Chinese Online Learning Pairs Latest Tech with Cultural Trove Against Pandemic Backdrop

ByAlexis Hooi July 30, 2020

Chinese educators pair advanced technology with cultural treasure trove to tap latest online learning trends emerging amid post-pandemic industry. [Photo provided to]


For Beijing housewife Jiang Yuqi, time is of the essence when it comes to her daughter Yumo's education.

"Children are very busy these days. Time allocation is just too important of them," said Jiang, who is in her 40s. Her 10-year-old girl will enter the fifth grade in September.

So when Jiang discovered a new online learning platform that tapped artificial intelligence, virtual reality, mobile communications and other forms of the latest technology, she could not have been happier.

"Reading is a big part of exams. Children like reading but they don't like answering, accurately and briefly, all those exam questions," Jiang said.

"These 'fast-reading' tools, they allow students to individually digest teacher's explanations then focus on customized practice questions provided through the course of the day, with adaptive feedback that encourages the children. Yumo gets a sense of direction and confidence during exams," she added.

Jiang is one of a growing number of Chinese parents who are riding the online learning wave at home, on the back of increased interest and usage amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when physical classes were limited as part of social distancing measures to fight the coronavirus.

Chinese investment in AI and tech support for education hit about $6 billion as schools nationwide closed due to COVID-19, with more than 270 million students turning to online learning, according to the latest industry figures.

At a recent seminar that brought together leading educators and analysts, Cen Jianjun, chairman of the Research Institute of International Education South-South Cooperation, said the pedagogical shifts from a teacher-centered approach toward a student-centered one in the country over the past decades also have received significant boosts in educational infrastructure innovation and development, with online education paving the way for shared experiences in cutting-edge K-12 school programs alone.

Qi Bai, head of the AI-powered language quick-reading program under the DouShen (Beijing) Education & Technology Inc used by Jiang and her daughter, said its product has so far attracted 10,000 users, with more than half of the parents involved in program trials also becoming subscribers. The technology has drawn interest from major telecoms and mobile phone makers in the rollout following its development half a year ago, he said.

"Other than AI, I'm more focused on virtual and augmented reality education. VR allows us to experience a scene clearly. AR is is like having a beautiful dream, detailing and analyzing reality more closely. These form a major direction for future education," Qi said.

To that effect, DouShen also is rolling out what it touts as a comprehensive language learning system that encompasses modern technologies and tools, such as AI, mobile communications, animation, film and television, as well as VR and AR "worlds" as classrooms.

The group's Zhao Jianlei, who leads its "magic card" project that activates near-field communication access to an information sharing, virtual learning world through smartphones and other mobile technology, said the platforms also were developed based on educational attributes that tap Chinese literature, history and culture.

"The card highlights ancient historical and literary luminaries, with their representative works used to convey knowledge to the children in a simple way," he said.

The moves are what many educators say are in line with the latest national guidelines to develop new consumption platforms and formats in the services and other sectors to fully unlock the potential of the Chinese creative and cultural spheres, complementing traditional educational channels.

In a recent industry teleconference, DouShen CEO Dou Xin said gameplay characters in its stable of educational tools include those based on classic works and great poets, ranging from Journey to the West and Water Margin to Li Bai and Bai Juyi. Virtual, interactive worlds also re-create scenes, such as those from the golden age of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).

"Our young protagonists will be friends with the ancients on an equal basis, understanding their life, background and historical era. They get to experience the profound connotations of literary works. These cultivate children's empathy, esthetic sense and other Chinese values," he said.

"In such an environment, every poem and every historical scene can be presented directly in front of you. There is no need to simply memorize knowledge like literature, history and culture."

In that next era of education, the focus will be on students' "interest and desire to explore, to stimulate their initiative to seek knowledge", Dou said.

"She is coming up with quick answers every day and I can see the results from her final exams," Jiang said of her daughter's progress. "The child adapts and enjoys the changes brought about by these technologies. They have saved manpower, resources and time, and expanded our horizons."




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