Tablets are becoming a more common sight in Beijing classrooms as students use them not only in place of bulky textbooks, but also to replace notebooks and other study aids. The tablets are being piloted in schools thanks to a half-a-million dollar grant announced by the Beijeing government to be used to create a so-called “e-bag,” where everything a student carried that used to require paper will be digital instead.
Haite Garden Primary School was one of the first to benefit from the government’s largesse when it decided to completely overhaul its teaching practices to make use of the digital tool. Each first and second grader was issued a free tablet with a touchscreen to be used in classes like Chinese, mathematics and English.
Li Jiangnan, a teacher with the school, explains that students use the tablets in three classes — Chinese, math and English. The technology enables vibrant interactions in classrooms.
In Li’s class, students follow the teacher’s guidance on drawing Chinese characters on their touchscreens. If correct, the strokes turn red, while incorrect ones remain their original color, turning the dull writing practice into a vivid online game.
Coming in the wake of the technology’s surging popularity, the tablet roll-out is a trial designed to discover new ways to inspire children to learn, according to school head Wu Youying.
The Haite program is supposed to be a pilot, and it lives up to the name. According to xinhuanet.com there have been a number of teething troubles including getting the school’s network to work with the devices and a lack of funding to purchase the e-textbooks required in classes where tablets are being used.
There are also downright low-tech issues as well. The school is short of places where students can reliably and quickly plug in to charge a dying battery.
School administrators are working with representatives from the Beijing Academy of Educational Science to iron out these and other problems.
Meanwhile, educators are looking at the Haite Garden Primary School experiment closely for signs that they’re pioneering the future of Beijing’s — and even China’s — primary schools.
The authorities should study whether using tablets would have this impact, and that it is irresponsible for the government to take action without such due diligence, according to a post by Internet user Wang Jiafu.
Parents also fretted that the youngsters, lacking self control, will log onto instant messaging tools or games as soon as their teachers’ backs are turned.
“Allowing pupils unlimited access to the Internet is likely to distract their attentions as well as deprive them of imagination,” said one parent on condition of anonymity.
These concerns echo the same cries critics in the United States and the rest of the world have put forth regarding education technology in schools. There’s broad agreement that tech has tremendous potential in the classroom, but will hasty, poor implementation do more harm than good — and with a hefty price tag?
Education expert Liu Yongming, notes Beijing’s attempt to incorporate high technology into traditional classes follows current worldwide teaching trends.
“We should treat the tablet as a supportive tool because the essence of education lies in learning and thinking through reading and writing, and this should not be shattered and changed,” Liu adds.