Primary school kids in Beijing amaze netizens with advanced research works
Primary school students in Beijing are using big data to come up with enlightening research work, triggering debate on social media about whether the well-composed reports were really done mostly independently by the “small scholars” in a country often criticized for its notorious exam-oriented education.

Recently, an article titled “When school child meets Su Shi” elaborating on interesting and in-depth research work by a group of primary school students on Su Shi, a famous poet in the Song Dynasty, went viral on WeChat, collecting over a million views in a few days.

Su Shi is one of the most revered litterateurs from ancient China, with his works and life history intensively studied by the academia. The kids from the Tsinghua University Primary School have finished a series of research reports on the literary giant from novel angles, among them are titles like Big Data Help You Know More about Su Shi, The Tourism Branding Value of Su Shi, Su Shi's Circle of Friends, and Mood Curve of Su Shi.

In one such report, the school children use computer programs to analyze all of the 3,458 poems of the poet, finding the most frequently used phrase by him to be ziyou, the name of his brother, and then leading to a conjecture that Su and ziyou had a close brotherhood.. One of the other often used phrases is “returning”. Through analyzing the composing time of the works and Su's experience of being demoted three times from government positions, the “primary school scholars” find out every time the writer failed in his official career, he tended to use the phrase “returning” a lot in his works.

Some school kids with a business sense composed a report titled “Greatness of a Man Lends Glory to a Place—Analysis of Su Shi's Tourism Branding Value”, finding that many scenic places travelled and documented by Su in his works have become places of historic interest, and trying to ascertain the brand value Su had helped to attach to the beautiful places. It is surprising that they finally estimated the value created by Su's “promotion” to be between 2.675 billion yuan and 12.87 billion.

Many netizens were amazed by the well-composed reports and the kids' unique perspectives and innovative approaches to study the ancient figure. Some of them wondered if the works were actually done by the little authors' parents, considering the sophisticated skills required for the writing, including surveying, statistics, and frequency analysis. The Tsinghua University Primary School is a branch of the renowned Tsinghua University where the teaching and administrative staff of the university would school their children.

Teachers of the talented researchers have come forward to confront the online questioning. A math teacher surnamed Yi told the that the parents of the kids just provided technical support like finding the computer software and helping draw broken line graph, while the main part of the research and writing was all accomplished by the students themselves.

“If you have gone through the whole process with us, you will see their progress and growth. It is not fair to question them by just looking at the results,” the Chinese teacher surnamed Lian who is in charge of the class that did all the study and research, told the

Seven years ago, the Tsinghua University Primary School kicked off its “curriculum revolution”, encouraging classes of all the six grades to practice “small topic” learning to gradually cultivate research capabilities of students.

For example, students of grade one would start to do some small projects like using measuring techniques to find out the biggest tree on the campus and exploring hidden stories behind every school statue. The class that's become famous for their Su Shi study has previously done research projects to find the most easy-to-use shared bicycle brand, and also to discover that the air inside the metro is as polluted as that above ground. So, they suggested air purifiers to be installed in the metros.

The capital’s basic education authorities have been advocating inquiry-based learning in recent years, according to Wang Kai, vice director of the curriculum center with the Beijing Municipal Education Science Research Institute, a service provider targeting education policy makers. In 2015, the Beijing Municipal Education Commission drafted a curriculum plan, regulating that for all primary and middle schools in the city, over 10 percent of the class hours are required to be used for extracurricular activities.

Motivated by the new policy, many schools have developed their special courses. “From subject teaching to project research, some core ideas are transformative,” said Wang Kai, “For many years, our kids have been learning too much while thinking too little. Now, breakthroughs are being made in developing the children's practical abilities.”

Still, many netizens doubted the Tsinghua University Primary School case could really work as a good model for other schools to copy, especial for those located outside Beijing and in more remote and poor areas.

Dou Guimei, the principal of the school, told media that the school has four teachers with a Doctor's degree and 62 teachers with a Master's degree. And many kids of the school either had lived in foreign countries with their parents or have plans to go abroad. “If we provide them merely routine courses, it will be hard to inspire them to take initiatives,” one teacher was quoted as saying.

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