In order to review the history of the university and look back over the hardworking years, the university has organised a special interview with well-known course leaders and chief editors on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Open University of China (OUC).
On 6 June 2019, the OUC interviewed Professor Chen Lin, a famous expert on foreign language education. He served as the course leader of English via radio and television from 1978 to 1984, and compiled the teaching materials for both English and RTVU English, making outstanding contributions to the development of the RTVU’s teaching in its early stage. In this interview, Professor Chen Lin introduced his own teaching experience and understanding of the educational cause, and told of the RTVU’s development process. The following is the full text of the interview with Professor Chen Lin.
Interviewer: Hello, Mr. Chen.
Chen Lin: Hello.
Interviewer: Thank you for interviewing with us. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Open University of China and we know your history with it. Can you talk about the RTVU from your perspective?
Chen Lin: It’s also a pleasure for me to have a talk. Yes, as you have said, I have 40 years of experience with the RTVU. I still remember the five years from 1978 to 1983, when I was transferred to the RTVU and suspended most of my work at Beijing Foreign Studies University. I taught almost full-time with the RTVU during that time period. The RTVU, today’s open university, belongs to distance education, which is of great importance to a developing country, especially to a big country with such a large population and land area. It is an indispensable tool to facilitate the popularisation of education. To tell the truth, it’s not only developing countries who attach great importance to it, but also developed countries, such as the UK with its 40 years of history running open universities.
Interviewer: Thank you. During your cooperation with the RTVU, there must have been some very unforgettable experiences or others which made a deep impression. Could you please speak about some of those?
Chen Lin: As I mentioned just now, I was an RTVU staff member for five years, more than 30 years ago. As such, I have had deep feelings for the RTVU. I still remember when the Ministry of Education sent me and three others as a delegation to an international conference on distance education, organised by the UK in October 1978, to give the newly established RTVU an opportunity to learn from foreign experiences. The Chinese delegation was given great attention at the meeting and met by the then Duke of York, younger brother of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. As leader in the UK’s education sector, he welcomed and expressed his support for China in building the capacity to run the RTVU (a counterpart to the UK’s Open University).
Interviewer: Would you please speak of the differences between working at the RTVU and teaching at ordinary higher education institutions?
Chen Lin: The greatest difference was the heavy responsibility at the RTVU. For example, if I taught in the university and didn’t feel myself one day or didn’t teach something completely correct in class, only dozens of students would be affected, and I could find a chance to correct the shortcoming the next day. However, things were quite different on TV, and no mistakes were allowed. People should know how the TV courses were shot at that time. Several other people would sit there listening, but not for supervision. If they found something wrong, they would ask for a stop to reshoot or to make up. So, for example, I felt the responsibility was too intimidating to make any jokes.
Interviewer: You are right. The RTVU teaching responsibility is really significant. What course were you teaching at our RTVU at that time?
Chen Lin: I remember very well that the RTVU was unable to offer every course necessary for basic and college education. In fact, English was one of the three basic courses; the other two were computer science and Chinese, for it was also important to popularise the language of our country. Only these three courses were offered at the initiation of our TV University.
Interviewer: What was the social response?
Chen Lin: When it comes to social response, I have to speak of the foreign language course I taught. I also taught another course called Radio and TV English that was then operated by the China Central Television (CCTV) and China National Radio (CNR) in two formats - one was watching via television and the other was listening via radio. But, TV at that time was not very widespread. If an ordinary family had a TV set, it would have been a small, 9-inch one. Most ordinary families could afford a TV set, so people still listened to the course on the radio. The course was synchronised across radio and TV, with the same set of teaching materials taught by me. It was broadcast three times a day during prime time: morning, noon, and in the evening after the CCTV news. The broadcast time was the same for both radio and television.
Later, the RTVU was established offering English with our own teaching materials. The set of teaching materials for CCTV 1 was compiled by myself, and the other set was compiled by myself in cooperation with Ms. Liu Dailin of the RTVU Department of English, who later became dean of the department. We also worked with several other people to create the English course for the TV universities. The course was not only well-recognised at home, but also given wide attention around the world.
Here are two examples. One is about a man surnamed Cao, who is now our friend and vice chancellor of a very important university in the UK. He began his English study through our TV University. Nearly 10 years have passed since he told me so. He returned to Beijing from abroad, to visit his relatives, and found me through a mutual friend. Upon seeing me, he hugged me warmly. To tell the truth, he shed tears. He said to me, “Mr. Chen, there would be no me today without your English programme. I learned English from then onward, and I have improved it afterwards well enough to become a vice chancellor of a UK university.”
Another example: when our course was broadcast, the audience was spread throughout China. Many listeners and audience members wrote to me, asking questions. They expressed their hope to receive answers to their questions in the radio and TV programme. Letters piled up every day. Once, I received a letter from the United States, which said: To Chen Lin in China. I actually received it. This letter came from an old overseas Chinese, who said, “I have heard of the programme. Although I am abroad now, my English is still not good, for I just came to seek my fortune. Will you send me a set of your teaching materials so that I can improve my English from here?” These two examples show that our programme was really offered to meet the learning needs of all kinds of people in our country and abroad.
Interviewer: There were a lot of students in the RTVUs. Do you have any special impressions of them?
Chen Lin: With regards to special impressions, I can only say that I never met my students who learned via television and radio. It was different from my face-to-face teaching in colleges and universities, where it was possible for my students and I to gradually become friends. I do have one short story about students at that time. One day, I was riding a bicycle, but was blocked by three or four young people riding bicycles in front of me, but slowly in a row while chatting. As I had something urgent to do, I wanted to overtake them, but failed. Then I said, “Boys, you're riding slow enough to block the road.” So they made way for me a little bit on both sides. When I was passing by, one of them suddenly said, “Isn't that Professor Chen on TV? We are lucky enough today to meet Professor Chen.”
Then they asked if they could have a word or two with me, and we all stopped by the roadside. They said, “We're all your students. We watch your programme three times a day, and we're all learning from you.” They were all college students. Besides learning foreign languages at their own schools, they would also learn English by listening to the RTVU’s English course. Supposing such students were also studying our course, it could justify the social popularity of the course. On top of that, we could assume there were more students who I never met.
Interviewer: Yes, there were indeed quite a lot of such students who hadn’t met you. It is the same with a great number of students in our Open University of China (OUC). They are all working hard to prepare themselves for the development of their future careers. Do you have any suggestions or guidance for these students?
Chen Lin: If you mean the students in the OUC, I should say that written English and reading have to be enhanced in today’s foreign language learning, especially considering the long distance instruction. Though we learn listening and speaking well enough through long distance education, a greater amount of reading practice is necessary in every course, especially in Chinese and foreign language courses. It is even better to read works in their original language. Of course, you can read more than books, such as foreign language newspapers, magazines, and so on. Newspaper provides some new language expressions all the time, and the development of a language is reflected in the newspaper. That’s why our students should read more paper pieces, and not just rely on distance listening and watching programmes.
Interviewer: You’ve made very good suggestions. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the OUC, and what are your suggestions for the construction and development of the OUC?
Chen Lin: I think what I should say is that today’s Open University–established after the reform and opening up–is a form of distance education. As I have just mentioned, this is indispensable to a developing country such as ours. As far as the domestic development is concerned, we hope will be better used to offer more support in terms of poverty alleviation and assistance to the disabled, leveraging its modern, distant, and open form.
Poverty alleviation means offering courses for senior middle school and university education by way of radio and television to those areas unable to afford the operation of senior middle schools and universities. This is how our open universities differ from other universities, and play a significant role in poverty alleviation and assistance for the disabled throughout the country. Assistance for the disabled, for example, means offering someone who is unable to walk courses on TV and radio to facilitate their study. This is what our open universities can do to support national poverty alleviation and the disabled, by fully leveraging our advantages. Internationally, our country has launched a “Belt and Road Initiative” and the construction of a global community with a shared future for mankind, which requires the support of knowledge, especially foreign languages. As far as the initiative is concerned, statistics shows no fewer than 60 languages are spoken in the countries along the routes of “the Belt and Road Initiative.” I hope that our open universities can provide help to the relevant staff, and support for people who need to learn these 60 languages.
Interviewer: Very well said. It seems that you are always quite concerned about current affairs. In fact, the OUC has carried out international cooperation with open universities in the countries along “the Belt and Road.” For instance, it has signed a cooperation agreement with Allama Iqbal Open University dedicating itself to cooperation in teaching, scientific research of Chinese language, and in periodical publication and exchanges of academic works. It has kept close contact with Korea National Open University and Open University of Japan, holding seminars on distance education among the three parties of China, Japan, and Korea, organising exchanges of scholars; and conducting research in cooperation with the Indira Gandhi National Open University. I am confident that the OUC will continue the relevant work in this area. Well, Professor Chen, we have now come to the last question. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the OUC. Would you please say a few words of blessings to the camera?
Chen Lin: The Open University of China, which used to be the Radio and TV University, has made great contributions to the popularisation of education in our country over the last 40 years. It’s my hope that our OUC can continue to play a role in the implementation of today's national policies and to make new greater contributions. Thank you!
By Wang Ran, OUC