area said.

Over a decade, Wang Hongjie visited many small counties where quality education is lacking. “Low efficiency used to be the case. Students just wanted to play and their teachers tended to loathe teaching jobs.”

According to Wang, as early as 2002, southwest China’s Sichuan began to adopt distance education as a major way to boost educational equality. The Chengdu No.7 High School and the municipal educational bureau have been playing vital roles in the push.

Some teachers at the “far-end” said although they don’t need to give lessons themselves, in order for students to keep up with a high-ranking school’s pace, their workload nearly tripled.

“I usually arrive at home at 1 am and leave at 6 am,” a teacher said, complaining his six-year-old kid gets to stay with him for merely half a day every week.

For the year 2018, among the 1,230 students in Luquan No.1 Middle School, 147 got admitted into top-ranking universities and 634 got enrolled into college. Such good results could be unimaginable some years ago.

At the Luquan high school, most students who spend three years’ time watching live broadcasting of classes in Chengdu usually sleep for only four to five hours every day. A teacher told the China Youth Daily one of his routine tasks is to visit the classrooms during early hours and force those hard-working students back to dormitories for more rest.

With 16 years’ experience, Wang Hongjie agreed the kids in the remote and impoverished areas have the same potential as their peers in more well-off regions.

“The kids could usually adapt to the fast pace of Chengdu No.7 High School in one or two months. In the second year of high school, they begin to make small progress and in the last year, some of them advance by leaps and bounds.”

The underprivileged kids truly admire their elite peers whom they get to see every day. They turn to social media platforms like QQ or Weibo to talk with them.

A teacher at Luquan several times saw his students write letters to their ‘idols’ in Chengdu. He never stopped them from sending the letters. “They may not be able to enjoy the good conditions, but at least communicating directly with the kids they admire would keep them motivated,” he said.

“Among high school graduates, only 2.5 percent would live in poverty after being an adult,” Wang Kaifu said, citing data from the World Bank.

According to him, the annual fiscal revenue of Luquan County amounted to 610 million yuan last year, while its educational expenditure in the same period surpassed the figure by 350 million yuan. “With multiple years’ efforts, we have made all high school education here in the county free, with gross enrollment exceeding 90 percent.”

“For a county like Luquan, investing into education would be the best way to get rid of poverty, and prevent it from contaminating our future generations.”  

 


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