Society

French Teachers Use Twitter To Teach Elementary School Students To Write

In an education system that is often stuck in old ways, some French teachers are experimenting with Twitter as a writing and communication tool with students as young as six years old.

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DUNKERQUE - Seated in front of the family computer, with his mother watching him, Lucas, 7, let his 30 Twitter followers know that "my cousins Eva and Léa are coming to my house tonight." It's just like he does at school. In 2010, Lucas was a pupil in the first primary school class in France to use Twitter to learn how to read and write.

Still far from the mainstream, especially in the rather traditional French education system, the introduction of Twitter is nonetheless spreading fast among teachers. As of Sep. 1, the website Twittclasses.posterous.com listed 81 French-speaking twittclasses, about 50 of which were located in France.

In Lucas' class, none of the students, and only a few parents, knew about Twitter when the teacher Jean-Roch Masson introduced the new school project for 2010 with the declaration: "We are going to be the journalists of our own lives."

Every morning, one or two pupils are in charge of posting the first tweet of the day. However, before posting it, he or she needs to write the sentence in his or her exercise book, get it corrected, type it on a shared digital document and copy and paste it in the software managing Twitter. The short message then appears on the smartboard on the classroom wall, along with messages from followers of the class. When a new tweet addressed to them appears, the whole class can get over-excited. "I had to set up a few rules," the teacher says. "They wanted to stop everything to read the messages and reply."

In addition to the tweets suggested by his pupils, Jean-Roch Masson uses Twitter for new kinds of exercises: creating portmanteau words, discussing a word, solving math problems… or even playing chess with Amandine Terrier's class hundreds of miles away.

Terrier launched the first primary school twittclass in 2010 to comment on a school trip to Paris. Parents could follow the tweets posted by their children from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre. The experiment should have stopped there, but when the same pupils arrived in her class the next year, the first thing they asked was "Teacher, when do we tweet?" To respond to this motivation to write, Terrier decided to use Twitter as a learning tool for civics projects, and to communicate with schools abroad.

"Those experiments were launched in very specific contexts," says Gérard Marquié, a member of the French National Institute of youth and popular education. "They are all located in rural, middle-class areas or in vocational schools. The pupils' situation encourages teachers to work on ways to motivate them, and open up."

Stéphanie de Vanssay, a member of a teacher network for kids with learning difficulties, says Twitter makes pupils see that reading and spelling is not just about getting good marks at school. "Just writing a line makes no real sense, but writing it for someone does," she says.

According to the psychologist and therapist Yann Leroux, the success of writing on Twitter can be explained by the digital medium's ability to break down inhibitions. "Children quickly learn that something written on paper stays whereas on the Internet, things can be erased. It avoids the guilt a mistake can provoke, and allows you to try new things without fear."

Not being afraid is one thing, but the pupils are also taught to be cautious. To avoid any trouble linked to social networks, each twittclass has created its own code of conduct. Jean-Roch Masson's class decided it would only go on Twitter "with a parent or the teacher to read or write." Pupils need to be "polite and nice" and not to give their "address, password or anything regarding their private life."

Read the full article in French by Cécile Bontron (subscription needed)

Photo - Extra Ketchup

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Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.

Statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou Park, China

Chen Zhe


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

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