EWB TEDxSuzhou 2018 Speech

Dear children, I hope...

Hello everyone, my name is Chen Xiaoting. You can call me Jasmine or Xiaoting. I am one of the co-founders of EWB, short for Education Without Barriers.

To begin with, I would like to familiarize you a bit with EWB. Education Without Barriers is an international NGO that offers classes through the internet, which are taught by volunteers. It is devoted to providing disadvantaged children around the world with free, accessible, and high-quality online education. EWB strives to create a coherent and systematical educational system in addition to the goals of advancing people’s lives and society through the improvement of educational situations for children.

Why would we like to start online voluntary education? Frankly, I pondered over this question for more than a year before I was involved in EWB. I eventually found the answer through one of the co-partners of EWB, who paid visits to orphanages around the world. This co-partner noticed that no matter what the location, environment, or economy was at the orphanages she visited, she was always able to keep in touch with her family through the Internet. Since it is so easy to connect with the outside world through the Internet, why not take advantage of this, and use the Internet to offer children sustainable education as well as long-term relationships?

Online education taught by volunteers has many advantages. For instance, we can disregard any barriers of time or distance and fully utilize our resources to their maximal efficacy. Just take the sheer amount of EWB volunteers as an example. So far, we have over 200 volunteers scattered around eight countries around the world. Whenever you send a message in the EWB group, there is always a time zone where the volunteers are in working hours! Meanwhile, our office costs and operating costs are greatly reduced because of telecommuting. It has been two years since the establishment of EWB, but the operation costs totals only to fifty-thousand RMB and about 75 percent of the cost is used for children to purchase necessary equipment such as computers, ipads, headphones, cables, stationery and books.

Additionally, we do meet a number of excellent applicants with a talent for teaching and who desire to volunteer as educators in their spare time. However, it is difficult unfortunately for some who may be working throughout the year and not have a summer vacation to volunteer for in-classroom teaching, as this typically takes a long period of concentrated time. EWB helps to solve this problem. Thanks to the ability to teach via the internet, volunteers only need to spend around 4 hours a week developing a lesson plan. EWB volunteers come from all walks of life, and we have some who are consultants, teachers, interns of the European Court of Human Rights or PhD’s working in a laboratory. Their breadth of experiences and knowledge is extremely beneficial to the children they teach, and helps the children develop an awareness and appreciation for the diversity of the world around them.

However, there are both advantages and disadvantages of online classes. In the following, I’d like to share 4 true stories that happened in EWB where together, we will reflect on some difficulties of online teaching.

The first story is “Teacher, I miss my mom”

The children EWB is helping are mostly orphans and left-behind children, but there are also some children called "legal orphans," which means one parent is in prison while the other has lost custody of the child either due to death or disappearance. One day in class, a girl who had just started primary school began to have redness of her eyes. She then started crying and said to her teacher, "Teacher, I miss my mom." In order to comfort the little girl, our teacher said to the child through the camera: "baby, don’t cry, I will give you a big, warm hug!" The child looked up and asked the teacher, "Teacher, can you repeat what you just said to me?" The teacher then changed the teaching plan in order to accommodate to the child, and decided to make some paper crafts for the girl’s mother who was in prison.

At that time, feeling sorrow, I quietly turned off the video as I was reviewing this lesson. Without the companion of family, the child lacked a sense of security and felt vulnerable. If this situation had been in an actual classroom, I could have comforted her through touch by rubbing her back or wiping her nose. This physical contact would have better conveyed to the child the sense of security that she needed. Due to our limitations, apart from verbal comfort, all we can do in these situations is to empathize with the children and be there for them in these times of helplessness and sadness.

The second story is “Miss, I don’t want to attend the class”

This probably is the most common problem among children--- despite how well-behaved a child may be, he or she will inevitably become tired of studying at times! If a volunteer unfortunately is paired with a defiant or rebellious child, the rate of quitting from the program will be much higher. Despite the fact that all EWB children have been through experiences different from each other, it is a part of many children’s natures to simply not want to listen a lesson, to waste time by talking about irrelevant issues, or to even tell a teacher directly that they do not want a lesson. Generally, a child’s habits are cultivated through constant repetition with long-term support and direction. If volunteers were able are to be on the site with the children, we would be able to give them some guidance when they are tired of learning. We could teach them through being role models and reinforcing different tasks, such as reminding a child to go back to wash their hands if they forget to do this before eating. However, through online teaching, we can give lessons and interact with the children only during certain periods of every day. We fail to provide the children with the constant supervision and immediate reinforcements that are needed during their crucial periods of habit formation.

The third story is “my child, paper cannot be eaten”

It is about a 10-year-old girl, quiet and demure. When other children are fighting for toys, she just sits quietly in the corner. Sometimes she will even offer her snacks to the teachers as soon as she receives them herself. However, under the quiet appearance of this child, there are insidious problems. There was one time during a class when the child started to tear up her notebook and then swallowed the papers for no apparent reason. No matter how much teacher tried to stop her from the other side of the screen, the child refused to listen. This incident was not just a single, isolated event, as the child now still has tendencies to have bizarre and self-harming behaviors when she is anxious. We tried to get in touch with top clinical psychologists in Beijing and Canada to describe to them the child’s situation. However, it did not work well because for one thing, the psychologists were unable to talk to the child face to face. In addition, psychological therapy requires long, dedicated periods of time which cannot be achieved through online video chat. Lastly, counseling and commuting is expensive. On a side note, I would also like to ask everyone who is present, if you have knowledge of psychology, have some clinical experience in it, or know experts in related fields, please do not hesitate to contact me. I will leave my contact information at the end of speech, and I will also stay for half an hour after the speech to exchange ideas with people who are interested.

The fourth story is “21 minutes overtime”

This story happened in my class. A few months ago I was teaching self-protection methods to a child and after the class ended, the child was unwilling to leave and begged me to keep teaching. I had no choice but to show my student the pictures taken by my friends in Iceland. As a result, when the other children’s classes were over, they gathered around the screen, which made my own student difficult to be seen. After 20 minutes overtime, during which I finished displaying pictures and had nothing else to do, I decided to end the video chat. However, the child implored me to wait for one minute, and then in our chat box, there appeared a short sentence in half pinyin and half Chinese characters: “Thank you my teacher, thank you for taking classes for me, I love you, good luck with the exam, and good night.” From my childhood through my university years, I have encountered many successful and smart students with stellar grades. However, I have only seen this one student who seriously expressed gratitude towards a teacher. I think of this child as the best student I have ever taught. I could not help crying after I turned off the video. If I was able to teach in a classroom, I would have definitely ran to the child given him a hug.

During the first year of the establishment of EWB, my partners and I made it our goal to send these children to the best universities in their provinces, or even the whole country or world. We want to break all the barriers that are in front of these children so as to provide them with the best education, resources and teachers.

However, do you know that according to the statistics from the US Department of Health, more than 80 percent of the children of prisoners suffer from Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD), which makes their journey of growth much more difficult. They have a much higher risk of developing psychological problems compared to normal children, as well as a higher risk of hurting themselves in extreme ways. Therefore, after a year of contact with these children, we would like to give them some words of encouragement.

First of all, my child, I hope you are healthy both physically and mentally.

Next, I hope you have happiness in your life. This is not only based on achieving high social status or fortune, but more on heartfelt happiness and satisfaction. I hope you will sense kindness in the world and feel gratitude for life.

If you do the above two thing both well, I hope you will take a look around the world and pursue your own dreams. You will go to an excellent university, get a good job and have a husband or wife who loves you. The rest of what happens is up to you. Take a look around the world and choose what makes you happy and the best person that you can be.

But my dear children, please remember that first and most importantly, I hope you are healthy both physically and mentally.

That is the end of my speech. Thank you for listening!