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HELP CHINESE STUDENTS MINIMIZE THE STUDY PRESSURE UNDER CURRENT EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM Zhongfei Qian MDES 2014

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CONTENT

Abstract

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Introduction

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Background

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Outline of Inquiry

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Design Concepts

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Final Design

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References

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List of Figures

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ABSTRACT

This research focuses on the Chinese educational system from the perspective of student needs. Overall, the current educational system is hierarchical and forces every student to take the same educational path. This thesis argues that the current structure places excessive pressure on students through various factors such as the Key Schools entrance scenario, continuous examinations, corruption, fraud, and familial expectations and that this pressure has a deleterious impact on student health. Other

than to drop out of the system altogether, students have no choice but to sacrifice their health in order to engage in the fierce competition that is encouraged by the hierarchical and deeply competitive system. This thesis will investigate several factors imbedded in the Chinese educational system that contribute to this scenario. The aim is to find a constructive way to help Chinese students better navigate the current system and to motivate them to make choices that focus on their health and well-being.

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INTRODUCTION

In China, the public education is run by the Ministry of Education. All people in China must attend primary school for either five or six years and junior high school for either three or four years. These two periods are collectively called “nine-year compulsory education” and no tuition fees are required. However, students have to pay for high school studies. By 1999, primary school education had become generalized in most regions of China and mandatory nine-year compulsory education effectively now covers 85% of the population (Xiaohuan, 2002). For post-secondary studies, as of 2011, there were 2,409 institutions of higher learning in China, along with 1.39 million full-time teachers and 23 million students (Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, 2011). From these statistics, it is easy to see that the Chinese education system affects a large group of people, ranging from students, to teachers, to families. In its enormous quest to educate the masses, the Chinese educational system has developed a system that is rigidly hierarchical and forces every student to take the same educational path. The goal of this path is for students to get into the best school at every stage of their study career, ending with getting into a good university. The definition of “good school” is one with good education resources, like instructors, hardware, etc. If students get into a good school at one stage, they are more likely to get into a good school at the next stage. This successive series of advancement means that those who fail to achieve admission in a reputable

school at the early educational stages will have less of a chance of getting into good schools in the future. This could ultimately translate to reduced career opportunities.

The government developed the current educational system, which is highly unequal. It is the system that is causing all of the problems, so to eliminate the problems, the system must be dealt with.

Many factors contribute to making the Chinese education system hierarchical. The most important of these is the key school system and the entrance examination system. Key schools are those with the best education resources, including the best teachers and students. The purpose of the entrance examination is to select the best students for the key schools. However, the exam system is full of corruption, so that the children of rich and powerful people have a better chance of getting into key schools. Because only a small percentage of students can access these schools in the current educational system, the corruption benefits the wealthy and powerful but disadvantages others. This is unfair. Moreover, under these circumstances, everybody is driven to compete, so not only students but also their families face huge performance pressures.

This leads us to the primary goal here, which is to design a new educational system that can inhibit inequality. Such a system would provide multiple routes for students to follow rather than just one route. However, this is a huge undertaking that cannot be achieved within a short time, so a feasible alternative would be dealing with the pressure. The design process will work around this point. Eight different concepts were generated in order to meet the needs of different scenarios, three of which were selected to generate a compact design. The final goal is to teach students how to manage their time more effectively within a learning environment that stresses health and wellbeing. Through this design, students will not only be motivated but also empowered with the skills to effectively handle all pressure sources (e.g., teachers, parental expectations, workload, etc.) that impact their day-to-day study lives.

In response to these perceived issues of unfairness and stress, the government attempted to end this exam-oriented education by shortening the textbooks and including less information. However, this was essentially useless because it did not fix the problems of inequality and stress that were inherent in the system. Eventually, the contents that had been cut out of textbooks came back in other forms, such as extracurricular exercise books. Clearly, shortening textbooks was not a successful strategy.

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BACKGROUND


CULTURE PRESPECTIVE

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There is an old saying that an existing system may not be perfect, but it is the most viable system at the moment. Is this true, or just a saying? Regardless of its basis in truth, the saying is often used by the government as an excuse to avoid any real changes, and in this they have the support of a large portion of the population. Why do people so readily accept the status quo of the education system? Part of the reason lies in Chinese history.

and economics were not considered important (at least not for the exams). The study content enhanced the concept of “study for a good living” because you can hardly use this kind of knowledge (i.e., how to serve a king) in daily life. It focused on how to get promoted and improve your social status. People with professional skills were not taken seriously and thus earned less money. Most of the nation’s wealth was held by government officials and royals.

An important aspect of Chinese culture for centuries was the Imperial Examination, commonly known as Keju. It was designed for Imperial China as a means to select the best candidates to become administrative officials. The Imperial Examination lasted for over 2,000 years and, like the present key school system, also had a very hierarchical structure. The Ming and Qing Dynasties were the most renowned periods of the Imperial Examination. Candidates had to undergo numerous rigorous examinations, from county-level to palacelevel. Whoever failed these tests had to wait three years for the next opportunity to redo the test. During the Imperial China period, high officials and royals were usually hereditary; thus, for hundreds of years, the Imperial Examination was the only way for poor people to move up in the world. From this, the concept of “study for a good living” was planted very deeply in the hearts and minds of Chinese people, along with the pyramid-structured exam system. In fact, “the two happiest moments for an individual in China were said to be the wedding night and seeing one’s name on the list of people who had passed the Keju. It was the pursuit of a lifetime for many” (Zhao, 2012).

From this background, we can see that the purpose of study in China has traditionally not been about learning knowledge. This explains why the system focuses less on helping people to learn and more on selecting the right people to become officials. If we assume that the situation of “study for a good living” cannot be changed, then the system is probably good because it serves the purpose well. The Imperial Examination and the current educational system share the same base concepts. Nonetheless, could design help change people’s belief about the purpose and nature of study?

The study content of Imperial China was very narrow, with the most important courses being politics and classics. The main aspects of study were how to serve a king, whereas science


Figure 01: Palace Examination at Kaifeng, Song Dynasty, China. The King is the host of the Palace Examination. The King’s presence shows the level and position of the examination, normal people may never see the king once.

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Figure 02 - 04: Key Schools’ Campuses Key Schools usually have the best equipments and teachers. Here are 3 photos of the campus of 3 different Key Schools.

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KEY SCHOOL

During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese education was in an upheaval along with the entire social order, so children did not attend school. After the Revolution, the government rebuilt the lapsed educational system. However, because educational resources were very scarce at the time, the government could not rebuild everything at once, and selected institutions were given priority in choosing teachers, budgets, and facilities. These schools, called ‘key schools’, were also given the right to choose the best students. The same thinking pattern can be found in the Chinese urbanization process. Deng Xiaoping, the reformist leader of China, once said: “Some areas must get rich before others.” He asserted that the wealth from developed regions will eventually come to aid less developed regions. Students who attended key schools thus performed better in competing for admission to top schools at the next educational level. In order to choose students, key schools created their own additional entrance tests. Generally, students with higher marks gained admittance, but there were also some exceptions made for students from rich families or from government official families. The publicly-funded key school system still exists in China and has created inequality in the Chinese education system. These schools are located in developed regions, as only these regions have the resources and money to build the schools. Therefore, children from more developed areas, or of better educated parents, or from families of higher social status are typical candidates for student placements at key schools. Because of the preference for students from certain geographical locations and socioeconomic backgrounds, the key school system has created profound inequality in Chinese education. Although this system might have been helpful when it was first established by training a lot of good students during with a time of scarce educational resources, the system now prevents children from middle- or lower-class

families from getting a better education. Moreover, after key schools are established, instead of helping other schools and sharing their educational resources, they use their advantages to consolidate their dominant position. Nowadays, the key school system’s coverage has grown even further and become more complex. As there are often many key schools in the same area, the schools themselves have created a hierarchy. For instance, high schools can be provincial key schools, municipal key schools, or district-level key schools. Through the entrance exam and extra interviews, students are graded by these different levels of key schools. This kind of structure forces students to focus on the entrance exams because key schools have the best educational resources. Students from middle- or lower-class families have to constantly compete for the few openings in these schools, which results in enormous pressure on the students as well as their families. The pressure is further increased by general society in China, which rewards students attending key schools with better social standing and future options.

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ENTRANCE EXAMINATION SYSTEM

Figure 05: Outside the  Examination hall This is one of the examination host school. This is the most important thing for candidates’ families. They all showed up at the front. Since only candidates can go into the school campus. Their parents mostly will wait outside for all the time.

The national examination system, which selects students for post-secondary education or higher positions in government, is an important part of Chinese culture, just like the Imperial Examination once was. The National Higher Education Entrance Examination, commonly known as “Gaokao”, is an academic examination held annually in China. This examination is a prerequisite for entrance into almost all higher education institutions at the undergraduate level. The overall mark of the exam is generally a weighted sum of every subject’s marks. Although it has the word “unified” in its Chinese title, the only thing unified is the time the examination is held. The maximum mark, the contents of the exam, and the admission standards for universities and colleges all vary from province to province. Some students are exempted from standard exams however, due to exceptional or special talents, or backgrounds that are non-Chinese or minority (which is one of the main criticisms). Exceptional students are elected due to excellent performance in school. They usually are the leaders or monitors of their classes. The criteria for “special talents” are so flexible and vague that they leave abundant space for corruption. These kinds of policies have made the whole examination system unfair by bringing nonacademic standards into an academic exam system. Nonetheless, because the Gaokao is so important for candidates (which, in this case, are all students within the Chinese educational system), it is very difficult to keep the entire system clean and corruption-free. Instances of leaked exam contents, bribery, and group cheating have occurred repeatedly. This has been enabled by the fact that many of the exams are not held by the government, which leaves more doors open for corruption and cheating. This is yet another way that inequality is growing under the key school structure. In 2013, one of the exam sites in Hubei province

hired teachers from other cities to be examiners. They were not related to this area, which means they were not bribed. During the examination, they caught more than half of the students trying to cheat. The parents of the cheating students became very angry over their children being caught, and some even physically assaulted the examiners for being so strict (Lei, 2013). This clearly shows how important these exams are within the larger picture of Chinese culture. Apart from the national examination, every stage of Chinese education now has entrance tests. Students who have been through all of these tests may become excellent test-takers, but this does not guarantee that they will have the necessary academic abilities. According to a recent survey of AmCham Shanghai, 37% of US-owned companies responding said that “recruiting talent was their biggest operational problem” (Lane & Pollner, 2008). Furthermore, “separately, 44% of the executives at Chinese companies surveyed by The McKinsey Quarterly reported that insufficient talent was the biggest barrier to their global ambitions” (Lane & Pollner, 2008). At the same time, about one-third of college graduates cannot find employment (Tian, 2008). From these statistics, we can see that the current exam-oriented educational system is becoming unable to cultivate the kind of talent global society is looking for.

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THE HAZARDS OF INEQUALITY

As mentioned above, the current educational system in China is characterized by inequality, but how exactly does this characteristic affect Chinese students and Chinese society in general? China is a developing country, and so the distribution of wealth is already unequal. Under the current educational system, the impact that money plays on the admissions process cannot be controlled. Even worse, the system offers priorities for wealthy people so that they can pay a certain amount of money to get into key schools (essentially created a corrupt form of tuition). In contrast, poor families cannot afford to pay for extra tutoring or key school’s ‘tuition’ fees. Therefore, students from poor families have to spend more time studying in order to compete with students from rich families. In other words, they are unfairly burdened with extra study pressure.

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Money, however, is not the only issue here. The level of urban development varies from area to area in China. Being a part of the urban development, the educational resources likewise vary from place to place. Cities like Beijing or Shanghai, in the well-developed and heavily-populated south, have better schools than cities like Urumqi, in the less developed and sparsely-populated northwest. In contrary, the current educational system does not narrow the gap between these

areas, but instead enlarges it. With China’s Household Registration System, it is very easy to create boundaries between different areas. A student from Beijing is 22 times more likely to get into Beijing University than a student from Henan and a whopping 43 times more likely than a student from Guangdong (Wang, 2013). Normally, students from one area cannot attend key school entrance exams from other areas, but here again, bribes or ‘tuition’ fees often smooth the way to allow students to cross a border and enter better schools. On the other hand, this is not fair for people in developed urban areas. For example, local Shanghai people regularly complain about outsiders taking their spaces and resources while outsiders complain about Shanghai having too many good resources. Furthermore, the government thinks it is a good policy to make special concessions for members of ethnic minorities or foreign nationals, but in actuality these unequal policies only succeed in creating animosity among all competing interests. Creating new inequalities cannot fix old inequalities; it will only enlarge them and make the harm more complex.


Figure 06: A Primary School in Rural Area Unlike all the Key Schools, there are lots of schools with terrible facilities in rural area. Their chances of getting into a reputable college is very little, but this is their only chance to get out of poverty.

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SUMMARY

With its influence from Chinese history and tradition, the current educational system has become the most accepted way for young people to achieve success in China. However, the system forces participants into what can only be described as a long-term marathon. With this, comes pressure from factors such as key schools, entrance examinations, and so on. The pressure is essentially inherent in this system and therefore unavoidable. What is needed is a system overhaul. Unfortunately, this would be a huge undertaking and there is not enough time to do that. An alternative would be to change the system by making it a smaller system that only fits in one stage of the entire Chinese educational system. This smaller system would then have a reference value to all stages. However, even such a small change as this would require enormous effort, and the general will to effect this change is not there. It is possible that the reason why the system has not changed is because people do not want it to change. Chinese culture makes people prefer this kind of hierarchical system. Certainly, the loopholes for corruption and fraud make government leaders want to keep things the way they are, since they benefit from them. How, then, can people’s minds be opened to make them realize just how bad the system really is? This question led to the initial purpose of the research, which is finding a way to reduce study pressure or the harm from study pressure. If the final solution could not only reduce the pressure and somehow make people realize the importance of doing so, then people might also begin to think about changing the current system, because in this system comes with enormous built-in pressures.

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OUTLINE OF INQUIRY


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METHODOLOGY

Methodology is a systematic framework that can be applied to a research. It is a discipline that describes how different methods are being used. Methodology cannot provide the solutions or the answers to research or design, but through a proper methodology we can use different methods to analyze all of the information gathered, which may then lead us to the best solution. However, methods are different.

Figure 07: Methodology Poster

then classify them as having the same or similar causes. Narrowing down these factors is very important. Without reducing the scope of the research, the outcomes are more likely to be thousands of small plans for various situations. In the end, this would not be designing a system, because the different aspects would not be cooperating with each other.

The design process is a research process that constantly finds connections and new possibilities between and among various situations and solutions. It proceeds in stages. The research issue of this thesis is highly complex and includes a wide range of areas such as society, culture, and psychology. Although some of the areas seem unrelated, they all have something in common and share particular situations. This is the first stage, namely, identifying related fields and the different situations within them.

After the narrowing-down stage, we are able to identify several directions that have design possibilities. We can then follow these directions and start the actual process of building and designing, which involves reviewing these ideas. We may find that some of them are dealing with the same problem, so only one solution is necessary, or perhaps we combine several elements and come up with yet more ideas. Another important aspect of this process is to test the system to find the weak spots or missing points, which can then be worked on.

The next stage of research is to look deeply into these situations, find their possible causes, and

From this step-by-step design process, a viable new system emerges.

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METHOD

Methods are the specific tools used in the process of research and design under the guidance of methodology. The goal of using design methods is to gain key knowledge beyond the surface or holistic insights from a broad view. Methods help to make the design process more efficient by making it more intuitive. Many different methods are used during the design process.

Visual Brainstorming Writing and sketching on a big sheet of paper is a useful way to organize thoughts. The key in this method is the size of the paper. The bigger the paper is, the more helpful it will be, because the scale of paper is the scale of your mind’s playground. Unlike the sketchbooks, there are no pages to turn; you just concentrate on visualizing your mind and thoughts. Brainstorming proceeds by sketching and visually unfolding the problems and actively engaging the ideas in one’s mind. Oftentimes, looking at things one has just written down is like looking at someone else’s work. This ‘other’ perspective offers designers the chance to consider an issue from a vantage point that feels to be outside one’s own mind. These thoughts can be reviewed, contemplated, accepted or rejected, and then you can think about more ideas. Finally, the paper becomes a route map of your mind. This is a very good record of the research process. Building Artifacts An artifact is an object made during the process of research.

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Firstly, the process of making artifacts helps designers gain new knowledge because it is also a process of visualizing thinking. The experience of making artifacts is richer than simply sketching

on paper, as it includes more materials and different materials convey different meanings. Secondly, the finished artifact is a way of expressing information. Each artifact has its own story. However, as Mäkelä acknowledged, “the artifacts seem unable to pass on their knowledge, which is relevant for the research context. Thus the crucial task to be carried out is to give a voice to the artifact” (Mäkelä, 2007). In other words, the artifact has to be presented within a context. Then it can begin to tell its story and relay information. Scenarios Creating a scene that describes a certain context helps to better explain all the aspects involved. In the process of testing a prototype, scenarios help to better communicate the idea of the concept. This method is also useful for design concept building because it presents the situation in a very intuitive way so that designers can easily find the right direction. Role-Playing Role-playing involves identifying everybody related to the design problem, assigning roles to designers, and then beginning to act a real or imagined context. Through this process, designers can learn feelings and experiences from actual users or people related to the issue. By playing the role of a student, teacher, or parent within a certain scenario, it is easy to empathize with actual people involved in the Chinese educational system. It then becomes easier to find their needs as well as ways to ease the situation.


Timeline This research lasted only 1 year, which created a very tight schedule (leading to pressures that were not unlike those experienced by students in China’s education system). Consequently, a good time management strategy was a must. Setting a timeline in advance helped to restrict the researcher from wasting time, but sometimes the timeline could not be adhered to due to emergencies or inaccurate predictions. Constant amending of the timeline was helpful, not only to better allot the available time but also to generate new knowledge (personal experience) about the research topic. Peer Review In the very long process of design research, it is helpful to gain the opinion of other designers. A different professional view, offered periodically, can help a designer maintain focus and proceed in the most appropriate direction. The peer review method is one of the best ways to gain this kind of knowledge. During the research process, peer reviews happened almost every week among the MDES members. Their different personal backgrounds led to interesting opinions about each other’s work, which was both helpful and unique.

presentation. Speeches should be succinct and prepared and rehearsed in advance; minor details should only be provided when requested. It is also important to use the right visuals to communicate information effectively. Designing Designing is a complex method that involves many other methods in its process. It is not just for making the final piece of an outcome but rather happens at many stages of the entire design research process. For initial design concepts, designing some quick prototypes is crucial for quickly articulating the intention of the concept. As the concept grows, the prototypes should be updated and new design ideas should be added to them. Designing reflects findings from previous stages, and new thinking is perpetually discovered during and after the actual building process.

Presentation As mentioned above, peer reviews took place nearly every week during the research. Good presentation skills are required to better communicate ideas and design thinking. The first step is to summarize the main points, as very long presentations are not welcome. The next step is to create a good slide show that includes all of the key points. Long paragraphs should be avoided because nobody wants either to read or to hear them during a

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ARTIFACT: SCHOOL BAG

This artifact is a mini backpack for a typical primary school student to carry in daily school life. It is full of different kinds of textbooks. Generally, this artifact raises the issue of little children having too many things to learn. Because they have lots of homework from these courses, they or their parents have to carry this extremely heavy bag every day. This could be a symbol of the collective pressure that burdens the entire family, not just the children. In order to prevent kindergarten children and their families from experiencing this pressure, we must first consider how much is appropriate for them to learn (i.e., what the ideal work load is).

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Figure 08-10: Artifact: School Bag

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Figure 11-13: Artifact: Educational System Models

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ARTIFACT: EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM MODELS

To better understand the structure of the Chinese educational system, I built two artifacts – one for the current system, and one for the ideal one. In the current model, each layer represents a level of study: primary school, junior high school, senior high school, and college. The tape running through these layers represents the students. Starting at the bottom level, there is pressure from society, with the cube under the tapes representing families. Parents constantly push their children throughout the entire system. With each successive layer, the hole for students to pass through to get to the next layer is smaller, which pressures parents to push their children harder. In such a system, there is no chance for children or parents to escape the pressure of study. The system itself is the very reason for the pressure – in fact, pressure fuels the system. Therefore, to solve the problem and alleviate the collective pressure on parents and students, the system must change. In the ideal model, each layer represents a level

of study, as in the other artifact. But with each layer, there are numerous small holes for the tape to pass through. The idea is to scatter or diffuse the pressure and try not to create a pyramid of people. If students do not have to face all of the pressure from entrance tests, then parents have no reason to push their children. In this model, the bottom cube is much shorter than in the last model. This offers a general idea and thoughts about how best to improve or rebuild the educational system to release the pressure currently built into the system.

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DESIGN CONCEPTS


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FINDING WAYS TO SOLVE ACTUAL PROBLEMS

Changing an entire educational system would be a huge undertaking, but it would also be the most efficient way to solve the problem of study pressure. An alternative approach would be to cooperate with the current educational system and teach students how to deal with the pressure. The key is to find a way that realistically has the ability to achieve the goal, unlike the government’s policies discussed above. For instance, decreasing the workload from textbooks was supposed to be an effective and quick way to reduce the burden on students. However, what was removed from textbooks reemerged in extracurricular books, so nothing really changed. Even worse, students now have to pay more to buy the extra books. The initial research did not show any options with real potential. Instead, they focused on the big picture of the system, using a large canvas. Now might be a good time to move in another direction by starting from actual scenarios and seeing how to solve small issues using a small canvas. Because these ideas will share some of the same issues, new ideas might be inspired

that will be applicable to both the large and the small picture of the problem. The first step is to create a scenario around students’ daily lives that can be summarized to find the pressure points. After thinking about these points for a while, a response can be designed to solve the issues.

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DESIGN CONCEPT

#1

Highlights: help students better understand exercises they did

Cons: system works in a tedious way

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One of the biggest pressure sources for students are the endless exercises, especially for students in their final year of junior and senior high school, when they have to prepare for their entrance examinations. In China, this is called the “Exercises Sea Strategy�. Teachers force students to finish several different exercise books from different publishers, but a large portion of the exercise questions are similar or identical. Having to answer the same or similar questions over and over again is a waste of time and can also be aggravating. Moreover, if the students answered the questions incorrectly the first time around, they may not recognize the same pattern behind the questions, so they are likely to make the same mistake again without realizing it. The idea is to create an app or a device that can record all of the exercises that students have completed. The technology of keyword filtering can classify the exercises into different categories. The next time a similar question pops up, the app will remind students that they have already answered this question (or one like it). The difficulty here would be how to identify

all of the questions in the textbooks. Such a technological aid would not only save students time in doing the exercises (thus reducing study pressure) but would also help them better understand the exercises they have already done. Another way of doing this is to totally change the carrier of all of these questions, turn them into digital form, and build a database of exercises. Students would then no longer need several different books, as a computer would generate a set of question through the database.


Building Database: The app will generate a database of all the exercise have done.

Scan: Bring all the finished exercise book to the device. It will scan them and recognize them.

Start doing a new exercise book It will notice all the similar questions and tell students.

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DESIGN CONCEPT

#2

Highlights: help parents better understand kids’ study process

Cons: Old-fashioned Just a paper with several marks for sections, parents could still ignore them.

The scores on exam papers are crucial, yet scores have very little useful information; they only tell students about their performance in a very broad way. In China, scores from the national exam could decide the fate of the student throughout his or her lifetime. As a result, people focus on the scores and, in so doing, neglect everything behind the score, such as what aspect of the student’s knowledge body requires improvements. Many parents only see the scores and then either blame or praise their children. The question here is: How can the emphasis on final scores be reduced so that people pay more attention to the learning process?

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For those parents who tend only to care about the scores and neglect to look more deeply into their children’s education, the most useful way is to simply not show the result in a single score. This would force both the parents and the students to learn about the details. The idea is to create an exam paper template without showing an obvious score. In China, questions

in common test papers are categorized by types, such as “multiple choice”, “fill-in-the-blank”, etc. This makes the papers look clean and orderly, and also makes them easy for teachers to look at and mark. The improved exam paper would have two parts. Part 1 would be for the teachers, who will have to categorize all of the questions by the knowledge points on which they want to test the students. Questions that test similar knowledge would be in the same category. Part 2 would be the normal test paper, which is for students to do. By following this arrangement, teachers would be able to give several marks for each category.


1

1. 7. 11.

1. 2. 3.

2 3

4. 8. 2. 4.

4. 5. 6. 7.

6.

8.

9.

9.

12.

10.

4

3. 10.

11. 12.

Part 1:

Part 2:

questions with catagories

regular sheet for students

Results:

RESULTS

Gives scores to each different category with detailed feedback

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DESIGN CONCEPT

#3

Highlights: Very interesting and attractive way of communicating

Cons: This idea didn’t really focuses on reducing pressure. It has more pontenial in narrowing generation gap.

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As discussed above, many parents put intense study pressure on their children. However, sometimes this is due to a lack of communication. Parents today are much busier than in previous generations. In most households, both the mother and the father works. Furthermore, many current Chinese parents did not receive much education when they were young because of the Cultural Revolution, so their education level is not very high. This often makes it difficult for them to understand their children’s course work and is another reason why scores have become the easiest and most direct way for parents to find out how their children are doing. Clearly, a communication gap exists between many parents and children. If parents, while they at work, could know for sure that their children are studying hard, they probably would not be so angry about a bad score. How, then, can we create a simple way to communicate thoughts and get parents and children to talk more easily to each other? Nowadays, smart phones are very popular among students. Even

primary students have their own phone so they can contact their parents easily. This could be a good ice-breaking point. The idea is to create an app that ‘translates’ people’s thoughts and other information into info graphics. These info graphics would be shared between children and their parents. On the main screen, people can simply choose the level of their current mood in a scale of color. Black is very sad or negative and white is very happy or positive. Then, they can type a couple of words to describe the reason for choosing a particular color. From this information, the app will begin to generate the info graphic. It should not be very detailed because if it looks too complicated, people might lose interest. The idea is to create a simple trigger for a conversation – an intergenerational ice-breaker – so that parents and children might be prompted to share their thoughts.


Step 1: WHAT’S UP?

Simply choose the level of your current mood.Black is very sad or negative.White is very happy or positive.

Step 2: Type couple words to describe the reason for it FATHER

MOTHER

KIDS dictation

work

work

arguing

arguing

exam

homework overdue

overdue

Step 3: The app will generate an infographic about the mood of the day.

FATHER MOTHER KID

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DESIGN CONCEPT

#4

Highlights: Vent students’ pressure in a physical way

Cons: Feasibility is not high overall

Like the previous designs, this one also deals with resolving issues around tests and exams, but the focus here is on the time after exams. People generally tend to feel a huge sense of relief after taking a test, but this is not necessarily the case for final-year junior or senior high school students in China because as soon as one test is over, the countdown to the next one begins. This constant barrage of testing prevents students from resting their minds and becomes a main pressure source. The goal, in this instance, is to find a way to release pressure after each exam. The vent chamber has been designed for just such a purpose. The concept is to add a

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function for students to suit their personal theme. Each object in the chamber is labeled, and the teacher could put different questions on them. Inside the label is an explanation and an answer to the question. The students could choose a question they felt was troublesome or that they failed to answer. Then they could vent their anger on it by yelling. After students release their rage, they will calm down and feel better. The vent chamber will then give them an ideal opportunity to think about the test seriously and read the answers.


question from the exam

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DESIGN CONCEPT

#5

Highlights: Introducing a new study tool for students.

Cons: Increasing the efficiency of study doesn’t equal to reducing study pressure.

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Peer review is not a popular tool in Chinese education. In order to change the current score-oriented educational system, people have tried to bring more discussion to classroom environments. However, since this is not a very efficient way to prepare students for tests, the attempt has not gone well. Chinese students are used to waiting for teachers to feed them the correct answers, mainly because the current system only cares about tests. How, then, can more in-depth communication be injected into the study process in China? This design features an online sharing platform that everyone must use. Instead of handing in their exercise books, students would hand in their homework through the platform. After everyone submits their work, the teacher would unlock the sharing function and everybody can check each other’s work as well as their answers and their processes. In China, students always check others’ answers within a small group, but usually only beforehand (it is a form of cheating). In this design idea, however, the checking and sharing are done after the work is handed in. Curiosity

will likely drive most students to want to check each other’s work, and this in turn will drive them to want to discuss it. In this way, they will start to get used to reviewing ideas with others as a means of making their study process more efficient. Another idea would be to unlock the sharing & checking function after assessing it. This would help students better understand the correct answers. On the other hand, students would have almost no interest in checking answers after the teacher announces them, and they would be less likely to use the tool unless a teacher forces them to use it. It would be difficult for students to have positive, active and engaging discussions under such a mandatory situation.


Step 1:

Step 2:

Step 3:

Every students hand in their homeworks online through the app or website.

After the next day morning the teacher get everybody’s homework.

The teacher unlock the platform.

Results: Everybody could check all the work. (Works are anonymous.)

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DESIGN CONCEPT

#6

Highlights: Trying to solve the fundamental problem.

Cons: This is a very broad and vague concept.

The current Chinese educational system pays more attention to selecting students than to teaching students knowledge. As a result, the exam contents have become more difficult and also more obscure. After the exam, most students tend to forget what they have learnt very quickly, as the information is rarely applicable to their regular academic pursuits. In a word, students study for exams for scores, not for learning. The solution to this dilemma would be to put a clear boundary between basic courses and other courses. This concept is a raw model of a school system. It has two main divisions. One is the common course division, where all students gather together to learn. In these courses, there would be no rankings and no scores, thus no competition. The second division is for professional courses, where students can choose what they want to learn and follow their interests. This relates to their future career, so there will be rankings and competition. However, because the scale of competition has been significantly decreased, the study and performance pressure will likewise be reduced.

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ENGLISH

PHYSICS

GEOGRAPHY

CHEMISTRY

BIOLOGY

CHINESE

MATHS

PAINTING

HISTORY

basic courses department

advanced courses department

In this part, all the students are gathering together to learn these courses. There won’t be any rankings or scores. No competition.

In this part, students can choose what they want to learn, follow their interests. This relates to their future career, so there will be rankings and competitions. Because the scale of competitions has been decreaced, so the pressure will be smaller.

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DESIGN CONCEPT

#7

Highlights: Teaches students how to manage their time.

Cons: It needs students to manually input too much information. Not user-friendly

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With all the tests, exercises and extracurricular courses, it has become very tricky for students to manage their schedule and get enough rest. How can students be taught to manage their time? This idea is a time management app designed for students. After students type in all of the courses they will attend and how much homework is expected from each course, the app will figure out how much free time students can manage and generate a plan that will allow them the maximum amount of ‘down’ time for rest and relaxation.


add new course: name: time:

add todo homework:

add already did homework information: name: used time:

TYPE IN INFORMATION: courses information homework todo homework already did

How to manage your time?

today’s arrangement total time after class:

homework name total estimated for homework:

GIVE SUGGESTION: tell students when to rest.

homework name

event 1 00:00 - 00:00

click homework name

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DESIGN CONCEPT

#8

Highlights: This idea fits the new trend of wearable sensory devices.

Cons: Just a new sensory device, it needs more distinctive features to connect with the theme.

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With a high intensity study process, students’ health comes under pressure as well. How can students be warned that they are becoming exhausted, especially since they are used to taking stimulants, such as caffeinated drinks, that give them a false perception of their alertness? The idea is to develop a device that can track vital signs like blood pressure, heart rate, etc. A pen seems to be a good choice because students always need one when they are studying. Adding a health-related function to a tool that is already in use makes it easier for the user to adapt to the new function. The revamped pen has several built-in sensors that track the user’s pulse, blood pressure, and pen grip. If the user is fatigued, the pen will cut down the supply of ink and generate a vibration to warn the user to take a break.


SOLAR PANEL This pen is driven by this set of solar panel. Only the light of a lamp could charge it.

SENSORS

BUTTON BATTERY

This pen has several built-in sensor to track the user’s pulse, blood pressure, the strength of holding this pen.

If the power is down and there is no light. The battery can be changed.

If the user has fatigue, the pen will cut down the supply of ink and generate a vibration to warn the user to take a break.

VIBRATION MOTOR run by solar power

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SUMMARY

All of these different design concepts attempt to directly solve actual problems within different scenarios under the guideline of releasing and mitigating study pressure. They aim to make study and communication processes more efficient so that more time can be allotted for rest and relaxation. Under the current Chinese educational system, however, saving time is not sufficient. Unlike other test systems like the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), where students know in advance exactly how high a score they need to apply for Englishlanguage universities, the Chinese educational system is more like the Olympics, where people have to fight for rankings. With potentially their entire future at stake, students often feel pressured to study at every chance they get. For many students, any extra time saved would only be used in study again. So the situation really is: A student is used to doing 5 exercise books in 1 hour, but now he only needs half an hour to do 5 books, so he does 10 exercise books in 1 hour instead of taking a break. In order to get ahead of other people, nobody wants to relax while others are still studying. The key question is how to change students’ motivation.

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Resting and having a healthy body are both very important for young people, but students also usually have the capacity to overwork themselves without any obvious ill effects in the short term. So, they push past their physical limits and keep working. Making them understand the consequences of ignoring health warning signs

could be a way to ease their study pressure. This would even be helpful in the current educational system, because a healthy body is needed for tight schedules. So, among all of the design ideas above, those related to health issues have the best potential to solve the underlying problem of study pressure. Time management could be helpful as well, because it relates to how to make extra time for rest. In the current Chinese educational system, marks and scores are the most important aspects of study and thus drive the students’ motivation. But what if rest also got graded? If students’ performance related to how well they rested, then that would provide motivation for them to get some rest. Developing a technology that measures the level of rest and time management and placing it into students’ daily curricular plan would be a step in the right direction for resolving chronic study pressure in Chinese students.


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FINAL DESIGN


FIND RELATED FIELDS

DIFFERENT SITUATIONS

CLASSIFY & SUMMARIZE

Imperial Examination Pyramid-structured Exam System

Culture & History

Purpose of Study

Why it became like this?

For Fame, Social Status, Good Living, etc.

Difference Between Areas Chinese Educational System

Key Schools main factor

Most people approve this system because that’s part of the culture.

Less developed areas have less Key Schools. Students in there have to work harder in order to get in Key Schools.

Inequality

Corruption & Fraud

Health Issues

Key School Choice Fees Cheating

(Current Domain)

Society

Increase the Intensity

Pressure #1 Change the System

Exam Contents Leaking

#2 Just Deal with the Pressure

Highly Intense Competitions This happens at early stages of study career. Endless Mock Exams

Entrance Examination System

Changable Criteria Academic unrelated talents or achievements could lower the admission standards.

main factor

High in Score but Low in Ability (as a result of score oriented education)

FIND RELATED FIELDS

DIFFERENT SITUATIONS

Tests & Exams

DEVELOP DIFFERENT SOLUTIONS

Concept 1 Stop meaningless repeat doing same exercises

Exercises Study Process Ways of Study Reduce Study Pressure

Teachers & School

Structure

Concept 3 Create trigger of conversation between parents and kids

Concept 4 Physical vent pressure from frequent mock tests

Concept 5

(Current Domain)

Parents

Communication

Introduce a new tool for study

Concept 6 Design a small system

Limited Rest Time

Concept 7 Time management

Criticism & Punishment

Concept 8 Monitor health data

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Merge


BACK TO METHODOLOGY

The methodology has been introduced in a previous chapter. This part will talk about how the research is driven under the guidance of this methodology. The initial research domain concerned the entire Chinese educational system and was comprised of three categories: culture, key schools, and entrance examinations. Under these categories, there were several small factors that interacted with each other. Research showed that students were facing huge study pressures that were inherent in the Chinese educational system. This led to two choices: either entirely redo the system, or learn to deal with the pressure. The first choice lacked feasibility, so the second choice was explored. The pressure sources were divided into three categories: study process, teachers, and parents. After listing each individual factor, eight scenarios were created, from which eight concepts were generated based on the scenarios created. After a period of review and analysis, three concepts were chosen to further develop a compact and refined model. The next step is to integrate these initial concepts.

Figure 14: Methodology Poster

55


ITERATIONS

Concept 7 is a time management app that can teach students how to arrange their schedule, and concept 8 is a wearable device that can record students’ biodata. The app has the function of making suggestions when it cooperates with the wearable equipment. Although most students could care less about changing their time management, perhaps if the time-management advice were combined with an alert about their health status, they might heed the warning. Even better, a health alert that included suggestions on how students could get extra rest time would attract that much more attention. The next issue here is how to better communicate this information. Concept 3 is a mood map generator app that can create interesting infographics. This could be very helpful for the communication task. Plus, it fits the form of concept 7, which is an app. Basically the final outcome could be described as an app system with a wearable sensor that automatically generates a detailed visual report describing nearly everything that a student does every day. Then, it will make some simple suggestions on how to better utilize time, conserve energy, and rest.

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STRUCTURE DIAGRAM

ABOUT THE DEVICE MONTHLY VIEW

SETTING

<-

<-

BUTTON

ZOOM

wearing device

<-SWIPE

HOME

BUTTON <-

DEVICE

NEW

SWIPE->

ACTIVITY

REST

ENTAINMENT

SCHOOL COURSE

HOMEWORK

SLEEP

DAILY TIMELINE

SWIPE <-

For the wearable device, initially the idea is design a piece of device to pair with the app. But this seemed to be unnecessary. Since this kind of devices are very popular thesedays. They are all capeble of detect health status data. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s better to make the app work with these existing device. In this case people are able to choose what they want.

SUMMARY HIGHTLIGHT

57


14:06 PM

14:06 PM

Settings

Current

Settings

Current

Listening Music

English Homework

01:23 SINCE 1:30 PM

01:23 SINCE 1:30 PM

58

ITERATION #1

ITERATION #2

As the main screen of the APP, home screen should shows current engaging eventâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s information. Basically, there is start time, time length, event name. At the top bezel, there are 2 button: new event and settings.

In this iteration, there rationale is add different function for specific events on the home screen. So what shows here is a set of music control buttons for music event. Also the cover of current album is showed.

For events that the app cannot detect when is the end, there is a stop button.

This idea is abadoned because it iis unnecessary to add too many unrelated functions into the app.


HOME SCREEN

14:06 PM

Settings

14:06 PM

Current

Settings

Current

English Homework

Jogging

SINCE 1:30 PM

SINCE 1:30 PM

01:23

01:23

Caution!

!

You need to get some rest

Calorie consumed:

How about listening to some music?

current heart rate:

45 cal

current heart rate:

ITERATION #3 In this iteration, instead of adding function, there is more information about the current event on this home screen. Also it has a notification system to inform the user cautions.

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9 AM

14:06 PM

14:06 PM

Today

Today

Event 1

9 AM

1 hour 20 mins Location

10 AM

1 hour 20 mins Location

1 hour 20 mins Location

Event 3

Event 2 11 AM

1 hour 20 mins Location

12 AM

60

Event 1

1 hour 20 mins Location

10 AM

Event 2 11 AM

Event 1

Event 4

1 hour 20 mins Location

1 hour 20 mins Location

Event 3

1 hour 20 mins Location

12 AM

1 PM

1 PM

2 PM

2 PM

3 PM

3 PM

4 PM

4 PM

Event 4

1 hour 20 mins Location

Event 2

1 hour 20 mins Location

Event 3

1 hour 20 mins Location

Event 4

1 hour 20 mins Location

ITERATION #1

ITERATION #2

In the first iteration, the “today’s view” looks like a normal calender app. It shows everything you did in a timeline.

Because this is partly a time management app, it should shows an ideal timeline which generated by the app along the real happened timeline so students could learn the difference between.


DAILY TIMELINE

9 AM

14:06 PM

14:06 PM

Today

Today

Event 1

1 hour 20 mins Location

Event 1

1 hour 20 mins Location

10 AM 1 hour 20 mins Location

Event 3

1 hour 20 mins Location

12 AM

route route >>

Distance: 00 km

Event 2 11 AM

Jogging From 00:00 to 00:00 Calorie consumed:

Event 4

1 hour 20 mins Location

1 PM

Event 2

1 hour 20 mins Location

Listening ng M Music From 00:00 to 00:00 0:00 Location:

playlist >

Event 3

1 hour 20 mins Location

Event 4

1 hour 20 mins Location

Attend School From 00:00 to 00:00 Location:

Todayâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Summary: 2Exercise: PM

Physical Exercise: Rest: Entertainment: 3Sleep: PM

3 h 30 m 1 h 00 m 2 h 20 m 1h3m 8 h 30 m

Doing Homeworkk From 00:00 to 00:00 Location:

Suggestion: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna

4 PM

ITERATION #3

ITERATION #4

In this iteration, the summary function is added. this small section can be activated by the gesture of swipe up from the bottom of the screen. It shows the basically stats of the day with some suggestions.

In this iteration, the old stereotype calender-like UI is gone. This is a replacement with a more attractive & interesting looking. the background patterns are from an internal database. Normally the app will generate these patterns to fit the theme of each event. The users still have the ability to change them.

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ADD EVENT

SETTINGS

14:06 PM

Cancel

Add Event

Title

Done >

Starts Lasts Repeat Alert Gear VibrationO Color Theme

Everyday > None > n > Black >

This is the “Add Event” page, the users are able to set a schedule in advance or while its happening.

This is the “Settings page”, there is a theme choosing function. At this time there is no second UI theme designed for it. The reset function is not available during semesters, because the data is needed for assesment.

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Also in here users could type in their data so the app could know what types of people they are.


DEVICE

EVENT DETAIL UI MOCK-UP

14:06 PM

Back

14:06 PM

Device

Back

Model: Connection Status:

Event 1

Heart Rate Map:

Connected Disconnect

Battery: Estimate:

88% 6 days

Average Rate:

Suggestion:

The “Device” page shows the model name of the device as well as its connection and battery status.

This is the initial mock-up of the “Event Detail” page. It suggests that the information on this page varies depend on different events. It will show a trend map of certain data eg. heart rate and the app will give suggestion if there is something wrong about it.

63


ACTIVITY

SLEEP

14:06 PM

14:06 PM

Walk

Back

Back

Route:

Sleeping Status: on

23:28

St

Ch

W

illo

w

arl

es

St

ns

w

ig

hto

n

St

Bu Jo

hn

Ag St

ric

ola

St

W

t es

M

Cunard

7:20

Bur

Cre

St

dd

y

Da

ye

ick

St

M

St

G

aitl

ott

and

in

ge

n

St

St

St

W ora

n

oo

dil

lS

t Cu

na

rd

St

llis wa rn Co

St

St

St No

Robi e St

Ave pton Com

Sleep

Ba rth

Pa

rk

ue

rS

t

St

Cogs

well

St

Rainnie D Dr

m St ms Willia rd St lsfo We

ll we gs

St

Co W ind rS t

Ahern

so

Ave

Rd ool Quinp

Length:

3.2 km

You Walked:

You Walked: 3234 steps

Time Spent:

2.1 hour

Calorie consumed:

1336 cal

This page shows the details of activities like jogging or bike riding. The map in it shows the route of this activity. Some related data are showing below the map.

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Deep Sleep:

6 h 20 m

Mild Sleep:

3h 30 m

Wake up times:

1

This page shows the quality of usersâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; sleeping.


ENTERTAINMENT

HOMEWORK

14:06 PM

14:06 PM

Back

Back

Music

Homework

Cover Flow:

Type:English Start Time: End Time: Length: Start Time:

14:50

End Time:

16:10

Length:

14:50 16:10 1 h 20 m

Comment:

1 h 20 m

Entertainments like listen to music or watching video could counts as one kind of rest. If the user used this device to do the entertainment. This page will show some details of the contents. Otherwise, only one icon will appear.

The information of doing homework shows here. The comment part will generate some opinion like â&#x20AC;&#x153;you spent too much time on this, next time you should take some rest in the middle.â&#x20AC;?

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SCHOOL

REST

14:06 PM

Back

14:06 PM

Course

Back

Rest

Status: 18:28

19:20

Course Name:English Start Time:

14:50

End Time:

16:10

Length:

1 h 20 m

Course Timetable

This page shows the cources users took. There is a button that links to course timetable.

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Start Time:

18:28

End Time:

19:20

Length:

52 m

Stay still without Deep sleep will count as “Rest”.


MONTHLY VIEW

14:06 PM

September SM

TW

TF

S

01

02

03

04

05

06

07

08

09

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

Septemberâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Summary: You Walked: Physical Exercise: Sleeped: Entertainment: Rested:

23456 m 20 h 00 m 205 h 20 m 15 h 3 m 8 h 30 m

Suggestion: Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna

This page shows a summary of a whole month. Also if the user did something that the app think is not good enough, the cube of that day will display a color of the event which is abnormal.

67


CONCLUSION

68

The system concept is somewhat completed, but it still has some serious problems that need to be worked out. For instance, how can the design be made attractive to students so that they heed its advice? Furthermore, even if students finish their work and want to get more rest, will teachers and parents allow them to do so? The motivation is very important, not just for students but also for the grown-ups. There has to be some compulsory measures to force students to follow the app’s guidance.

it is impossible to run a makeup exam. Let the result just affect the overall marks of students seems to be a better idea: if students made very good time management, their final marks get a 5 to 10% percent raise and 5% percent down for bad performances for example. In this case, the result works more objectively. If students are just being lazy, on the app, the results may look pretty good. But because their scores of other courses are low, the score growth will be short.

Fortunately, compulsory measures are very popular in the current Chinese Educational system, which means that students will have little difficulty cooperating with them. Even better would be if the app could assign a score to the quality of how good students are at arranging their time and getting rest, as then it might find widespread approval from teachers and parents, too. If students ignored the app’s suggestions on how to manage their schedule or rest, they would receive bad scores, which would negatively affect their school marks. Chinese teachers and parents care about marks even more than students do, so this idea creates a perfect motivation for them to let students get some rest.

The next big issue is cheating. To be honest, there is no simple solution to this problem. Just like for ordinary assessments of homework or tests, there is no foolproof solution to preventing students from cheating the app. Unfortunately, there is not enough time in this program to take a deeper look at this issue. Nonetheless, if the system did go into practice, it would represent a step in the right direction not only in teaching students about the importance of time management and health awareness, but in helping students deal with study pressures inherent in the Chinese education system.

How to integrate this into the existing educational system? The initial idea is to treat it as a course. But since the result is very hard to grade by percentage scoring (which is the most common grade system in Chinese education) Also, if students get “failed”,


69


REFERENCE

Friedman, K. (2008). Presenting Your Research. Design Research Quarterly.

Nimkulrat, N. (2009) Creation of Artifacts as a Vehicle for Design Research. University of Art and Design Helsinki.

Lane, K.; Pollner, F. (2008). How to Address China’s Growing Talent Shortage. The Mckinsey Quarterly 2008 No.3, P33-40.

Swann, C. (2002). Action Research and the Practice of Design. Design Issues. 18 (1)

Lei, L. (2013). The investigation of a Collective Fight Between Students and Examiners in Zhongxiang. Southern Weekly Online 2013 http://www.infzm.com/content/91555

Tian, Y. Chujing daxuesheng jiuye: Wenti yu duice (Improve college graduate placement rate: Problems and solutions). China.com.cn [online] (2008). http://www. china.com.cn/info/zhuanti/08jylps/2008-05/06/ content_15084849.htm

Mäkelä, M. (2007). Knowing Through Making: The Role of the Artefact in Practice-led Research

Wang, F. (2013) No Equality, No Hope for China. Beijing: Dongfang Press.

Mattelmaki, T. Matthews, B. (2009). Peeling Apples: Prototyping Design Experiments As Research. Engaging Artifacts.

Xiaohuan, S. (2002) Education in China: Reforms and Innovations. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press.

Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, (2011) 2011 Education Statistics. http://www.moe.edu.cn/publicfiles/business/htmlfiles/ moe/s7382/index.html

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Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China, (2012) Eight Measures to Control the Additional School Choice Fees Charge in the Compulsory Education Phase. http://www.moe.edu.cn/publicfiles/business/htmlfiles/ moe/moe_1793/201202/130873.html

Zhao,Y. (2012) Reforming Chinese Education: What China is Trying to Learn from America. The Solutions Journal, 2, 2, P38-43.


71


LIST OF FIGURES

72

01

Palace Examination at Kaifeng, Song Dynasty, China.

11

02

Key Schools’ Campuses

12

03

Key Schools’ Campuses

12

04

Key Schools’ Campuses

12

05

Outside the Examination hall

15

06

A Primary School in Rural Area

17

07

Methodology Poster

22

08

Artifact: School Bag

26

09

Artifact: School Bag

26

10

Artifact: School Bag

27

11

Artifact: Educational System Models

28

12

Artifact: Educational System Models

28

14

Artifact: Educational System Models

29

15

Methodology Poster

54


Helping Chinese Students Minimize the Study Pressure under the Current Educational System