A Friend in Need Is a Friend Indeed - Fighting the Epidemic Together
Some Confucius Institutes Strive to “Ensure Classes Suspended But Learning Continues”

[Source]    People's Daily [Time]    2020-05-15 11:26:10 

With the spreading of the epidemic across the world, the Confucius Institutes in many countries have made full use of the online platforms, moving classrooms from offline to online. They have enriched the content and format of video teaching to ensure that students can continue their study classes are suspended, minimizing the impact of the epidemic on Chinese teaching.

Russian Director of the Confucius Institute at Novosibirsk State Technical University: We Won’t Fall Short of Everyone's Expectations During This Special Period

Promoting epidemic prevention knowledge, carrying out daily online teaching, arranging cloud-based Chinese-corner activities, and looking for new cultural cooperative projects … Igor Khripunov, Russian Director of the Confucius Institute at Novosibirsk State Technical University, has been very busy recently. Amiably and respectfully dubbed as "He Yuanzhang" (Director He) by his colleagues, Khripunov is working with his Chinese team to reassure the teaching at the Confucius Institute. Although the epidemic has altered the original working mode, the work of the Confucius Institute has not been interrupted.

On April 25th, the Confucius Institute at Novosibirsk State Technical University held its first online Chinese Proficiency Test, with 40 candidates participating. Those who passed the test will receive the official Chinese Proficiency Certificate issued by the Confucius Institute Headquarters. According to Khripunov, online examination is new, which is not easy to prepare because they need to ensure fairness, justice and strong operability. To this end, the teachers at the Confucius Institute conducted many pre-test trainings, technical tests and process simulations to ensure a successful examination.

No sooner had the examination finished than the Confucius Institute at Novosibirsk State Technical University received a thank-you letter from a student. "I sincerely thank you for organizing the online Chinese Proficiency Test during this special period because the tests in many cities have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely!" Teachers at the Confucius Institute have been greatly encouraged by the affirmation from students. On May 6th, the second round of online Chinese Proficiency Test was also successfully held, attracting candidates from Moscow, St. Petersburg and many other places.

To ensure that students can have access to language materials at home, teachers at the Confucius Institute specially prepared a "Gift Package for Online Class", comprising a series of exciting topics, such as How to pay with WeChat in China? How to use shared bicycles? How to play Truth or Dare. These lively video courses were greatly acclaimed by students as soon as they were launched.

Apart from daily teaching, the scientific research work at the Confucius Institute has also been going on systematically. Yang Meihua, Chinese Director of the Confucius Institute, told People’s Daily that they were preparing for a new issue of the Confucius Institute(Chinese-Russian Version) to share with readers stories of China's development in intelligent agriculture and poverty alleviation through education.

There are many difficulties in carrying out the work during the epidemic, but and the teachers of the Confucius Institute not only stick to their posts, but also strive to innovate courses to meet students’ needs. Khripunov used to study in a military college and took Chinese as an elective course during his college life, and after graduation, he worked in the army for a period of time. In his memory, there were only about 30 students when the Confucius Institute at Novosibirsk State Technical University was founded, but now, it receives more than 1,000 students each year, with a large proportion of them being primary and secondary school students. "It is the splendid Chinese culture and its achievements in various fields that have attracted so many students to learn Chinese and China. We should never fall out of the expectations of those passionate students, especially in the epidemic," said Khripunov.

An Online Chinese Painting and Calligraphy Courses in the coming days, an online Chinese contest in June, and a Chinese Film Festival in September will be launched... Browsing his full work schedules, Khripunov said: "Do what you like, and you will have a great sense of happiness, no matter under what circumstances!"

Egyptian Director of the Confucius Institute at Suez Canal University in Egypt: Our Teaching Schedule Has Hardly Been Affected By the Epidemic

On April 20th, students from the Confucius Institute at Suez Canal University in Egypt were discussing "My Favorite Chinese Characters" through an online class.

"加油"(Come on), "友善"(friendly), "合"(cooperation), "爱"(love)... In the chat group, students sent cartoons and calligraphy works with their favorite Chinese characters that they had created in advance, and exchanged their creation experience enthusiastically in a warm atmosphere. Some expressed their love for the Chinese culture, some praised the friendship between Egypt and China, and some conveyed their longings for their classmates.

Though schools and colleges across Egypt have been suspended since March 15th. Teachers and students from the Confucius Institute at Suez Canal University have maintained communications and exchanges through online teaching. "Our teaching schedule has hardly been affected by the epidemic," Hassan, the Egyptian Director of the Confucius Institute at Suez Canal University told People’s Daily that there are 55 courses in total and no one has ever missed a class during the epidemic. "Teaching has moved from the school classroom to the online courses. Though the teaching place and mode of the course have changed, the enthusiasm of the students for learning Chinese has been perpetuating, and the high-quality teaching and teachers’ care for students have been long-lasting."

The teachers have also recorded many teaching videos in advance for students to download and watch in case of unstable network. Not only are the students enchanted by the language learning videos, but also they are obsessed with the teaching videos of martial arts, Tai Chi and other Chinese cultural courses. Mohammed Manduha, a sophomore of the Confucius Institute at Suez Canal University, said he often watches videos at home to learn Tai Chi. Lv Meng, a Chinese teacher, said they would give specific guidance to students through chatting software in accordance with the practice videos sent by students.

Mohammed said his classmates are not sluggish in their studies at all even though they couldn’t go to school. "Our Chinese proficiency has been greatly improved. We keep practicing at home by taking online classes, watching Chinese movies, learning crosstalk, practicing tongue twisters and trying to dub movie clips," he said. Hoping that the epidemic will end soon, Mohammed is looking forward to going back to China for exchanges and study more about the Chinese culture.

While emphasizing on teaching, the online classes have also become a critical platform to publicize epidemic prevention information. According to Hassan, the Confucius Institute has opened a "mini-class on epidemic prevention and control" under the support of the Chinese teachers. Making full use of the ten minutes before the formal class each day, teachers will learn about the students' health conditions and introduce relevant information such as the transmission route of the virus, the correct way of wearing masks, personal protective measures and the everyday-update of the epidemic.

Thai Teacher of the Confucius institute at Chiang Mai University in Thailand: Try to Make Students Keep Learning Chinese

On March 26th, with the implementation of Thailand's Emergency Law, Ben Picha, the native teacher of the Confucius Institute at Chiang Mai University began her home office life. Although there’s no need to commute to work every day, the task is by no means light-hearted.

Ben Picha's job is to teach Chinese to the staff of Chiang Mai Provincial Land Transport Office and Chiang Mai Nakongping Hospital. The Confucius Institute at Chiang Mai University strictly abide by the principle of "ensuring learning undisrupted when classes are suspended" even under the epidemic. Ben Picha and his colleagues devote themselves to studying the online course software, learning the online teaching skills, and actively innovating the teaching contents and methods, so as to offer high-quality online courses to students. It is never an easy job to move the classroom from offline to online."One hour of class takes a whole day to prepare" has become the normal work portrayal of teachers at the Confucius Institute.

"Although the epidemic has prevented teachers and students from attending classes together, the Confucius Institute has made every effort to maximize the advanced network to ensure efficient and attractive online courses, so that students can keep on learning Chinese with interest", said Ben Picha.

During the epidemic, the Confucius Institute at Chiang Mai University purchased masks, disinfectant and other anti-epidemic materials for all teachers, and they also received anti-epidemic materials from The Consulate General of the People's Republic of China in Chiang Mai and a number of cooperative universities in China. The Institute also formulated the "Emergency Plan for Covid-19 Epidemic Prevention and Control" to timely inform students and teachers of the epidemic information from the local government. Meanwhile, the Confucius Institute has been using the WeChat health and safety clock-in system, requiring everyone to report their body temperatures and health conditions every day.

Ben Picha, who was an exchange student in China, said: "China has provided me with good learning opportunities. At present, the Confucius Institute has overcome difficulties and carried out online teaching to minimize the impact on students' studies. I am very happy to be able to contribute to it. "

"During teaching, I have introduced to the students how China has taken effective measures to control the epidemic. They all expressed their admiration for China in the fight against the epidemic. The epidemic prevention and control situation in Thailand is slowly improving. I firmly believe that Thailand will return to normal working life like China step by step." Ben Picha said.

Italian Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Milan: Ensure the Smooth Implementation of Cloud Classroom Teaching

Recently, an online video lecture with the theme of "Chinese Young People and Chinese New Cyber Words" attracted hundreds of Italians. In the lecture, the Confucius Classroom at the University of Milano-Bicocca under the Confucius Institute at the University of Milan (hereinafter referred to as UniMi Confucius Institute) invited Italian Internet bloggers Antonio Magistrale and Jacopo Bettinelli to share their new book CSD- Cinese Da Strada. They analyzed the meaning difference between the traditional and the modern spoken Chinese vocabulary, and vividly demonstrated the meaning and usage of Chinese online new cyber words such as “positivity",” like", "counter attack" and "Empty Plate". The online video lecture received a warm welcome from the online audience.

"The two-hour sharing of Chinese new cyber words not only shows the development of Chinese new cyber words to the students, but also enables the students to learn how to use Chinese new cyber words," said Alessandra Lavagnino, Director of UniMi Confucius Institute.

Lombardia is the region with the most serious epidemic in Italy, which has seriously affected all the work of UniMi Confucius Institute. Alessandra Lavagnino said that there were more than 3,000 students in the headquarters of UniMi Confucius Institute and its 4 Confucius classrooms and 12 Chinese teaching sites. In order to expand new channels of Chinese education, UniMi Confucius Institute responded quickly and coordinated the efforts of all parties in Italy. "We studied the main features of online teaching based on the principle of 'Classes suspended but learning continues, with high efficiency and high quality' to ensure the smoothness of cloud classroom teaching."

Before the formal start of the class, UniMi Confucius Institute carried out comprehensive and detailed training on the use of the platform for Chinese and Italian teachers to ensure that the teachers can operate freely and concentrate on teaching. At the same time, UniMi Confucius Institute also assisted the University of Milan and the University of Milan-Bicocca in organizing online Chinese courses to provide teachers and technical support for the smooth progress of Chinese courses," Alessandra Lavagnino said.

To Alessandra Lavagnino's relief, UniMi Confucius Institute has a united and professional management team from China and Italy. Under the leadership of Jin Zhigang, Chinese Director of UniMi Confucius Institute, the Chinese teachers and the Italian teachers are work closely. Marta Valentin, Executive Director of UniMi Confucius Institute and other Italian staff are conscientious and innovative in online teaching. Cloud class has been widely recognized by teachers and students. "On the whole, the Cloud class is similar to the real class, and the atmosphere is very good. I can finish the teaching schedule as if I were in the real classroom environment." The feedback from the teachers was also excellent: "The interaction with students is smooth, and they can ask question whenever they want."

The students also like the online teaching. They said: "Talking to teachers on the Internet is like chatting with friends." "Cloud teaching is novel and interesting." "The classroom atmosphere is relaxed and active. It is very fulfilling."

Native Teacher at the Confucius Institute at Sao Paulo State University in Brazil: Students Soon Adapt to the Online Classes

"I have classes for more than 4 hours today. Although a little bit tired, it’s worth it. I hope that more Brazilians can understand China." Vera Papasidero is a native Chinese teacher at the Confucius Institute of Sao Paulo State University in Brazil and her Chinese name is Ru Chenxi.

Ru Chenxi majored in Chinese. After graduation, she went to the Confucius Institute of Sao Paulo State University to continue studying Chinese. After receiving a scholarship from the Confucius Institute, she went to Hubei University to study for a master's degree in Chinese international education. After returning to Brazil in 2016, she has been a Chinese teacher at the Confucius Institute of Sao Paulo State University.

Since the end of February, all classes in the Confucius Institutes gave way to online teaching. As some Chinese teachers cannot get back to Brazil on time, the Brazilian teacher of the Confucius Institute have taken on more teaching tasks than before. At present, Ru Chenxi is responsible for 7 classes and 21 hours of courses per week. From face-to-face teaching to online teaching, it is a great challenge. "It is not easy to get used to it. The initial workload is very heavy. Every step of teaching, including courseware and classroom interaction, needs to be adjusted." However, thanks to adequate preparation, the Confucius Institute did not delay one lesson during the epidemic, Ru Chenxi said.

"I thought there would be many students dropping out of class, but I didn't think the students would soon adapt to the online classes and their enthusiasm for learning is very high." Ru Chenxi said that some students had poor network signals at home and could not take classes online. They also kept in touch with the Confucius Institute and tried to learn by themselves to keep pace.

Outside the classroom, the Confucius Institute also held some innovative teaching activities. The Chinese-Portuguese bilingual magazine The Confucius Institute, sponsored by the Confucius Institute of Sao Paulo State University, recently launched an online activity "Reading Poems for You". Many Chinese lovers have taken part in it and achieved excellent results.

"We can see the real side of people when in dilemma. In the process of fighting against the epidemic, I am deeply touched by the Chinese people who were united and helped each other." Ru Chenxi said: "Seeing some false reports about China's anti-epidemic on the Internet, I often refute them through social media in order to let more Brazilians know the real China."

From 2008, 10 Confucius Institutes have settled in Brazil, and the number of students studying Chinese is increasing. "Chinese culture has great attraction, with the closer cooperation in economic, trade and cultural between Brazil and China, more and more young Brazilians realize the importance of learning Chinese. Many of my students come to learn Chinese because help their work. "At present, more than 300 Chinese enterprises have set up branches or offices in Brazil.

Ru Chenxi said: "The requirements for entering universities to major in Chinese are very high in Brazil, and more and more children begin to learn Chinese from an early age. As a teacher of the Confucius Institute, I hope that through my work, more Brazilians can have a better understanding of Chinese culture. "

Picture Description:

Picture 1: On April 27th, a series of courses on "Cloud-based Chinese-Corner Activities" held by the Confucius Institute at Novosibirsk State Technical University and Chinese teacher recording the first topic class of "Airport Terms". Photo by the Confucius Institute at Novosibirsk State Technical University

Picture 2: On March 19th, the Intermediate Chinese Comprehensive Course (Class B2), taking classes on the online. Photo by Confucius Institute at the University of Milan, Italy.

Picture 3: On March 22th, students from the Confucius Institute at Suez Canal University in Egypt studying Chinese online. Photo by the Confucius Institute at Suez Canal University in Egypt

On May 5th, the Confucius institute at Chiang Mai University in Thailand receiving a health package for epidemic prevention from China. Photo by the Confucius institute at Chiang Mai University in Thailand

Layout Design: Zhang Danfeng

(Story by Qu Pei, Zhou Zhou, Sun Guangyong, Ye Qi and Zhang Yuannan; People's Daily Page 18, May 12th, 2020)

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