A smart approach


Gar Jun Ho, 13, a former contestant on British quiz show Child Genius, conducting an experiment, as seen in the film.[Photo provided to China Daily]

Mother seeks to make digital revolution one that improves, rather than hinders, the inquisitive nature of children, Fang Aiqing reports.

It's a dilemma facing today's parents that generally their own did not. Such has been the advance of the electronic or digital age that parents today are dealing with a situation that is unique to them: How to let your child enjoy and benefit from such devices without them overtaking their lives.

Bianca Chen may have a solution. She used to keep her 4-year-old son from using electronic devices like smartphones and tablets to safeguard his health and to let him explore other options. She is among the many anxious parents seeking to discover an appropriate relationship between their kids and electronic devices in a digital world.

Chen, 36, then produced a documentary entitled Hello, Future, discussing ways of reinventing our education system into one that effectively guides children on their journey to becoming digital citizens capable of facing an unpredictable future.

Chen and her friends, including Hugo Award-winning sci-fi novelist Hao Jingfang, visited several schools in China, the United States, Britain, Israel and Kenya that have either championed pioneering ideas or taken experimental moves to make education more adaptable, equal and accessible with the help of technology.

The inspiration and experiences they've acquired on their journey are largely presented in the five-episode documentary that is now available on Tencent's video platform.

"Working on the documentary, we want to pose such questions as how people's attitude toward education has changed, and how to relieve modern parents from anxiety," says Zhang Liyi, in charge of Lichun Studio attached to Tencent News, one of the production teams.


Chen attends an internet-themed assembly at a Welsh public school.[Photo provided to China Daily]

A comment on Chinese review platform Douban says that parents can learn from each other by assessing the multiple styles of education in different countries, and think of alternative ways to address the parts that our educational system is not able to provide at home.

One important thing Chen learned from the trip to Britain, as is shown in the first episode, is that in the face of an uncertain world, it's essential for parents to learn how and when to let their children explore the digital skills needed to live in a technological environment.

Chen visited St. Julians Primary School in Newport, Wales, a school that is experimenting with curriculum reform to incorporate devices, such as tablets, virtual reality goggles and smart bracelets into almost every classroom. The school's pupils from 3 to 11 years old are all proficient in using such devices and social networking services.

In history class, they learn to design and build mini Anderson bomb shelters, like those used in World War II, via 3D printing technology. The school has also built a full-size model for reference and to help children understand how difficult it was to protect oneself during the war.

The children are also able to see and "touch" the sun and the moon by applying VR and augmented reality devices to astronomy class, and learn to recognize the constitution of human body in a similar way in health class.

And, at a literacy class or a cybersecurity panel, pupils learn to express themselves well online, respond to others properly and avoid cyberbullying while strictly protecting their privacy.


Bianca Chen, producer and chief director of the documentary, Hello, Future, visits a Kenyan school to observe how technology has improved education there.[Photo provided to China Daily]

The pupils also regularly visit a nursing home nearby to accompany its elderly residents and teach them how to use electronic devices.

"I was afraid the screen would limit the kids' minds, but it actually broadens their vision and imagination," Chen says.

"There are no shortcuts to guiding our children to face the technological, socially networked era."

She realizes it is the parents' responsibility to create opportunities to allow children to embrace nature and strike a balance between the technological and natural worlds. Now she prefers to accompany her son in using electronic devices and make sure he can interact with others and be productive rather than just simply staring at a screen.

Chen first looked at the impact technology can have on young minds after she gave birth.

As a former finance correspondent at Reuters in New York, she was paying attention to cutting-edge technologies and emerging business trends.

"There are many things I'm not even sure about myself. How can I make sure my journey and my preferences are suitable for my son?" she questioned.

That was when she decided to travel to other countries to see how people of different cultural and social backgrounds deal with education in a fast-changing digital era.

The documentary also shows how high-tech teaching aids have made learning fun and imaginative, stimulating Israeli students' passion for future jobs related to science and technology.


Chen visits the San Francisco headquarters of Minerva, a no-campus university where all courses are held online.[Photo provided to China Daily]

On the trip to Kenya, the team witnessed how computers and the internet had helped children living in slums to learn about COVID-19 before the outbreak in their country, so they could be prepared in advance.

Bridge International Academies, a low-cost private school chain across Africa, have been set up in slums. They give tablets that guide teachers step by step in class to standardize lecture content and teaching methods, as a strategy to deal with the lack of quality teachers.

"The progress technology has brought to education in Kenya is even more remarkable than in developed countries," Chen says.

The documentary has also discussed the importance of training for parents and teachers. "The trend of the day urges us to move away from telling kids exactly how to do things to encouraging them to explore themselves and become capable and brave enough to pursue self-fulfillment," Chen says.

Zhang says they're considering carrying forward their observation on educational topics in the digital era, such as how to reduce inequality and improve cost-effectiveness, and how to improve the intimacy between more and more demanding parents and their children.

"We want to record the stories of our time and to offer insight to our audience by focusing more on topics of public value, such as education," says Yang Ruichun, deputy editor-in-chief of Tencent's content production department.

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