Digital education thrives in classes, labs and playing fields of Shanghai schools

Yang Meiping
Transformation of school education is a major city strategy and will extend through all levels to set benchmark standards for China.
Yang Meiping
Shot by Dong Jun. Edited by Sun Chao. Subtitles by Sun Chao.
Digital education thrives in classes, labs and playing fields of Shanghai schools
Dong Jun / SHINE

Zhang Fengyu, an eighth grader at You Ai Experimental Middle School Affiliated to Minhang Education Institute, picks up her tailored homework from a robot.

Zhang Fengyu, an eighth grader at You Ai Experimental Middle School Affiliated to Minhang Education Institute, stood in front of a robot to have her face scanned and received a print of her tailored math homework.

The homework was designed by her math teacher Yu Yunzhou according to her performance in a quiz. During the quiz, all the students used smart pens equipped with mini cameras which recorded not only their answers but also the process of how they worked out the answers.

From an app on a phone or a computer, Yu can see the performance of an individual student and also the whole class to design homework for them and arrange his ensuing teaching plans.

Teachers can design their own class questions, or they can also use the system's large pool of questions.

After finishing their homework, students can put it back into the robot which will quickly mark it via the digital system.

The teacher can see the results on his smartphone and design follow-up assignments accordingly.

The digital system can also enable Zhang's teacher, her parents and herself to see her latest performance progress and any mistakes she made, based on which they can design her study plan for the following period.

"I'm happy with the system because I don't have to repeat homework about knowledge that I have well acquired and I only have to practice what I haven't quite understood," she said.

Yu said the system can both reduce the burden on students and teachers while improving efficiency.

"The Ministry of Education has been requiring us to reduce burdens on students, including homework from school," he said. "The system can really reduce time wasted on unnecessary repetition. Meanwhile, students can better know their own shortcomings and make their own study plans to make up for them."

Digital education thrives in classes, labs and playing fields of Shanghai schools
Dong Jun / SHINE

The school uses smart pen equipped with mini cameras to record students' answers and the process of how they work out the answers.

Huang Chaoqun, principal of the school, said the system is now being piloted in eighth and ninth grades and will expand to all students soon.

Huang said they started the reform last year, with students' homework initially scanned and submitted. Later they cooperated with a company to develop the smart pens to collect information without changing students' writing habits.

"Currently, the smart pens can only be used in school as they need a special device for electricity charging," he said. "We are cooperating with the production company to upgrade them so they can be charged at home like smartphones and collect information about students' homework anywhere they do it."

Huang said the trajectories of students' performances can also help detect emotional changes within them and enable teachers and parents to make timely interventions.

These initiatives represent the digital transformation scenario in school education which is now a major strategy for Shanghai.

According to a plan released by Shanghai Education Commission last month, the city aims to build up a benchmark for China's educational digital transformation, involving teaching, learning, management, assessment, research and school-family interaction.

By 2023, the city will have developed 100 benchmark schools for educational digital technology application. It will explore artificial intelligence-empowered individualized and explorative learning models, immersive or experiential learning with the assistance of virtual reality/augmented reality technologies, and multi-point collaborative teaching with 5G support.

Other schools have also started trials to empower their education with digital technologies.

Digital education thrives in classes, labs and playing fields of Shanghai schools
Dong Jun / SHINE

Students at Yan'an Middle School in Jing'an District use electronic microscopes in a biology class.

At Yan'an Middle School in Jing'an District, students are also equipped with digital devices in English classes. They can answer questions by pressing buttons on the devices or recording their vocal answers with them. Teachers can see and hear the answers immediately and display them in class. The system can even assess the pronunciation of their speaking English.

Equipped with digital bracelets, students' performances in PE classes can be monitored on a large screen on the playground, as can changes to their heart rates, helping teachers adjust exercises accordingly.

In a biology class, students were asked to observe the structures of yeast with electronic microscopes.

"Previously, I had to look into individual microscopes to see if students had done it correctly," said teacher Xie Aichun. "But now, all the scenes in their lenses can be seen on the screen on the platform. I can show the correct ones to them and give further instruction to those needing help. It's more efficient and interesting."

A class about career planning at Yan'an Middle School was livestreamed at Xingwu Middle School which lacks teachers with such expertise.

"Technology has helped us to share quality educational resources with other schools in the district," said Lu Jiaying, a teacher at Yan'an Middle School. "Such interactions make our class more interesting and the students also become more active."

Besides basic education, the vocational and higher education levels in Shanghai aregoing digital and smart.

For example, simulation systems are now used at Jiangnan Shipyard Group Vocational-Technical School to teach how to build ships.

It is one of the 33 demonstration simulation training studios and bases to cultivate talent needed by key industries in Shanghai, at the same time as reducing costs, losses and possibly risks in real practice.

Digital education thrives in classes, labs and playing fields of Shanghai schools
Dong Jun / SHINE

An elderly lady learns how to drive on a simulation system at Qizhou College in Xuhui District.

Even for senior citizens there are courses, some also digitalized, to help them adapt to the increasingly digitalized life.

At Qizhou College, a branch of the city's University for the Elderly, senior people can learn how to use digital RMB, avoid telecom swindling and learn driving with simulation systems.

The city has built up several platforms for senior citizens' education based on individual demands, such as the "Golden School" program jointly created by Shanghai Education Commission, Shanghai Radio and Television Station, Shanghai Media Group and Oriental Pearl Group. It enables people aged 50 and above to take free classes on mobile devices and on TV.

After the outbreak of COVID-19, another online learning platform – "School in the Air" – was launched on the Shanghai Lifelong Learning website. It offered more than 6,000 short and 2,000 long video courses enabling people to take classes in their homes. Some of these courses focus on virus prevention. Livestreaming courses were later added. About 1.2 million people have benefited from the platform.

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