Hualien banks on technology and computer science classes for elementary schools

May 16, 2020

Hualien County is one of Taiwan”s most rural regions, but its elementary schools are in the middle of a high-tech revolution. The county is rolling out tech education on an unprecedented scale, with all of its 126 elementary and junior high schools offering coding classes. Teachers are introducing children to engineering, by having them apply concepts to build projects of their own. The county commissioner says the policy aims to give Hualien children a world-class education as an investment for the county”s future. Our reporter in Hualien has the story.

It’s a familiar scene at schools across Taiwan: the bell rings and children race out to play in the schoolyard. But in Hualien County, the way kids spend recess is changing.

These kids are still hanging around in the classroom with their textbooks. They’re keen to read ahead on the next class.

A right answer opens up a new area in the game. That extra cramming has paid off. The online game lessons on the PaGamO platform give kids an incentive to do their homework. Teachers say the games help students memorize content faster, and many want to stay at their computers studying after class is out.

Chen I-bu
Tai-ping Elementary School student
I don’t really want to go out. I just want to sit in the classroom and complete missions. I can learn more stuff that people normally wouldn’t know.

Lu Kui-han
Tai-ping Elementary School teacher
I just want them to realize, “Oh, wow, learning is interesting.” Through these gamified lessons, we can stimulate their minds, and they can create their own projects to express themselves.

High-tech education has hit Hualien. Kids’ coding classes are now available at all 126 elementary and junior high schools in the county. It’s an example for the rest of Taiwan.

The county government has worked hard to build a smart learning environment. Computer programming languages and mechanical technology now feature in the curriculum from a very young age. Kids are encouraged to explore and to tackle hands-on projects that expose them to the DIY maker culture.

Chen I-bu
Tai-ping Elementary School student
It’s different from before. We try more interesting things in class.

Lu Kui-han
Tai-ping Elementary School teacher
When our kids are learning, most of the time they’re doing something practical with their own hands, which as we know, leaves more of an impression in the brain.

Lasers and water guns make this tech class fun. Learning the basics is simple, and it captures the imagination of the kids. Meanwhile, smart education systems are also drawing interest from adult learners.

Ms. Wu
Hualien resident
If it weren’t for this class, I’d feel really distant from this kind of thing, yeah. But now that I’ve had experience with it, it doesn’t seem hard at all. So long as you have some original ideas, you can make your own things, with your own flair.

Adults learn to make their own metal objects at this metalworking class at Guangfu Junior High. Meanwhile at Hualien Smart Education Center, which was established by the county’s Department of Education, 3-D printing classes are open to students, educators and the general public. All across the county, specialized technology courses are popping up.

Of course, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Hualien is having to adapt. The county government has offered public health classes online using the smart education system. County chief Hsu Chen-wei visited Tonglan Elementary in Xiulin Township, taking part in the digital register to the delight of her younger classmates and trying out online school for herself.

During this distance learning demo, Tonglan modeled the best practices for teachers dealing with the unusual challenges of the epidemic.The model class showed teachers how to stay updated on students’ progress, using technology to make sure nobody falls behind. Online classes can cater for students who can’t make it to school, and they serve if there’s a sudden public health crisis. They also mean that teachers in other locations can help relieve staff shortages.

Hsu Chen-wei
Hualien County Commissioner
We’re promoting smart education. It allows our children to overcome the challenges of growing up in a remote area. It’s said that education should be fair and equal, and we want to use our technology education to create new hope for the future of Hualien. We want to give Hualien youth an education that’s aligned with our global world, and keep hold of our youth so they become the “demographic dividend” of Hualien in the future.

In just a few years, Hualien has built up its tech education from scratch. Now as COVID-19 forces many schools to take classes online, it’s stepping up as a national leader in remote learning. This generation of H

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