Live-streaming classes might make a real impact

Cao Xinyu
I think it's a bit exaggerated to say that a screen, or the live-streaming lessons, can change fates and tackle education inequality.
Cao Xinyu

Live-streaming classes have seeped into rural areas of China and things are looking a little different.

A recent China Youth Daily report titled “This screen can be life-changing” went viral. According to the report, Chengdu No.7 High School in Sichuan Province, arguably one of the best in China, shares its classes with 248 high schools from impoverished areas via live-streaming.

Since 2002, 72,000 rural students, referred to as the far-end, have attended live-streaming courses of Chengdu No.7 High School (the front-end). Out of these, 88 students have secured places at the country’s top two universities — Peking University and Tsinghua University. More have been admitted to other institutions of higher education.

The report prompted nationwide discussion. Many netizens considered the live-streaming course a feasible approach to bridge the rural-urban education gap, and some even hailed it as a cure for education inequality. But many were equally skeptical, questioning how rural students could keep up with lessons from a prestigious school, and how remote learning, which has been around for decades, could suddenly be a life-changer.

I think the merits of live-streaming courses are undeniable. With the help of technology, students in backwater rural regions can have access to high-quality education resources. The live-streaming classes are like a window for them to get a glimpse into the world beyond their hometowns.

In an article published in www.thepaper.cn, a graduate from a rural school in Bazhong, a prefecture-level city in Sichuan Province, said, “Thanks to teachers and students at Chengdu No.7 High School, we know how glamorous the outside world is.”

Wang Hao is a former student of the live-streaming courses at Luquan High School in Yunnan Province and now a student of a key university in Shanghai. He told Xinhua, “For us, students at the front-end are references. They motivate us to learn, to strive and bring out the best in us.”

It’s not only the students who stand to benefit. Live-streaming classes also propel teachers at the far-end to improve their skills. As the aforementioned article reports, the local teachers’ workload had increased after the live-streaming classes. To assist the live-streaming teaching, rural teachers make preparations after receiving the teaching materials from the front-end teachers. In the classes, they listen with their students. But instead of staring at the screen, they set their eyes on students and keep notes of the moments when students show bewilderment. Later, they offer further explanation and go over the lessons.

“It’s a learning process for us too. It enables us to improve our teaching methods,” a teacher at Qionglai No.2 High School, Sichuan Province, said.

The high dropout rates and the loss of high-quality students have baffled many rural schools. With live-streaming classes, along with better-qualified teachers, they may stand a better chance at attracting students.

However, I think it’s a bit exaggerated to say that a screen, or the live-streaming lessons, can change fates and tackle education inequality.

Live-streaming courses can help, but probably only a minority of top students with high motivation. For the majority, situations remain unchanged. Even among those few star pupils who have won admissions to elite schools by taking live-streaming classes, it is not a golden ticket for a bright future.

The perception that a screen can be life-changing is based on the belief that making it to top universities changes one’s life. But in fact, they still have a lot to work at and after the universities. A well-spent life would call for sustained individual effort and willpower, and the future is always full of uncertainties.

Education is multi-faceted. There’s much more to it than scores and ranks. The live-streaming courses can, at best, inflate grades by proffering effective intensive cramming sessions.

What’s more, the slots in live-streaming classes are restricted only to those who have the best prospects. Schools invariably eager to make their college entrance statistics look good would often assign the best teachers and equipment to live-streaming classes. It seems to create another kind of inequality in rural schools, rather than reduce education inequality on the whole.

Still, to most students in impoverished areas, the college entrance examination is probably the only way they can take their fate into their own hands. The live-streaming classes bring them hope.

Many experts believe that poverty and education inequality has to be addressed by systemic educational reform. But reform never comes easy, and it’ll probably take generations to make a small dent. Under such circumstances, I think the live-streaming course is a way worth trying. But it needs to proceed with caution.

There are issues that need to be looked into. For instance, how to make live-streaming classes available to more students? How to remove the financial barriers? What kind of role should rural teachers play, and how to balance their workload?

There are no easy answers.

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