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SARS Strategy: Classroom on the Air
During the past few months in China while the SARS epidemic raged, a new fashion swept millions of children and teenagers off their feet. That fashion is to take courses in the Classroom on the Air.

The announcement of a summer holiday ahead of schedule due to SARS may have brought the children of China a spell of excitement. But with the passage of time, the once joyful vacation turned out to be not quite so exciting. Many young people found it easy to live with the excitement, but how could they spend all their time just watching TV cartoons, playing PC games and reporting their body temperature to teachers through over the phone? Thanks to the modern educational concept and technologies, they began to study at home in a brand new way.

Without the Classroom On the Air during the SARS semester, the Chinese students in the prime of reaping new knowledge would have spent a long vacation with no harvest. Having stayed home for nearly two months with another two months or more likely to come, most of them nurture in their hearts a yearning for the familiar campus life. What they long for now may well be the news of the reopening of their beloved schools. But what has already imbedded in their minds will be the new Classroom on Air.

In a studio of the Chinese Educational TV, an editor is working on the latest edition of the courses to be telecast in the Classroom on the Air program. It is presented as the best gift for the masses of children dealing with the SARS situation.

Apart from routine programs, the technicians exploit satellite wide band in achieving distant interaction between the students and teachers.

All the teachers invited to offer the online service are chosen from some noted schools and have rich teaching experience. Students can take different courses covering the same range of subjects as those usually set up on campus. An interactive exchange will help to some extent ensure the efficiency of the new teaching method.

"On April 24 this year primary and middle schools in Beijing announced a leave for their students. Three days later, our Happy Classroom from which the current Classroom on the Air grew out was established. Starting the preparations for this program on Friday, we presented it on the following Monday, and it ran three hours per day plus some additional live programs. This was the first stage. As the SARS situation deteriorated after the May 1st Holiday, it was announced that the primary and middle schools in Beijing prolonged the leave for their students on May 6th. Then we spent another three days in planning and presenting the Classroom on the Air. As the programs were extended to five-hour telecasts per day with different curricula plus additional live contents, we couldn't afford a break during the May 1st holiday. We made programs together with colleagues from other departments in Beijing," said Chen Li, vice president of CETV.

The industrious preparations and careful planning helped ensure a successful telecast of the Classroom on the Air program. All the people involved in the work were trying to make a practical contribution to the primary and middle school students who constitute the majority of the target audience during this special period. Furthermore, the curricula in the Classroom on the Air continue increasing. The aim is to cater to the learning appetites of different students. Efforts have also been made to transmit the program beyond Beijing for more students who suffer an absence from schools due to the SARS epidemic.

"Right after the May 1st holiday, many primary and middle schools across China announced closures one after another. But they lacked the resources despite a strong demand for such programs as the Classroom on the Air, because the educational TV programs were limited in number. Once we telecast our program on Channel one of CCTV, they appreciated it very much and asked for more. Since then, we began to prepare for the set-up of a satellite TV channel. The Chinese Ministry of Education was deeply involved in the preparatory work. And the National Broadcasting and Telecasting Bureau also offered its full support. It took less than ten days for a new channel to begin operations," Chen Li also said.

The Classroom on the Air turns out to be an attractive place where most students staying away from school can keep their studies going forward. It works far more than a classroom. It is considered a super school open to all.

Shanshan is a 10-year old girl living in Beijing. Despite the outbreak of SARS and the start of the ahead-of-schedule holiday, she still takes courses everyday. It is the Classroom on the Air that she enters each morning with her mother as companion. She learns a lot from this new way of studying. Thanks to the teaching program, Shanshan even started writing her first letter to her teacher Liu through the computer. Besides the major curricula, she often carefully arranges the map of China as her geography course. It seems that in her mind, this summer holiday means much more than summers past.

During her spare time, Shanshan enjoys opening the album in which she can see many pictures taken for her and her classmates. She misses her classmates and teachers very much and hopes to go back to school as soon as possible.

Given the improvement of the SARS situation in Beijing, students preparing for the college entrance examinations resumed study back at school. Necessary checking and protective measures were carried out to ensure a safe study environment.

In addition to these students facing important examinations, more were still left at home. Excluding physical education, they could take any course in the Classroom On the Air, which runs as comparably to the classes at school. This new learning model set up to deal with a special circumstance has become a favorite of many students.

"I think the setup of the Classroom On the Air under the SARS circumstances first meets the demand of those students who stay at home during the school holiday. Secondly, it is of far-reaching significance. It promotes modern long distance education and the overall modernization of educational technology. Actually, it is making changes in terms of both teaching and studying. As an educational TV channel, we should emphasize two things. One is to meet current demands of the students during the SARS outbreak. The other is to seek a new way of imparting and gaining knowledge throughout China once the SARS situation comes to an end. We'll try a new program like the current one after that," said Chen Li.

(CCTV.com June 22, 2003)

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