Chinese kids required to watch this TV Show

From Kendra Bock in The Diplomat:

Last weekend, as 185 million schoolchildren in China prepared for the first day of school, they had to complete an unusual task: watching TV. Since 2008, CCTV’s the “First Class of School” has been required watching for primary and secondary school students,…

Consumption of “First Class of School” seems equally uneven. One primary school student said that this will be only his second year watching the show, despite having been “required” to watch the program for at least the last four years: “I didn’t have time,” he explained. The show, which is roughly an hour and a half long, faced heavy criticism last year for beginning with more than 15 minutes of commercials. When asked what would happen if he did not watch the program, the student said that his teacher had no way of knowing if he watched it or not.

While some teachers require students to submit their reflections on the show, posts by parents on Zhihu (a Chinese website similar to Quora) suggest that the authors of these essays are often parents rather than the students. One of the most liked comments criticizes the late hour of the show and the requirement for such reflections, closing with the remark that “this ought to be an educational program, but it has become a source of pain for parents and students.”

For those students who do watch, an hour and a half long presentation of the history of the “five star Chinese flag” awaits them. In contrast to last year’s show, which opened with an animation sequence and a speech from Jackie Chan, this year’s show opened with video of the Chinese flag being raised across the country.

Last year the “First Class” mandatory TV show had a big controversy.  From NPR:

“Four sissies opened the program with singing and dancing. Can’t you find masculine boys? If the youth are effeminate, the country will be weak. The director of the program should be fired,” wrote an angry parent on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.

Another commented, “I can’t believe the ministries of education and propaganda are promoting sissy culture …. They let a bunch of sissies wearing lipstick, ear studs, dyed hair, groomed brows and bracelets represent Chinese youths!”

An op-ed from Xinhua, China’s state-run media outlet, bashed “fresh little meat” — internet slang for young, feminine-looking male celebrities who have porcelain skin and tiny waists.

“The kind of pop culture a society embraces, rejects or promote relates to the country’s future. In order to cultivate new talent who will be bearing the responsibility of rejuvenating the nation, we need to boycott harmful culture and be nurtured in good culture,” the op-ed’s author wrote.

Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily was on the other side of the discussion, calling for respect of diverse aesthetic standards and an appreciation of inner beauty.

The USA had a daily 12-minute news show for schools called Channel One.  It shuttered just last year.  Ten minutes of news and 2 minutes of commercials.  The latter was always the controversial.  It was founded by Chris Whittle.  In schools that chose to air Channel One, it was typically required viewing for the kids.

I actually thought the Channel One content was decent.  So did teachers.

Overall, the teachers were extremely positive about Channel One‘s approach to presenting the news. Nine out of 10 felt that the events covered as “newsworthy” on the broadcasts were generally appropriate; only 15 percent felt that material of questionable value had been included. Agreement was nearly unanimous that “the news is presented in a clear, objective, professional style.”

Teachers also responded very positively to two of Channel One‘s instructional strategies: providing historical footage related to current news topics and development of the “weekly series” segment on special topics. Almost three-quarters of the sample group agreed that the historical background provided is “one of the program’s educationally most beneficial features.” More than three-quarters of the respondents felt that “the human interest segments are on worthwhile topics.”

Is the show designed effectively for adolescents? Who better to evaluate this issue than the adults who watch students react to the broadcasts every day? Only 15 percent of the teachers felt that the program’s pace was “far too rapid-fire.” Over 90 percent agreed that “the program is designed effectively for its teenage target audience.”

Did kids actually learn?  In this study, a little bit more.

To determine how much students gain from these broadcasts, I conducted a study in four Midwestern junior high schools. After watching two weeks of Channel One, I developed a 27-item quiz based upon the material presented. This test was then given to 303 students who had seen the broadcasts and to 216 students in schools where the program was not available. I then compared results from the Channel One and the control groups.

How did students fare on this exercise in awareness of current events and knowledge of history? The total score, for all subjects, was 56 percent. This score seems especially disappointing when one realizes that, on a test of four-item multiple-choice questions, simply guessing should produce a score of 25 percent. Many of the questions related to the major news story of the previous two weeks: the collapse of Soviet Communism and the disintegration of the USSR. Test results revealed that many students were poorly informed about their country’s former Cold War rival. For example:

  • 43 percent could not identify Lenin as the leader of the Communist Revolution in Russia;
  • 38 percent failed to select Yeltzin as the Russian President who led resistance to the recent coup attempt;
  • 40 percent did not know that KGB stood for the former Soviet spy organization;
  • about half had never heard of the Cuban missile crisis;
  • amazingly, over 40 percent still seemed unsure as to whether the Communist regime in the Soviet Union had come to an end.

The problem that Channel One is attempting to address clearly exists: American teenagers need to know more about what is going on in the world. Does the program succeed in educating its audience? The students who saw the broadcasts did, in fact, score higher than their counterparts who did not see the show. On the average, they correctly answered 60 percent of the questions (16); the control group answered only 52 percent of the questions (14) correctly. This difference was statistically significant at a .001 level (less than one-tenth of one percent chance that it might have occurred by chance).

So a small but significant gain.  From 52% to 60% correct on a quiz.  Is that worthwhile?  I dunno.  What’s the fair comparison?  How much kids learn from a social studies teacher who does a 12-minute lecture?