A crimson-winged pterosaur eyes some bulky brontosauruses as it flies over a landscape of trees and simple buildings. For Sun Shangjie, aged 4, anything is possible at a Lego Education Center in Shanghai — even resurrecting dinosaurs.
“Now, there’s an earthquake,” a supervisor tells Shangjie and her playmates, who have spent the last 30 minutes creating a primeval world from Lego bricks but are just as happy to raze their creation to the ground.
“The first time we took her here, she immediately loved it,” said her father, Sun Ziqian. Sun noted that his daughter enjoys being creative — and that playing with Lego is one of few options to foster her creativity before she enters kindergarten, the start of an arduous journey through China’s rigorous, one-size-fits-all education system, in which children study day and night until adulthood.
In the past few years, the Chinese government’s top buzzword has been innovation. The country’s leaders want the economy and domestic industries to be international trailblazers, not global copycats.
Huge sums are being spent on so-called creator spaces and technology incubators, and college graduates are handed generous cash sums to launch their own start-ups. But there have been few changes in the strict education system which, experts argue, largely resists alternative ideas, ensuring that new ways to teach and learn cannot make inroads.
Chinese author Ran Yunfei has described his country’s education system as “trite, empty and deadlocked,” a view shared by many others. But change is slowly coming from parents like Sun, who are frustrated with what the government is offering.
“There is increasing demand from parents to see alternative education for their children,” said Ma Zhijuan, director of the Center of Education Innovation at the 21st Century Education Research Institute, an education think tank promoting reforms to the system.
A 2013 survey of 18,000 Chinese parents who were unsatisfied with the public education system found that 2,000 had started teaching their children at home, according to the institute. Since then, Ma said, the number of alternatives for young children has soared. Nationwide, schools and kindergartens are offering teaching methods and after-school programs such as Lego classes and “hackerspace” workshops that foster children’s creativity and talents.
Jin Zhengchun, who started the Lego education center where Shangjie plays, operates 18 outlets in Shanghai and another 48 across the country. For about 7,000 yuan ($1,069) children can attend 40 morning play sessions throughout the year.
BUILDING BLOCKS “When I started in 2005, Lego was expensive and it wasn’t popular. Nowadays, Lego education has been accepted by more and more people,” Jin said. Demand is so high, he added, that he is already working on another 100 centers, due to open this year.
Sources : Asia.nikkei
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