Student self-made online lessons

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A news caught my attention yesterday: new education site in China turns to student to make lessons. Quickly I jumped to this Kuxuexi website which means Cool Study in Chinese.

The current website looks like a Chinese youtube with contents based on traditional school curriculum. What I like about it is the simple video format, nothing fancy but a voice over a writing pen. This means relatively low production/operation cost. No other function such as assignment, discussion is available.

cat cycleI guess the biggest selling point of the idea is that the videos are supposed to be made by students themselves. After checking a few videos, I doubt the validity of such statement. The voice of several videos ranging from English subject to math subject is the same, the teaching approach is exactly homogeneous. I would suggest investors to carry out further due diligence on this value proposition.

Founder of Kuxuexi is an ex-general manage of Youku in China (Chinese version of Youtube), therefore even the business model of Kuxuexi is quite a replicate of Youku. Even lesson starts with 30 second advertisement (most of them are about video games as it is simply one of the most lucrative segment among people of school age).

Based on a quick observation, I would give a 2 out of 5 for the rating. Making a MOOC platform in China is not easy as the competition is extremely high and products are very similar. Hope some day some platform does stand out of the crowd.

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Would MOOC work for kids?

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The one week summer camp for migrants’ children came to an end today. I received the first thank you from kids I was teaching, which just melted my heart. I also came to realise the huge limits of MOOC education among younger children. (below teenager age).

The first obstacle is every kid is different. At the age of ten, they have shown very varied cognitive development. Some could draw beautiful graphs on a computer, some could do almost nothing. I spent four days teaching one kid how to type A,B,C,D hand by hand. But for some others, they could type 26 alphabetics quickly. Many of them need some one to sit next to them, to understand what their learning blocks are, explore solutions and cheer for every tiny progress they made.

baby kittenThe second challenge is their current learning is still at very low level, comprising of lots of memorising and practice. To master learning at this level, they need constant hand holding and someone who imposes discipline. A MOOC model which requires students to be self-directed learners would not work.

MOOCs also do not provide the chance to improvise. In the middle of this week, when we were all exhausted, the fantastic teacher Stephanie played music from her iPad. We began to type and dance at the same time. Stephanie saw our exhaustion and boredom so she used music to turn this activity fun. This will only happen in a face-to-face environment.

Babies, sorry, we have not yet found a MOOC model which suits you right now. You will need to be a more grown up to catch the ride.

From no me to All about me

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There was no ‘Me’ during the last generation. Everybody dressed the same, thought the same, ate the same. Self identity was discouraged to the extend of invisible.

During this generation, things turned 180 degree. It is all about ‘ME’. Single child enjoyed the full attention from the entire family. It is all about this one child who gets everything, as much as the family can afford. Today when I asked among the children who would like to sit together with new comers to teach them computer skills they had learned during the last three days, nobody said yes. Even as migrants families, they themselves had been new comers to this city.

cat wantThe two conversations I had with adults I just met reminded me the same – a quite self-centric model. People ordered me what to do based on their wants and wills. They never asked me what do I think. It pretty much feels like – you do it, full stop. Being nice, I was asked to give. Being considerate, I was never asked what do I think or feel.

As a Chinese, I know how to say no in an extremely polite way. As someone who has been convinced the power of influence, now I ponder, does the power of ordering even work?

I hope we find somewhere in between the No Me and the All About Me.

Who kills the Creativity?

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2014-07-16 09.06.06Among the children in the camp, the most creative ones are usually the youngest ones. Some of them are never afraid to explore. They do wonders out of computer and crafts tools,  For the older ones, many of them lost the capability to make mistakes and to go beyond what is taught.

The older they get, the more frequent they turn to the teacher asking – what shall I do next. While for some of the younger ones, they just go ahead and play things out on their own.

There are two dimension of education. One is to prepare children to get ready for social rules, to be integrated well in the future. The other is to preserve their curious and creative nature. Sadly these two do not usually co-exist in school environment.

2014-07-16 09.07.53My other hypothesis is that their parents are too busy to spend time to grow children’s creativity at home. At school students are taught to follow instructions. At home they are left alone to watch TV and play games. Day by day, they became passive information and rule takers. Their precious nature to explore declines. They grow to be great products and victims of standardisation.

A really good teacher would understand individual differences and encourage them. But there are very few of these. As an instruction helper for three days, I came to understand why. I am exhausted.  It takes a lot of energy to take care of unique talent, recognise it and phrase it, on top of taking care of the average ones. Teaching the whole and caring for the special drains my energy too quickly.

Creativity is too precious an asset to be ignored or discouraged. I hope there is a solution.

Segregation

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Things revealed more as we entered day 2. The children of this batch are all studying in Shanghai. However as their parents do not have Shanghai Hukou, they cannot attend Shanghai public schools.

Qing pu Day 2 shortA Hukou is a record in the system of household registration (imagine a passport linked only to a particular city). A child automatically inherits a Hukou from his parents’. That is, parents from Henan province have Hukou in Henan so do their children. It is hard to obtain Hukou in a new city to enjoy social benefits (such as public schooling) elsewhere without employer sponsorship.

In order to have a better life, their parents migrated to Shanghai to take labor jobs. Shanghai is expensive so they all live close to the factories, which are usually far from city centres and subsequently cheaper. These remote (newly developed) places have fewer schools, hospitals, not to mention educational agencies such as museums, libraries, playgrounds. The rain poured cats and dogs today, our car drove on the flooded road as if it were a boat. (Road situation is very bad). What is abundant are internet-cafes, where the children spend their pocket money and long time playing computer games.

A natural segregation has already appeared. For children whose parents have time and money, they will go to museums, learn a second/third language, go travel, do volunteer works early in lives. Their intelligence will develop earlier and to greater degree. For children whose parents are busy making money and have no time (some parents see children twice a week during factory breaks), they receive weekly stipend and spend mostly on junk food and Internet cafes.

Life is never perfectly fair. On one side, I am happy for them as they are fed and clothed. On the other side, I ask this question – are they being fed and clothed spiritually. I wish their future well.

Summer Camp Day 1

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I was invited to help out a summer camp in Shanghai suburb for migrant workers’ children. This one-week camp took place in an abandoned church which was renovated later as a teaching place. Today saw a great start. Meanwhile the first day experience is quite different from my counselling experience in Camp America before, also very different from my expectation.

cats in classI had thought the children would be from poor families.  But actually they dressed clean, behaved well and go to normal schools. They are just very normal. A few of them are silent and shy, I am not sure if this is a born quality or a product of social environment. China’s fast economic growth brought great life improvement for millions of people including the children I interacted today.

Children are divided into three groups based on age. Each group goes to a different room for a different activity (Computer, English, outdoor sports) for one hour, takes a break then switches to another room. This is not the same as their school setting (a normal school would have a fixed classroom for all types of classes). A few younger children were confused but quickly they were instructed to go to the right room.

One observation makes me wonder if a standard curriculum would be good for all. Among the youngest children, some of them are extremely explorative. They usually jumped to level 4 in computer class when the instructor only began to teach level 1. The instructor requested them to stop in order to follow the classroom pace. I am not too convinced by that approach, as I believe the early education is not only to teach kids how to adjust their behaviour to social protocol, but also to protect their exploration spirit and encourage experiment. cat play balls

Funny enough, we asked the youngest children ‘what is your favourite thing to do?’ 9 out of 10 answered I like to study. Any parent or teacher would be very pleased to hear the answer. However I would much prefer my own children (one day) to have his/her favourite thing as to play.

For the harmony

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Harmony is a vocabulary which can never be emphasised enough here. Once I mentioned to a Chinese friend about the block of Google, he responded ‘It is for the harmony of the society’. I became silent.

I began to do a lot of thinking based on that conversation. Recently quite a few policies came out (eg. blocking Google, blocking Internet TV, blocking Chinese journalist to speak to media outside the country). Most people, contrary to my expectation, had little response. It is indeed a very harmonious environment.

A-cat-who-hates-lights-on-during-his-sleepWanting to analyse this more rationally, I started reading more about Chinese history. As an agriculture-based society, China had formed communities based on location very early in its civilisation. Mobility and aggression were not encouraged as it hurt productivity in farming. It’s important to obey rules and follow a particular leader so every one living in the same neighbourhood would be in peace with each other.

Does this explain why Chinese/Asian cultures tend to avoid confrontation and seek harmony? To quite an extent I think so.

Would the coming of MOOC do? It may bring in some new sounds.