In China, technology is viewed quite differently from how it’s viewed in the U.S. Just as an example, it is not considered rude to use your cellphone in a movie theater or to talk very loudly in a public area. Chinese people also pull out their cellphones and take pictures in a way that would put even the most technology obsessed millennial to shame.
Yet, strangely, their love of mobile devices has not translated into the world of education. Despite the rapid modernization underway in China, education is still firmly entrenched in a more traditional era. Students write their homework with paper and pencil. They might use a computer to do basic research. Teachers often use PowerPoint in their lessons, but that’s about the extent of it. Taking online classes and getting an online degree are practically unheard of.
As the rest of China transforms, the education system is being left behind.
The Chinese educational system currently has students attending school from sun-up until sundown. They usually have another two hours of homework on top of that and many of them take additional lessons on the weekend. Their workload is astounding and they get very few days off. It’s not surprising that many students become unimaginative and dispassionate under such rigorous educational practices.
The result is that schools continue churning out graduates without the ability to innovate or solve problems creatively. Only the brightest (and wealthiest) Chinese students can study abroad and many of them do not bring their talents and unique experience back to China. As the rest of China transforms, the education system is being left behind.
Chinese educators must learn to engage students
If students aren’t enthusiastic about learning it can make it downright impossible to teach. A good way to improve the education system in China would be to take advantage of Chinese students’ fascination and enthusiasm for technology. A more modern classroom could stimulate the students and make teaching more effective.
Naturally, this is easier said than done and the Chinese government has shown little interest in reform. In the ESL community, on the other hand, using technology might be a more feasible option. Foreign teachers are often encouraged to make their lessons fun and engaging for the students. Many ESL teachers also work outside of the traditional school setting. They teach in training centers, international schools, or work as private tutors, so they may have an easier time accessing technology.
The Chinese government does block access to many websites and social media outlets, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives. Few Americans have heard of the social networking website, “Qq,” but it has almost 800 million users. WeChat, or “Weixin” is another form of social networking. Everyone has it and they use it for messaging, photos and video sharing, location sharing, and to connect with other users around the globe. There is also “YouKu,” the Chinese version of YouTube.
All of these tools make it possible to interact with students in an entirely new and exciting way: an ESL teacher can instruct the students on conditional statements by showing a YouKu video of Beyoncé’s “If I were a Boy.” WeChat can be used to open group discussions and encourage students to practice using English.
Technology really opens up a lot of doors for students and it’s a shame when educators do not to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, not many in Chinese schools do.
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Brilliant or Insane contributor Forrest Miller is a writer and an educator, specializing in ESL. He is from Oregon, currently living and teaching in China.