Want Tech in China? Start With a “Special Zone”

The morning of meeting our Chinese elementary head, I went to a Chinese-English teacher for advice. This was a continuation from a day earlier when I told him that I believe our elementary leadership had one feeling toward integrating technology tools, fear. What he said yesterday morning has stuck with me since. He said that, though he is in strong support of what I’m doing, he has the same fear because of a situation that happened last year. A student published information on QQ publicly for his peers to read on a topic not appropriate for their age. It’s stories like these and countless others that have me as a teacher strongly believe that we as educators should be guiding the youth in a direction of positive use of the tools they’ll need to operate for professional and personal reasons.

Thus, Thursday afternoon this week, the head of our elementary and I firstly went over the vision of the school taken from the school website.

“We strive to provide a holistic education by uniquely combining national and international curricula with character building and cultural experiences. We endeavor to help students recognize and fully develop their optimum selves spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, physically, aesthetically, and socially so that he or she may become lifelong learner and responsible citizen who can influence our society and community positively for the long term”

We quickly got into details because I asked how we were providing “cultural experiences” and carving our students into “responsible citizens.” We talked specifics and then I was able to emphasize how our school admin could be using WeChat, Weibo, and/or QQ for branding and a for a reason Eric Sheninger always says. “If you don’t tell your story, someone else will.” This, along with a few other points, were well worth mentioning because of cultural differences in education. Though this was the case, I made it a point to draw her attention to the fact that obtaining the tools necessary for better, more improved student learning is a worldwide issue because “the Internet age” (as one of my student’s dubbed the present) is much more global than it ever has been. It’s not just a US problem.

Now, for teacher-to-teacher communication, the stumper came when I asked how we teachers are able to still actually get on the internet even while there is no wifi. She didn’t know. Our elementary director said she hadn’t thought of that before so I had to tell her because it happens daily. It’s the reality. Yes, students will possibly work ways around sites blocked and other mumbo jumbo, but funny enough, so will teachers. And we do. If we want it bad enough, we’ll get it. Thank you, 3 and 4G. 😉 What to keep in mind is how things may work top down in China. The Firewall likes to keep certain past events sensitive, and for the case of our admin and not to get kicked out of the country, I respect that. This had me understand why she as our leader came off with a slightly controlling manner when we spoke briefly last week. It also has me pondering how the school admin will respond in the future. This is where the key to unlock possibilities lies. We cannot, at a private Chinese school, have Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) on our computers and devices and use American IP addresses. The government and Internet won’t work that way. What we will have to do is coordinate collaboration & communication through avenues different from that of the norm, Twitter and Facebook. Whatever it takes, right?


How will this happen?

Remember how I said I met with teacher who said things I would keep in the back of my mind? That convo continued to an idea he had. Back during the Revolution, Deng Xiaoping put into action the idea of starting new economic ideas in a small contained environment called 特区, or Special Economic Zones. There were many cities like this around China at that time, but for our case, it will probably be just one. One classroom, or “special zone,” will be where we test out for teachers to integrate tech with simultaneous student usage. And as former Chairman Hu Jintao said on the 30th anniversary of the SEZ, these areas need to “be bold in reform and innovation in their roles as “first movers.”” I totally agree so I plan to quote Chairman Hu to our school admin and hope that there will soon come a time when Chinese teachers can collaborate with one another and use mobile learning tools to guide students while admin can be mouthpieces for the school and the students will learn with 21st century education and skills in mind. To my surprise, the Chinese elementary head agreed with all of this and more because she knows our students are growing up digital natives. Now, she said, it will take convincing the rest of the admin and putting much more focus on improving our resources. But we need to start somewhere and starting with a “special zone” will be best since we currently have weak signals and connections as well as just one tech worker for a K-12 school with over 600 students.

Up to this part in the journey, I cannot thank enough people for your support, but I shall start my list now since I know the resources and encouragement come from around the globe and the team is ever-increasing. In no particular order:

Eric Sheninger – @E_Sheninger
Scott Capro – @ScottCapro @BFC530 #BFC530
Ritu Sehji – @rsehji
Rosy Burke – @rosy_burke
Jessica Raleigh – @TyrnaD @BFC530 #BFC530
Michael Boll – @autismpodcast
Chris Carter – @christocarter
Ryan Harwood – @rharwood17
and many more, especially a couple vital teachers at my school… THANK YOU!

We’re not done yet. And for the sake of the students, we’ll continue to “be bold” as the “first movers.”


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