"How Teachers Use E-Learning in China" -- Lecture by Prof. Hong Fan from Tsinghua University

On 14 August 2018, Prof. Hong Fan, Director of Global Communication Office in Tsinghua University, Beijing, China, provided a special lecture on "How Teachers Use E-Learning in China". Staff from UNESCO-IICBA and UNESCO Addis Ababa Liaison Office were in attendance.

Prof. Fan is a visiting scholar in UNESCO-IICBA for her field study in relation to education and cultural heritage in Africa. As a professor in the top-tier university in China, she holds a PhD in Cross-Cultural Communication from Oxford University, U.K., and her current academic work is specialized in strategic communication, branding and cross-cultural communication.

The lecture began with an introduction of China's fundamental education policy, emphasized four trends of e-learning in China and concluded with an overview of the most recent national policy on the recruitment of retired teachers to improve teacher training and teaching in poverty areas. 

• Fundamental Education Policy in China
Fair education is a fundamental principle, and the Government is striving to ensure the inclusiveness and equity of education. They are doing so by providing nine years of free and obligatory education to every child, including special education for handicapped children, and by closing the gaps between different regions through e-learning. By 2020, the goal is for every school in the country to have an internet connection.

• Four Main Trends in E-learning in China
1) Massive Open Online Courses in Universities

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) provide opportunities for lifelong learning for all in China. Children and people of all ages have access to MOOCs with certification offered by 460 universities in China for free. MOOCs also contribute to bridging the gaps between various higher education institutions in China. According to the Ministry of Education in China, in January 2018, China ranked number one in the world for the number of courses offered (more than 3,200), and 11 million students have used MOOCs and received credit for them.

Teachers in China also use WeChat (a major social media software like Facebook or WhatsApp, but with more extensive usage) to manage small scale (less than 500 people) online learning and the follow-up of MOOCs by utilizing the group chat function. Some teachers in the top-tier universities also voluntarily provide distant trainings for teachers in the rural areas through WeChat groups.

2) Flipped Classrooms
The flipped classroom is a transformation from teacher-centered education to learner-centered education used in primary and secondary schools in China. Contrary to the traditional way of first teaching in the classroom and then giving homework afterwards, teachers are instead encouraged to provide pre-class self-learning materials (for example, micro-lectures (see #3 below) of usually no more than 10 minutes) to students, and then organize discussions and questions and answers with students in the actual classroom. This is why it is called "flipped classroom". Students therefore are placed at the center of their learning, discovering their own interests, strengths and weakness whilst watching the coursework and giving feedback to teachers and peers in the actual classroom, which makes teaching and learning more relevant and tailored to individual needs.

3) Micro-lectures in Primary and Secondary Schools
A micro-lecture is one of the self-learning materials produced by teachers and has become very popular in primary and secondary education in China. It’s a recorded lecture, based on the textbook and curriculum, that is usually between five to ten minutes long. Micro-lectures only discuss knowledge points or one new concept to ensure learning bit by bit. Learners can gain access to them on their mobile phones either through an app or a website. Such technology mobilizes learning. It makes it accessible while one is waiting for the bus for example.

The Ministry of Education and Bureaus of Education in China manage micro-lecture competitions and platforms to encourage, select and share the best micro-lectures created by teachers. The platforms also provide regular training sessions for teachers on basic ICT skills, how to make micro-lectures and how to manage a flipped classroom.

In addition, many education companies provide micro-lectures for a fee for specific grade levels and school subjects, as well as extra-curricular knowledge and skills including IT, languages, business, finance and so on.

4) "Internet +" Assistance in Rural Areas
"Internet +" is a national strategy to improve people's livelihoods in China. In the education sector, the assistance aims to provide internet equipment in classrooms and to enhance teaching and learning quality. The Chinese Government does not have enough budget to cover the costs for internet-equipped classrooms in all schools. This is where state-owned companies play a role taking corporate social responsibility. The education bureaus of the more developed cities are also required to help the less developed areas through sharing course materials and sending teachers for better teaching and training. The "Internet +" assistance allows online training and distant learning to be easily carried out in remote areas.

• Retired Teachers Going to Help Impoverished Areas in China
On 20 July 2018, the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Finance jointly launched a program called the Silver-Age Lecture Plan. From 2018-2020, the Ministries will recruit 10,000 retired school teachers to conduct teacher training and course teaching in remote countryside schools. The (re-)hired retired teachers can choose the listed impoverish region they would like to teach in for two years and will receive pay on top of their pension.

• Quality Assurance
After the presentation, one important question was raised regarding the quality assurance of MOOCs and micro-lectures provided by universities, teachers and private education institutions or companies. In China, MOOCs should be submitted to the university teaching office for approval before being uploaded online for quality control; the online shared micro-lectures are also reviewed and selected by a committee organized by the Ministry and Bureaus of Education. For private education companies, the quality of their services are evaluated and reflected by the market and also supervised and monitored by the Ministry of Education and/or Bureaus of Education.

Presentation is available here