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10 Museums in 10 Days? A Chinese Start-Up (Virtually) Gives Children a Tour

But educational projects that serve rural areas, however beneficial, also call attention to systemic inequalities in China’s education system, the experts said.

“It’s definitely a great model,” Lingxin Hao, a sociology professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies rural education in China, said of the virtual museum project. “But all the N.G.O.s and charities cannot solve the problems because the problems have to be changed by policy makers in the central government. They have to face the problems and redistribute resources.”

The Chinese government has invested heavily in rural education over the past decade, and the physical results are clear in many areas, said Wang Dan, an associate professor of education at the University of Hong Kong. For example, she said, many schools have received new libraries or other infrastructure upgrades, along with internet connections, digital projectors and electronic whiteboards.

But many rural teachers have also moved to urban areas, she added, and government incentives to entice teachers to move to remote areas often are not generous enough.

To compensate, experts say, educators in Chinese cities have been experimenting with programs in which lessons are beamed into rural classrooms.

The Communist Youth League, for example, recently set up a free account on WeChat, a messaging service, that live-streams lessons in Chinese, English and mathematics to primary- and secondary-school pupils.


Another museum on the virtual tour is the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, home to Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.”

Aha School

Educational live-streaming is growing in China as the medium expands beyond purely social uses, according to an April report by Daxue Consulting, a market-research firm based in Beijing and Shanghai. Daxue cited its own analysis of the Chinese live-stream platform YY, in which 32 of 1,051 live-stream feeds on a day in March were related to education.

“Although the ratio of education and technology live streaming is quite small, it’s a change from the beginning stages that only featured beautiful girls,” the report said.

A few urban schools in China have also begun sharing their lessons with rural schools through internet feeds, Professor Wang said.

But such initiatives often fall flat in rural classrooms, she said, in part because students there have such vastly different backgrounds and learning styles.

“I don’t think this is the way to solve rural education problems, because teaching is very contextualized,” she said. “What works in Beijing may not work in a rural school.”

Professor Hao said that the migration of rural families to urban areas had prompted broad “institutional segregation” in China. Children of rural migrants are often prevented from enrolling in urban schools, for example, because they lack an urban hukou, a crucial household registration document.

She said the only way to end the segregation would be to pass laws that guarantee equal opportunity in education for all citizens.

For now, though, a proliferation of projects like “100,000 Kids Touring the World’s Top 10 Museums” could at least highlight the rural-urban divide, she added — and perhaps even nudge officials in the central government toward bolder changes.

Pan Lisheng, the director of the virtual museums project for Aha School and a former television journalist, said the problem was perhaps not that electronic lesson feeds were bad in principle, but rather that few educators in China had figured out how to make them interesting.

China’s rural areas already have internet access, she said, adding, “The key problem is what to get from the internet.”

For the museum project, she said, she recruited a team of nearly 50 people to design graphics, travel to the 10 museums, comment on artworks and science exhibitions, and stitch all the material into a two-hour daily broadcast that would interest a child from any background. It is being distributed through CCtalk, a Chinese app that specializes in educational live-streaming.

“Every child is a unique flower,” Ms. Pan said.

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