I chose to study the local educaion system for several reasons. First off, I believe that education is one of, if not the most, important part of a child's life. Education provides students the chance to change the world in your own way, to make the world a better place and basically provides basic knowledge of all topics. School is the place where we all start thinking about what we want to do with our life. Personally, I think technology can either fit a classroom perfectly, or mess the system up, depending on the surrounding community, the need for technology and the use of technology. Attending a 1:1 laptop to student ratio school, I havee always been very interested in whether technology in school is a good thing or not. Lastly, I love working with children and getting to know them, so this seemed to be a perfect fit for me :)
My sources included websites, people and books, but mostly people. I did most of my research after arriving in Xizhou, because I talked to a lot of people about what school was to them. The sources that gave me the most information included Mrs. Yang, a teacher at the local elementary school, He Laoshi, the Director of Administration at Xizhou Er Zhong, and Zhao Laoshi, the Computer Lab teacher at Xizhou Er Zhong. However, every person I asked for information helped me complete my project. I chose these people because they seemed to know most about my topic, and they were indeed very informational. I also asked students about what they thought of school in general, because I wanted a first person view on what school here in Xizhou really is. Thanks to all my sources, I got all of this information.
The major questions I was trying to answer, included asking people what their opinion on the local education system was, and how they thought technology such as computers, projectors and SMART boards fit into their curriculum. I also wondered whether the school has experienced big changes in the past decade or so. These questions all revolve around the school system and how technology is integrated into it. My point for this project is that; In order to have a thorough understanding of whether technology has a positive impact in the classroom or not, one must investigate the surrounding community, the need for technology and the uses of the technology.
What I Learnt:
Before I came to Xizhou, I had the opinion that there would be no technology at all in Xizhou. It would be a completely rural place, with no stores, no English anywhere, and the town square would be a small square with small stalls set up on each side of the road, selling Chinese food. When I actually arrived, I was astonished. This small place, which exists about 20 km from Dali, unknown to the majority of the planet, had it's own little world. Full of small, ambling lanes, tiny stores that sold t-shirts with English writing on them and the smiling people. The most surprising thing however was the center of their little world, Sifang Jie, a spacious square full of happy children on break from school, of elderly people chatting with each other and a pleasant aroma of fresh food being cooked all around. However, that is not at all that surprised me. The school, full of children laughing and memorizing their textbooks, had projectors, speakers and even computers. Another school nearby even has a 2:1 student to laptop ratio! Below I've written all that I've learnt over this past month:
During my first couple of days in Xizhou, I learnt a lot about my topic. I asked almost all the children I met about what they thought about school, whether they went to school, whether they liked it and what they learnt. My first source was a small boy, about 10 years old, who we gave an American name, Shawn. He told me that he didn't like going to school, for the simple reason that there was a lot of bird poop on the way there. He also told me that school started at 8:00, and went to 11:00. At this point, they had a break for about 2 hours, where they went home and ate lunch. School started again at 1:00, and went till 5:00. This was my first impression of the school, and I was rather surprised. I didn't expect it to go so long! The second girl I asked, was even younger, and was in 2nd grade. She first told me that she liked going to school, but after her dad started laughing, she told me she actually did not. With these two children, I expected that school was a boring place to the kids, and that they would rather stay at home.
My impressions changed after I had my 3 - 5 conversations with three to five people, for three to five minutes. My first interviewee was Xiaotang, the manager of Yang Zhuo Ran. She pointed me to plenty of contacts, but most importantly told me that students learn all subjects, including Chinese, Maths English, History, Geography, Sports and Music. This came as surprising to me, as I had the belief that all they learnt was Chinese, Maths, and possibly Sports. Later, I talked to Mrs. Yang, a teacher at the local elementary school. She was extremely helpful, and told me almost everything I needed to know. Classes were big, she declared. 37 students atleast, and 47 at maximum. The students are very tired by the end of the day, but they like coming to school. They often have alumni coming in and spending the day at the school, because they liked it that much. They learn a lot of subjects, including Chinese, Maths, Sports and Music. According to Chinese Law, it is necessary for students to attend school for atleast 9 years. The Elementary School has been open for 19 years. This was also the point, where I decided that I wanted to focus on Middle School, simply because it would be easier to compare for me, and also middle school is the perfect place for technology, since students are young enough to learn how to use it easily, and old enough to be responsible with it. The last piece of information I found out before actually visiting the school was from Mr. Yang, the security guard at the Linden Centre. He told me the three locations of all three of the schools here in Xizhou, the elementary, the middle and the high school.
My first visit to the school probably gave me the most information about my topic. Along with Aidan, Katie, Hannah and Xiaotang, I first visited Xizhou Er Zhong, or Xizhou Middle School. Aidan and I actually attended an 8th grade Chinese Literature class. It was very eye-opening, and not just because I got to see the different types of tools they use to learn. I also learnt about the techniques they use to learn, which is mostly by recitation and memorization. It was very different from the American system, but a bit more similar to the British - Indian system, which I have experienced while I was young. Their main tools were textbooks, and they had about textbooks, newspapers, magazine articles, any paper learning materials piled up to about half a metre high, on each of their desks. These are their books for the whole day, and all their classes. The technology that they had included projectors and speakers, but mostly the teacher used blackboards and chalk. After the class ended, I talked to He Laoshi, the Director of Administration, and he gave me a lot of general information about the school. I learnt that the school has been open since 1910, so it is a little over a 100 years old. However, they are going to renovate the building and build better facilities soon. He informed me that they had a computer lab, a biology lab and a chemistry lab as well. All students know how to use Microsoft Word, and have the basics to using computers. There are more girls than boys in the school, and the school is a government school, and everything is provided by the government. Almost half of the students go to high school after middle school, or they attend specialist school to learn how to better a specific skill. The school's student population is about 1200, and almost all of them go to work after school, or help their parents. They also have computer class once a week.
My last visit to the school, I talked to Zhao Laoshi, the teacher in charge of the computer lab at Xizhou Er Zhong. This visit provided me with a lot of information on my specific topic. He told me that there have been a lot of big changes since Xizhou Er Zhong introduced computers in 1995. Xizhou became the first district to actually use computers and introduce them in schools. The tech scene has improved a lot, and a lot more schools are now using computers. I was surprised to know that the students use computers for entertainment. During their weekly computer class, they learn how to use a computer, but mostly to play games on it, since a lot of the students don't have computers at home. They do not do homework on computers, or type up any work on them. Parents do not support using computers, because they believe that it takes away from study time, from the "real" education. In Xizhou itself, hardly any jobs require computer skills, except government officials, teachers and some hospital staff. Some farmers access the Internet, but it is definitely not needed. As Zhao Laoshi told me, only 10% of families in Xizhou own a computer. The students use the computers once a week, no more, no less. The students like using the computers, because they use them for entertainment. The teachers use the computers for entertainment as well, so people like the computers, but do not see them as a teaching tool. The people at the school itself and the parents all believe that it takes away from the "real" education, which is working with textbooks and soaking in the information. Most teachers like using the computers, because it can give a wider perspective on the real world. However they believe that for the country, it is not, because it distracts students from school. They play games and surf the Internet, while they could be studying.
For my Final Project, I did a Prezi. To check it out, click here: http://prezi.com/oupjq3jh6s67/does-technology-affect-schools-positively/
Microcampus is an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. I could not begin to list all the things that I am going to take away from this experience, because it would take me ages. I took away the idea of what friendly people are really like. I learnt that life is not all about rushing from place to place to get things done. It's about stopping, greeting people and smelling the flowers. Life is so slow paced here, and everyone has the time to do whatever they want. You're not rushed to do anything.
I will take away the idea of being self-reliant, and even though I'm not fluent in Chinese, I got by. The process takes time if I have to rack my brains for the limited Chinese words that I know, but every single word helped. I learnt to have confidence, and not be afraid to go up and talk to people, because they don't mind.
My topic changed a lot from the beginning of the trip to the end. At the beginning, I wanted to focus on the integration of technology in the classroom and how the Chinese Government makes it happen. However, after coming here, I sort of drifted and got really interested in the influence that different cultures have on Xizhou, and how they teach about diversity at school. Still, after I visited the school, I decided that I did want to go into the technology here. I changed my mind a lot, because I tried to focus on whatever interested me, so that doing my work was not something I was forced to do, but something that I enjoyed. This is how I ended up choosing my topic. The most difficult part of my research would probably be finding a hanger, because there's just so many directions to go in. It took about 2 walks with Mr. T, visits to the school, and a bunch of research to figure out what I wanted to do.
Otherwise, everyone was really open about talking with me about the school, the technology and basically the education system as a whole. My major, "aha moment", was when I visited the school and discovered that there was a teacher who actually controlled the computer lab. It was like "finally!" This was a big deal for me, because even though people were willing to talk about technology in school, they did not know much about whether the government provided the technology, or what big changes have occurred in the town since computers were introduced in the classroom. The teacher was actually very helpful, and gave me almost all of my information that I needed to complete my project.
This project helped me understand my topic a lot better, because I actually got to talk to a lot of people I probably would not have if I was not doing this project. I also got to know the children of this village better because of this topic, and I really appreciate that, because I love working with children. Visiting the school was one thing that helped me got to know my project a lot better, and my topic a lot better as well. If I was not doing my project and still visited the school, I would not have been so focused on the school, and would have gotten more distracted easily. So, overall, I am really glad that I did this project.
This project helped me interact with so many people that I would not even have talked to normally. It helped me blend into the community and helped me feel like I really fit in. The teachers are the people that I probably would not have talked to, and they were actually really interesting people who had very different ideas about how things should be run. I loved getting to know people through this project, and it is one of the main reasons that I conducted this project, because I knew I would get to talk to a lot of people and kids.
This project helped me get to know myself better, because I realized that I really like studying education and the importance of it in the world. It also made me want to know why kids did not like going to school here, and it made me realize that I really wanted to make them like their school, and to make them realize how important school is, and how it change your life. I also realized that I know more Chinese than I thought I do! More importantly, I realized that I can be independent, and am not reliant on other Chinese speakers or other people.
If I was to continue this project, or if any other future Microcampus student would want to continue this project, possible directions would be teaching students something interesting about technology, and about what we use technology for at SAS. Another direction would be finding out what people use technology for in their jobs, and how they can increase their technology usage. If I was here for longer, I would love to go in the community and ask more people about what they think of Xizhou catching up with the rest of the world regarding technology.
I would like to thank Mr. Tafel firstmost, for all the support and motivation that he gave me to keep on going with my inquiry project, and also all the different directions that he pointed me in when I was lost. Last but definitely not least, thank you for the great experience that you have introduced to us, because otherwise there would be no way for me to have experienced living in this amazing place! Also, thank you for all the funny jokes :)
I would like to thank Ms. Mai, for all the times that I've not felt well, and she made me feel better. Also, for all the motivation (especially throughout the hike) and for laughing at my jokes :)
I would like to thank Xiaotang for all the translating help, and also for taking me to the school. I couldn't have talked to all the teachers and students without her!
Last, but definitely not least, I would like to thank Katie, Hannah, Grace, Miranda, Natalie, Jillian, Erin, Jorge, Lucas, Colton, Ying Yang, Alisa, Ivy, Aidan and Vincent for motivating me, helping me have a better day every day, and for just making this trip so amazing, because it couldn't have been this way without all you guys!