The Chinese Education System’s Development Becomes more Balanced through Smart Learning

The Chinese Education System’s Development Becomes more Balanced through Smart Learning

On the fringes of China’s education system, years of successful educational development has made the smaller rural schools as the last hurdle in providing an equal quality for schools across the country.

To enable rural middle and primary schools to receive equitable education modernization and promote balanced development between rural and urban schools, the government of Linquan County in Fuyang City, Anhui Province made investments in late 2019 to establish smart classrooms in 47 local schools spread over 20 towns. Among these schools is the Xiezhuang Primary School in Aiting Town.

The rural primary school on the northwest tip of Anhui

Linquan County is located on the northwest tip of Anhui, bordering nine cities and counties of Anhui and the neighboring Henan Province. As the most densely populated county in Anhui, the area sees a large amount of workers seek employment in its surrounding area. In the southern region of Linquan county lies the town of Aiting, whose population also leaves to farm and work in nearby cities.

In recent years, Aiting Town has experienced a boom of economic development, just like the other towns in Linquan. Mud huts have been replaced by tiled houses and multi-storied buildings, and locals now have increased access to food and medicines.

Within Aiting Town, the Xiezhuang Primary School is housed in a two-storied teaching building.

Thanks in large part to government programs designed to improve access to education, the Xiezhuang Primary School was able to build their current school building and make great improvements in their quality of education, including through adopting “Banbantong” tablets to teach in smart classrooms.
The Chinese Education System’s Development Becomes more Balanced through Smart Learning

Teaching building of Xiezhuang Primary School

However, while the school’s facilities continue to improve, the number of students has been decreasing as many local residents send their children to receive education in the urban areas where they work.
The Chinese Education System’s Development Becomes more Balanced through Smart Learning

Students at Xiezhuang Primary School

Further exasperating the problem, there is a wide-spread teacher shortage facing small-scale rural schools. At the Xiezhuang Primary School, 13 teachers, including the headmaster, are responsible for teaching seven classes for a dozen subjects.

In 2020, smart classroom facilities were adopted by the Xiezhuang Primary School, allowing the third-to-sixth graders to use tablets in class. This emerging teaching method has already shown promising results for the school and has alleviated the shortage of students and teachers.

With the increased capabilities, more young teachers have been brought onboard to teach and as the education quality improved, more students have been able to attend the school; growing from 120 to about 200 today.

The joys and sorrows of Headmaster Jiang Lin

Headmaster Jiang Lin, a former student of the Xiezhuang Primary School himself, has supervised the school since he graduated from his university in 1998. The Headmaster teaches the third-to-sixth grader’s Morality and the Rule of law course, though he also acts as a supportive mentor that seeks to understand his students’ family backgrounds and pursuits.
The Chinese Education System’s Development Becomes more Balanced through Smart Learning

Headmaster Jiang communicates with a student
The Chinese Education System’s Development Becomes more Balanced through Smart Learning

Plaques of honor in teachers’ office at Xiezhuang Primary School

Headmaster Jiang used to worry about the decreasing number of students and how to provide those remaining with appropriate care, saying that “Some 90 percent of the students in our school are left behind by their parents who work away. Better off families all send their children to urban schools, leaving behind students from families that can’t afford the costs.”

To meet the students’ educational needs, Headmaster Jian and the government have sought to provide students with tablets increase their access to high level education in an age of informationization.

“For children in cities, education informationization is icing on the cake, whereas for children in rural areas, it’s fuel in snowy weather,” Jiang said.
The Chinese Education System’s Development Becomes more Balanced through Smart Learning

A student draws on a tablet

Due to their insufficient numbers, many teachers in rural schools have had to teach multiple subjects that they may not be proficient in. Given this, the resources provided by the smart tablets have provided teachers with valuable assistance in preparing for classes and promoting their own professional development.

Recalling when his students first received their tablets, Headmaster Jiang said, “They were all very happy and curious about the tablets. They like to use the tablets and are more motivated with them. In particular, the shadowing and assessment functions have created a desirable environment for English and Chinese learning.”

Any earlier concerns that the Headmaster had on whether teachers could fully utilize the smart classrooms have dissipated. “The tablet now has become part of the teachers’ work. For the young teachers in particular, tablets have become their right-hand assistant. The rich courseware and materials on the tablet have largely enhanced the efficiency and quality of teaching preparation,” he said.

Teaching and learning: an experienced teacher learns to teach with a tablet before retirement 

The Chinese Education System’s Development Becomes more Balanced through Smart Learning Li Daofeng

Over the about four decades, Li Daofeng has taught many students at Xiezhuang Primary School with great enthusiasm. However, he has been most inspired by his students who came back to aid the school after graduating from university. His daughter Li Yanli, Headmaster Jiang Lin and security guard Chen Jiangping of Xiezhuang Primary School were all his students at one point or another.

“They went out and then came back. This is a success of rural education and they are the future of rural education,” Li said.

With the start of a new school year in 2021, Li began his last year of teaching and the first year of using the tablet for teaching.

Discussing the new way of teaching through smart technology, Li laughed and said: “To be honest, I envy the young teachers very much. They can enjoy such a good era.”
Intelligent correcting results of student’s essay on tablet 

 Intelligent correcting results of student’s essay on tablet

During the past 40 years, Li has seen firsthand the changes taking place in rural education. While he believes the countryside has much to offer to childrens’ development, he has noticed the huge gap between urban and rural education. “Compared with children in cities, rural students are often ignorant about the outside world, unable to understand the things depicted in textbooks.

To help students better understand the scenery and images depicted in their textbooks, Li often draws pictures, sing songs or tells stories to better convey the author’s thinking and emotions.

However, he acknowledges: “While most rural teachers are versatile, which is caused by the real situation, we didn’t major in music or drawing and we could give some simple presentations to help the children better understand. It’s no match for the pictures and videos on the tablet.”
 A student watches photosynthesis experiment video on tablet

 A student watches photosynthesis experiment video on tablet

But Li also understands that it would not be easy for people his age to adapt to using the smart tablet, though recognizes that smart tablets are an extraordinary instrument to further educate rural students.

Inheritance: Li’s daughter took the same job as her father

Just like her father Li Daofeng, Li Yanli also works at Xiezhuang Primary School to promote rural education.

Through her own efforts and the instructions of her father, Li Yanli has risen over the past four years to become a core teacher at Xiezhuang Primary School.
 Li Yanli teaches in class 

 Li Yanli teaches in class

While Li Yanli teaches in an interactive and engaging way as her father does, she has changed her teaching methods through the smart tablet. While her father teaches through drawing and singing to promote students’ Chinese learning, she uses the smart tablet to including pictures, music and videos to stimulate her students’ imaginations.

“For example, when I was teaching them about the Chinese Grasslands, I found it hard to arouse emotions from the children through written words and verbal descriptions since they had never seen grassland before. But when I presented pictures, audios and videos about the grasslands, the whole class became interested as the visual effects brought them an immersive experience,” Li Yanli said.
 Students use tablets for learning 

 Students use tablets for learning

In the Grade 6 class she teaches, there are about 50 students, by far the largest in the school. Though because of this, it can be difficult to prioritize the individual students. However, through tasks like reciting Chinese on the tablet, she can collect data on the whole class and each individual student, which enables her to give targeted teaching and instructions. “The children have been gaining higher and higher scores and have become increasingly interested in reading. In the past, I could only ask a few of them to make presentations. Now each of them has their learning data shown on the tablet, and I won’t miss anyone,” Li Yanli said.
 A students goes through reciting assessment on tablet 

 A students goes through reciting assessment on tablet

As many of the students at the Xiezhuang Primary School have parents who work in other cities, they often lack education from their families and rural teachers need to help their students further through tutoring. “When the entrance exams for senior high schools or colleges come, I would always tell my students that they should work harder than children in cities as they are not from as good family grounds and they need to strive for a better future,” Li Yanli said.

The education informationization program in rural areas has enabled the teachers and students at Xiezhuang Primary School to transcend the school walls and the urban-rural boundary to freely enjoy quality education resources. Education has become more accessible, more equitable, and more comprehensive through the use of smart technology.

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