Institutions and communities are both intensifying efforts in scientific education
By Zhang Yage  ·  2024-04-15  ·   Source: NO.16 APRIL 18, 2024
Wu Baojun, Deputy Director of the Science Popularization Administration of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, introduces the Spring Equinox project during a lecture in Beijing’s Shijingshan District on March 26 (COURTESY PHOTO)

The Spring Equinox, the fourth Chinese solar term out of 24, symbolizes hope, renewal and the promise of a bountiful harvest.

As daylight begins to exceed nighttime and the Sun travels northward, it represents the awakening of nature, growth, and new beginnings.

In 2018, the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) initiated the Spring Equinox Project, a public benefit program offering science education lectures to primary and middle school students. The project's name reflects its mission to illuminate the path forward for younger generations, fostering a bright future through enhanced scientific knowledge.

Over the past five years, the project has reached more than 100 schools, libraries and scientific institutions in Beijing, delivering weekly lectures on topics including artificial intelligence, psychology, aviation, cybersecurity, chemistry, and many more. To date, over 7,600 lectures have been given.

"We have forged long-term partnerships with numerous schools. If students attend one lecture per week from the beginning of fourth grade until the end of fifth grade, they will have been exposed to dozens of scientific topics before completing primary school," Wu Baojun, Deputy Director of the Science Popularization Administration at UCAS, told Beijing Review. "This approach nurtures a habit and enthusiasm for learning science from a young age, potentially guiding their future paths."

A new subject 

The project's standout feature lies in the fact that the science lectures are conducted by UCAS students rather than by scientists.

"Many individuals hold a preconceived notion about science lecturers, expecting them to be older, esteemed and established scientists. However, delivering science lectures, especially to primary and middle school students, demands strong communication skills, empathy, and a real understanding of the audience, more so than the technical expertise required for scientific research. In this context, college students have distinct advantages," Wu explained.

Moreover, an immediate reason for involving college students is the scarcity of science popularization workers.

"According to the Beijing Municipal Education Commission in 2023, Beijing had 714 primary schools and over 600 middle schools. Given there are not enough professionals to cover all schools, qualified college students are needed to fill the gap," Wu elaborated.

Consequently, UCAS students have taken on the role of science ambassadors. Since the program's inception in 2018, with 127 students joining, volunteer numbers have seen a steady increase, with over 500 students signing up in 2023. As compensation for their involvement, participating students receive subsidies and college credits from UCAS.

"I receive a reasonable subsidy from our university for each lecture, which covers transportation expenses and a teaching fee, along with credits for public service," Wang Binbin, a 24-year-old graduate student majoring in psychology at UCAS, told Beijing Review. "I thoroughly enjoy teaching. And I also actively listen to my students' concerns to assess the significance of the research I am conducting on a societal level."

Having been involved in the project for 16 months, Wang has delivered 60 lectures to primary school students all over Beijing and is committed to continuing her involvement in the Spring Equinox Project.

Ma Difeng, a student from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, gives a lecture on computer science at a primary school in Beijing’s Haidian District on April 3 (COURTESY PHOTO)

A future blueprint 

Wu has devised plans to expand the Spring Equinox Project through over 100 affiliated institutions of the Chinese Academy of Sciences all over the country to address concerns regarding the state of science education and popularization in China, as well as to counter the disparities in educational resources across different regions.

"Following the initiation of the 'double-reduction' policy, numerous schools, particularly primary and middle schools, have been grappling with inadequate science education resources," explained Wu.

The policy, introduced by the Ministry of Education in July 2021, aims to alleviate the burden of excessive homework and extracurricular tutoring for students in compulsory education. While the policy has had an overall positive impact, schools have taken on a bigger role in offering meaningful extracurricular activities, such as science lectures.

"Some private science education institutions are hiring students who work part-time to deliver expensive lectures in schools without providing them with adequate professional training or assessing their quality," Wu said. "In contrast, we offer complimentary lectures, comprehensive training and quality-assured content to ensure a high standard of education."

Another initiative in the works is the establishment of a livestreaming platform that will enable Spring Equinox teachers to deliver their lectures to audiences nationwide, catering to individuals from all segments of society. 

UCAS' professional teams have been training eligible candidates in livestreaming techniques and on-camera skills, recognizing the nuances that differentiate this medium from traditional classroom settings. The launch of the livestreaming platform is set for late April.

Ma Difeng, a student in the Computer Science and Technology Department at UCAS, is enthusiastic about the expansion of the Spring Equinox project. "I come from a small village in Zhaotong, Yunnan Province, where access to science education resources is limited, and I never had the opportunity to experience such remarkable science lectures," Ma shared with Beijing Review. "This situation is not unique to my hometown but is prevalent in many remote areas nationwide."

Having joined the Spring Equinox Project a year ago, Ma has already delivered over 20 lectures.

"I feel a strong sense of duty to support students in underdeveloped regions, and I firmly believe that the livestreaming platform will play a crucial role in leveling the playground for science education resources," Ma explained.

All-round efforts 

To broaden its audience reach, the project has extended its activities to residential communities on weekends since 2023, with full coverage of Beijing's Shijingshan District, where UCAS is located, already in place. Currently, community lectures comprise one third of the program.

Notably, community lectures cater to a different audience compared to school settings, primarily attracting parents and grandparents attending with their children. This approach allows for parental involvement in guiding and supervising their children's learning during the sessions.

Additionally, emphasis has been placed on science popularization among seniors. Since July 2023, Shijingshan has collaborated with experts from Capital Medical University to conduct lectures on the prevention and treatment of health conditions common among the elderly, such as hypertension, coronary heart disease and cerebral apoplexy. These lectures have been well-received, addressing a crucial aspect of community health education.

On February 28, the China Healthy City Research Institute, a Beijing-based think tank for health issues, released the Healthy City Blue Book, underscoring the need for an increased societal focus on the health of the senior population. It called for enhanced intervention measures and targeted education activities within communities to better support related undertakings.

"Medical science lectures aside, Shijingshan will organize sessions on topics relevant to seniors, such as fraud awareness, healthy diets and exercise. In collaboration with UCAS, we are enhancing science education for teenagers and seniors alike," Liu Chunlin, Director of the Science Popularization Department at the Science and Technology Association of Shijingshan, said.

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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