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Are Schools Holding Back Chinese Web Innovators?

As someone who spent some time at a Chinese college myself, I was interested today to run across this weibo post written by Youmi founder Wang Lifen (pictured) about the restrictive internet at many Chinese schools:

The biggest [competitive] advantages young people have are on the internet, but the internet at Chinese schools is even slower than the internet elsewhere, and some content is missing too. China’s internet is already censored, if the schools make it even slower and even more censored, how much competitiveness is left? If the youth aren’t better than us, is there any hope for this country? Such simple logic should be easy to understand. Perhaps I’m just out of touch.

I think Ms. Wang makes an excellent point, and if I might be allowed to broaden it a little, it’s true that in China (and many other countries) schools tend to offer students slower, more restricted internet and very limited computer-focused education until you reach college. And even in college, Chinese students have more access to tech and programming classes, but they still have to contend with slow and doubly-censored internet.

Chinese students and college graduates are responsible for some of the Chinese internet’s most innovative products and services, but how much better could they be doing if schools offered more classes tailored to web-relevant skills (especially before college) and gave students access to free and fast internet to allow for easy experimentation? It’s an open question, but at the very least, I can’t imagine these measures would hurt.

China’s education system needs reform for a lot of reasons, and most of them have nothing to do with the web, but Wang is right that the strongest competitive advantage today’s youth have over older folks is their comparative familiarity with the internet and web technologies. It seems silly that schools wouldn’t be building programs and establishing infrastructure designed to help students build on that strength, rather than ignoring it or even restricting it.


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