NGOs and young college graduates contribute to quality education

China Plus Published: 2019-10-29 14:37:18
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Written by Yin Xiuqi, narrated by Yang Yong.

This is a question-and-answer session between a teenage student and an artificial intelligence engineer, via a live streaming platform.

The engineer advises the middle school student on choosing his major at college if he wants to pursue a career in artificial intelligence.

The student, Lu Jieran, is one of many beneficiaries of an online educational program conducted by a non-government, non-profit organization called Tomoroe.

Tomoroe's online courses focus on students aged between 12 and 18.

The organization says it aims to build bridges between ordinary people from various walks of life and teenagers who have to navigate complex adult life, either at school or at work.

Twenty-eight year old Yang Yue, head of the four-member Beijing team of the online education organization, says it carefully selects the speakers:

"We adopt three criteria to select the speakers. First, they should have the willingness and drive to help middle school students. Second, they should accept or even be passionate about the jobs they do. Third, they should be good at speaking and communication."

The speakers of Tomoroe's courses include well-known successful people, such as media celebrity Yang Lan, real estate tycoon Wang Shi and the founder of a major English training company, Yu Minhong.

A student is exchanging with media celebrity Yang Lan during her online course organized by Tomoroe. [Photo: courtesy of Tomoroe]

A student is interacting with media celebrity Yang Lan during her online course organized by Tomoroe. [Photo: courtesy of Tomoroe]

The courses also have hundreds of other ordinary career men and women.

Unlike the formal school classes, these online courses see the speakers share their work and life experiences with the students.

In four years, the courses have found the jobs teenagers are most curious about are in military service, police, scientists and medical workers.

To meet the needs of the students, Yang says her organization has a wide range of ordinary career people, like doctors, pilots, firefighters and IT workers, giving lectures in the online courses.

She says there is one such live-streaming course a day on average, and it is also streamed on the websites of Chinese IT giants--Sina and Tencent.

On the other end of the courses, Yang says they usually choose schools in underdeveloped regions, such as Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in north China and Yunnan Province in the southwest.

All it needs is a computer, a broad-band service or stable 4-G telecommunications, a projector, and an on-the-spot teacher to coordinate the process.

Yang says most schools can meet these requirements. Statistics from the Ministry of Education show that almost all schools across China are connected to the internet and have access to computers.

Once a school is included in Tomoroe's online educational program, its students can sit in the classroom, watching the mostly free courses twice a month on average.

Yang says her organization makes sure it has long-term cooperation with the schools, which means a student can take the courses for the whole period of their middle school days.

As to the effect of the courses, Yang cites a lecture given by an artificial intelligence engineer:

"One of the students was very interested in the topic. Later we learnt from his teacher that he had made great progress at school after he'd done the course. So I think our courses do have an impact on the students."

The student is Lu Jieran from the Second Middle School Affiliated with the Inner Mongolia Normal University.

Now in the final year of his secondary education, Lu took an online course in April, 2019, given by Huang Fei, an artificial intelligence researcher and engineer working at the E-commerce giant Alibaba Group.

The 18-year-old says the topic of the course was just what he's interested in.

Fascinated by artificial intelligence, Lu asked Huang about what kind of subjects he should take at college:

"Huang Fei told us it's better to major in computer science while taking mathematics as a second major. He said this kind of learning structure at college is conducive to future research and career development. This course and his answer to my question really helped me."

Lu says he and his fellow students take this kind of course at least once a week. He says most of his classmates welcome the courses:

"I think the Tomoroe online courses can help most of my classmates to set their career objectives and find the direction in which we can study and work. You know, one of my classmates was undecided about what job he would like to do. After we took an online course given by a dentist, he told me he'd decided what he wanted to do in the future—he wanted to be a dentist."

So far, the courses have reached more than 500 schools across China according to Tomoroe. Some 200-thousand students have taken part in its four-year operation.

Before joining Tomoroe in 2017, Yang Yue(middle front) worked as a volunteer teacher for two years at a middle school in Yunnan Province, southwest China. [Photo: courtesy of Yang Yue]

Before joining Tomoroe in 2017, Yang Yue(middle front) worked as a volunteer teacher for two years at a middle school in Yunnan Province, southwest China. [Photo: courtesy of Yang Yue]

Yang Ruqin is a university undergraduate in Yunnan Province. She says if it hadn't been for a volunteer teacher, she would not have been able to go to university:

"She explained to us what the outside world was like. You know, my junior middle school is in a remote area. It was only after she taught us that I found out universities existed, and I realized I wanted to live on a university campus. I think it was Ms. Yang who encouraged me to continue studying from middle school to university."

Ms. Yang is Yang Yue, head of the Beijing Tomoroe team.

In 2012, Yang Yue graduated from the Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in the city of Chengdu.

After graduating, she volunteered to teach at the middle school in Dazhai Town, Yunxian County, Yunnan Province.

For two years, Yang Yue taught history at the remote school, which is more than eight hours' drive from the provincial capital of Kunming.

The seed of Yang's commitment to education was planted when she was herself a primary school student.

Yang says she has lived alone since fourth grade, as her parents had to work far away from her schools.

She says this background has played a part in driving her to become a teacher in an underdeveloped region:

"My teachers gave me a lot of help when I lived far away from my family. So I've been grateful since. I wanted to follow in their footsteps to help others. I thought that, as a university graduate, I could broaden the horizons of students in the remote and underdeveloped areas.

“Also, I wanted to improve myself. So I joined the 'Teach for China' program and became a volunteer teacher."

But challenges lay ahead of the young graduate:

"In my first class as a teacher, one student jumped onto my desk. I was taken aback. That was intense. I had to look up to him because he was taller than me as he stood on the desk. So my challenge was huge."

The young teacher found that many students had no interest in learning, and some of them were too naughty to discipline.

But with patience and commitment to the students' education, Yang overcame the difficulties.

"I spent some time trying to let the students open their hearts to me. One way of dealing with them was to visit their families. I learnt that many students wanted a teacher to communicate one-on-one and face-to-face with them.

“Then I found that all naughty students have hidden talents. A good teacher should dig out these invisible advantages and help them grow, even if they're still not good at studying," recalls Yang.

Through frequent family visits, Yang got to know what kind of families her students came from, and she was able to target her methods to arouse their interest in school life and study.

Yang also brought new ways of teaching to her class.

Her student Yang Ruqin has a fond memory of studying under her guidance:

"Her teaching methods were new to us. It was easy for us to memorize historical events under her guidance. And her classes were very interesting as she used videos and photos to go with her explanation of the textbooks."

Yang Ruqin is now studying at the Kunming-based Yunnan University of Chinese Medicine. The undergraduate aspires to be a gynecologist in the field of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

For Yang Yue, her two-years working as a volunteer teacher have driven her to seek a long-term career in the educational sector.

After finishing her volunteer work, Yang worked at the "Teach for China" program for a short time before joining the Tomoroe organization in 2017.

She says her volunteer work in Yunnan Province was just part of the nationwide teaching assistance under the private-funded "Teach for China" program.

Between 2016 and 2018, college graduate Tan Mengwei was the program's volunteer teacher at Anhua Central Primary School, Longnan City, Gansu Province in northwest China.

Tan taught maths for students in Grade five and Grade six.

Like Yang Yue, what Tan first experienced was unexpected.

"Before I got there, I thought the students were thirsty for learning and knowledge, with their eyes wide open and looking up to the teacher. But it was quite different. It turned out that many students were addicted to playing video games on their cell phones. They had fights, they didn't like studying," recalls Tan.

Tan explains that's because a lot of children are left-behind to live with their grandparents while their parents work far away. It means they don't have much parental care or attention.

Now working in Beijing, Tan recalls that she and her fellow college-graduated teachers brought some changes to the local students:

"For example, one girl couldn't pass maths exams when she first became a Grade five student. But one semester later she made progress, getting 80 to 90 points out of a total of 100. So we witnessed a change.

“It turned out she had been afraid of her previous maths teacher so she didn't dare ask questions. When two other young volunteers and I came, we were willing to play and make friends with the children. So she felt at home in our classes."

Xu Qian is another "Teach for China" program volunteer who worked in the same province during the same period as Tan.

The school Ms. Xu worked at is a three-hour drive from the nearest town along a treacherous mountain road.

Xu's class had more than 80 students, which she says is really hard for any teacher who wants to take care of all of her students.

With devotion, patience and good teaching skills, Xu, who was teaching Chinese, says she finally overcame the difficulties.

Now working in Beijing, Xu says she cherishes her teaching experience:

"It's very meaningful if you can manage your class well. An interesting class is good for the development of the students. In particular, a teacher of Chinese is involved more in the emotional development of the children."

A native of the underdeveloped northwest Shaanxi Province, Xu calls for more college graduates in metropolises to join the "Teach for China" program, bringing knowledge and care to students in poor regions.

More than a decade into its operation, the "Teach for China" program arranges for university graduates and other people to work as volunteer teachers at primary and middle schools in mostly underdeveloped regions.

Statistics released on the program's official website show that more than two thousand two hundred people have worked in the teaching assistance program, on a two-year basis at schools across the country.

More than 540-thousand students have benefited from its teaching services.

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