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How sharing education resources gives children wings to fly

Aug 26, 2020 By Liang Yali, Xu Shenglan

In China, differences in the geographical conditions, economic development, and the allocation of resources have led to disparities in education capabilities between east and west and between urban and rural areas.

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Peng'an County is situated in the northeast of Sichuan Province in the west of China. Containing 21 townships, 322 villages, and a population of 730,000, curriculum reform isn’t enough to solve the inequalities facing basic education in this underdeveloped county.

Chen Sanlin is the Director of Peng'an County's Education, Science and Technology, and Sports Bureau. He explained how Peng'an County is using ICT to boost education resources to benefit over 70,000 teachers and students in the county. 

The sharing network 

WinWin: Sharing high-quality educational resources will disrupt the traditional ways schools are run. How should education managers, schools, and teachers respond to this?

Chen Sanlin: In 2018, the Ministry of Education issued the Education Informatization 2.0 Action Plan, which proposed a “3, 2, 1” development goal. “3” refers to teaching applications for all teachers, learning applications for all school-age children, and digital campus construction for all schools. "2" refers to boosting digital applications and boosting digital literacy for teachers and students. And “1” refers to building a large-scale Internet + Education platform.

As we’ve advanced into the 2.0 era of education digitalization, the focus has shifted from the quantitative change of the 1.0 era to qualitative change, from emphasizing application-driven, integrated development to innovation and ecosystem transformation. As such, the way we view educational resources, technical literacy, education governance, and ways of thinking needs to change. Sharing digital resources, exceptional teachers, and educational data across ICT platforms will help us upgrade educational service supply and governance.

Education managers need to coordinate national and provincial public resources, introduce high-quality commercial resources, and organize schools and teachers to create local resources. This will help build an extensive, high-quality resource library that’s suitable for all academic stages and subjects. By establishing a big data management application platform for regional educational resources, this will guide and standardize the utilization of these resources by schools and teachers.

For schools, building digital campuses should be key. They need to improve teachers' ability to use digital resources, optimize external resources, and create original resources. They must also coordinate the construction and application of resources with teachers' professional growth, classroom teaching reforms, and students' all-round development. This will increase how much resource utilization contributes to improving the quality of teaching and the development of high-quality schools.

Subject teachers are key to whether educational and teaching resources can have the effect they’re meant to. Teachers should embrace ICT like big data, AI, and IoT to select resources suited to their teaching styles and students' learning needs, digitalize traditional resources, and improve IT capabilities.

WinWin: Please introduce the development strategy behind Peng'an County's digital education platform.

Chen: Our platform is based on Huawei's high-speed optical fiber network. It connects 80 public schools in cities, towns, and villages. It allows rural schools to regularly coordinate their course schedules and teacher resources with schools in the city, and lets them share the same network, set of resources, and even teachers.

The network harnesses the wide coverage of the optical network, integrating various applications that cover all administrative divisions, directly affiliated departments, and schools in the county's education system. It means that system managers, teachers, students, and parents can all use the platform for education management, teaching applications, online learning, and family-school collaborative education.

WinWin: Dual-teacher learning (an online lecturer and local classroom teacher work together) using digital platforms is increasingly popular. What do you think of this teaching model and how can students in remote areas benefit from it?

Chen: Thanks to the high-quality, all-optical campus network, we can operate high-quality remote interactive recording and streaming systems in urban and rural schools. Live streaming classrooms, synchronous interactive classrooms, specialist distance learning classrooms, and dual-teacher classrooms have established an assistance and guidance mechanism between urban and rural schools and strong and weak schools, helping to improve the standard of education in remote areas.

We believe that dual-teacher learning has several advantages. First, it increases the reach of resources and promotes the balanced development of education. Weaker, remote, and rural schools can share teachers and teaching resources with leading schools and urban schools. Second, it improves the teaching abilities of exceptional teachers, training them to lead multiple classes and improve their standard of synchronous and interactive teaching. Third, dual-teacher learning trains local teachers, which is especially useful for teachers who are weak in certain subjects. 

WinWin: What specific benefits do you do think education digitalization has?

Chen: Education digitalization is not just about teaching information and resources. It affects all aspects of classroom teaching. It touches directly on students' key and overall competencies. When children in both urban and rural areas use the same network and set of resources, equal access to educational resources eliminates any psychological inferiority.

Education IT and online courses enable all children to receive high-quality instruction in subjects that are typically neglected in rural areas such as music, PE, art, and English. They can also participate equally in high-quality online educational activities as well as different styles of learning using technology. 

At the same time, the application of ICT means there are more channels and diverse content available. Family-school collaborative education is also more frequent and effective. Attention to students with learning issues is improved, so they can quickly improve learning outcomes.

Smart classrooms and learning potential

WinWin: With reference to the all-optical campus, how is Peng'an using digital technology to redefine the teaching space?

Chen: The all-optical campus network provides a stable technological support platform for various education and teaching applications. Harnessing this, we’ve set up a metropolitan area network management center at the local end, a UOOC recording and streaming center, an educational TV recording and broadcast center, a video conference center, and the Peng'an big data management platform for smart education.

We’ve built an application system to cover areas like smart classrooms, smart reading, smart training, and smart ethics, and we’ve used application software to build a learning space for teachers and students.

Going forward, we will optimize the county's education big data management platform, unify ID authentication on various applications by ensuring the interoperability of the underlying data, boost interaction and sharing, and further integrate education and technology. 

WinWin: What strategies exist for teacher training in the digitalization context?

Chen: In 2016, Peng'an county launched the Go Out, Come In scheme. Teachers were sent out to shadow at business training centers, higher education institutions, and schools that are leaders in digital transformation in Sichuan and elsewhere. We invited government and education experts to give lectures, guidance, and to talk to us. In total, 100 teachers received training in education digitalization leadership, 200 received training education IT, and 350 received subject training. These teachers are tested and monitored at work to ensure the training is effective.

Optical fiber leads the way

WinWin: What role is fiber playing in education digitalization in Peng'an?

Chen: The key to the qualitative leap in education digitalization in Peng'an from 1.0 to 2.0 is the all-optical campus network that Huawei built for the whole county. It’s like a network of highways that provides basic support for various applications to operate quickly, securely, and efficiently. There are two main areas where it’s really shown value and significance. First, it integrates the application of education digitalization in the county, with this network environment enabling us to coordinate video conferencing and office automation. The second is that it offers stronger security and intelligence than a traditional network. Network operations status and user information can be controlled in real time, and O&M efficiency is very high.

WinWin: Although Peng'an has achieved some major, even breakthrough, achievements in education digitalization, it will inevitably face difficulties and challenges in the future. What is your view on such difficulties and challenges?

Chen: We face challenges in four main areas: construction, application, technology, and management. 

Construction: A long-term mechanism for special investment in education digitalization has not yet been established for developing regions. At the same time, building digital applications requires heavy funding, and so we anticipate more local and national funding.

Applications: Despite China issuing a lot of digital industry standards, their implementation is still patchy. There isn't a stable model for smart education for the region or schools. Therefore, with the large-scale deployment of some applications, we get a stream of overlapping and redundant projects and zombie applications, which leads to huge losses and waste.

Technology: Schools, teachers, and students want digital education systems, platforms, resource tools, and products to be simpler, convenient, smart, and efficient. Only then will things be more conducive to promoting modern IT and wide resource coverage, as well as achieving balance in educational resources and improving digital literacy for teachers and students.

Management: Issues exist with the management, maintenance, and iterative updates of IT infrastructure. Electronic devices, for example, inevitably suffer failures and have a limited lifespan. The maintenance and renewal of this infrastructure will demand extensive funds and the corresponding technological power. This will require education authorities, school administrators, and teachers to also be aware of sustainability issues to avoid resistance against digitalization.