On February 9, nearly 200 million primary and secondary school students in China started their new semester – online.
With all schools closed down due to the coronavirus outbreak, the country has embarked on what might amount to the largest simultaneous online learning exercise in human history.
In advance of the 2020 edition of Mobile Learning Week dedicated to the theme of artificial intelligence and inclusion, UNESCO has been in contact with the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China to offer support and understand how technology is being leveraged to ensure that the school year continues.
After suspending the opening of schools for the new semester, the Ministry launched an initiative entitled “Ensuring learning undisrupted when classes are disrupted.” Over the course of two weeks, with all face-to-face meetings banned, the Ministry organized tele-conferences with school management agencies, online platform and course providers, telecom providers and other stakeholders to plan the implementation of the initiative.
Ensuring that all students can access digital learning opportunities is the foremost challenge, together with teachers’ readiness to design and deliver online tutorials. This led the Education Ministry to join forces with the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in order to:
- Mobilize all major telecom service providers to boost internet connectivity service for online education, especially for the under-served regions.
- Upgrade the bandwidth of major online education service platforms, especially the capacity of the National Cloud-Platform for Educational Resources and Public Service in serving millions of visitors simultaneously
- Mobilize society-wide resources for the provision of online courses and resources. More than 24,000 online courses have been made accessible for university students. 22 validated online course platforms, most them empowered by Artificial Intelligence, have been mobilized to provide primary and secondary schools with free online courses.
- Adopt flexible and appropriate methodologies to facilitate learning. Schools and teachers are advised to choose appropriate modes of delivery based on local e-readiness, including online platforms, digitalized TVs or mobile Apps. Teachers have received guidance on teaching methodologies including through live-streaming of online tutorials and MOOCs. The recommended number of online learning hours varies by grade.
- Strengthen online security through collaboration with the telecom sector and online platform service providers.
- Provision of psycho-social support and courses to impart knowledge about the virus and protection against it.
“In May 2019, China hosted the UNESCO International Conference on Artificial Intelligence and Education, the first of its kind. One of its main messages was about ensuring that technology serves inclusion and equity in education, and does not widen the digital divide,” said Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education.
”China’s response to a nationwide health emergency has been guided by this concern, so that learning continues for all children and youth. We are working with partners in China to provide technical advice with the main concern that priority is given to the most vulnerable groups to ensure that they are not left behind.”
A school student studies at home via online video platforms in Pingliang, Gansu province, Feb 1, 2020. © chinadaily.com.cn
“The response of China’s education system to the COVID-19 emergency is remarkable, in terms of depth of the remote learning facilities being made available, and of the scale required to cover needs. Just one of the platforms, offered by the Ministry of Education, allows for 50 million students and teachers to connect simultaneously, enabling them to access primary and secondary education modules, as well as life skills content relevant to a health emergency,” said Marielza Oliveira, Director of the UNESCO Beijing office. “It is impressive how fast China created partnerships between national and local governments, private sector and civil society, so that these capabilities could be augmented by additional learning resources, through, for example, TV broadcasting and social media livestreaming. Of course, more would be ideal: support to parents on effective supervision of their children’s learning activities, multilingual content for ethnic minorities, better accessibility for persons with disabilities, improved ICT connectivity and teacher skills in rural areas, better safety and privacy protections for children while online... I’m sure that, with the right efforts to improve remote learning, the extraordinary resources being deployed will remain as a positive legacy to Chinese society long after the epidemic ends.”
A monitoring and evaluation mechanism is being set up to evaluate students’ learning outcomes. When physical school campuses re-open, education programmes will be adjusted according to the evaluation results.