Since beginning work as a tutor at the OUC, I have instructed a huge number of students, and I still remember nearly all of their learning stories. However, the one that impressed me most was the story of a father and son who both majored in finance in the junior college class of Fall 2013. This father and son left me with an unforgettable, lasting impression.

The first time I saw the father was in a final examination room a year ago. At the time, a colleague responsible for invigilation quietly pointed at two candidates sitting at the end of the middle row and told me that they were a father and son who had signed up for the same specialty, received textbooks and paid their tuition costs together and were now taking part in the final exam together. I felt somewhat curious and watched them silently. The father was around 50 years old or perhaps older, of medium build, with a thin yet ruddy face and a crew cut, and appeared to be a shrewd man. I got to know from the attendance table that his surname was Li and he was a student of finance in the junior college class of open education of Fall 2013. His son was about 18 years old and also had a crew cut. The son’s meager face still retained some childishness, which couldn’t hide the innocence, vigor and vitality in him. He was writing earnestly on the paper. The father seemed to be having difficulties in answering the paper, writing only intermittently. I couldn’t make out if there were any special stories between this father and son; I just remembered that they were the only father and son pair.

I got familiar with Old Li when he came to collect his textbooks. Due to a shortage of Financial Marketing textbooks at the beginning of the term, Old Li came to the workstation later on to collect the textbook when they were ready. It just so happened that his class tutor had gone out and I was the one to hand over the books to him. Old Li still had closely cropped hair and his lean face was filled with confidence. He looked at me with a smile and was talkative. He said that his son was at work and would have to read his textbooks after work. Time was pressing for his son. He told me about difficulties he’d had in studying, saying that he had a poor memory and was slow at writing, so it was hard for him to finish the formative assessment work. He also consulted about methods of posting messages in the forum on the provincial branch school’s platform. The curiosity of wanting to know why the father and the son enrolled in the OUC at the same time pushed me to keep talking with him. We continued our friendly chat and I opened up the platform of the provincial branch school to demonstrate posting messages in the forum. I patiently answered his questions while he told me the stories between him and his son. He was 51 and his son 20. His son was a stubborn boy who had had a strong curiosity for learning new things from an early age. His schooling record was above average and he was fond of playing around on the Internet. In his last year of senior high school, he was so engrossed in the online world he couldn’t control himself. Eventually his grades deteriorated and he failed his exams. From then on, the son fell into a deep depression. The father naturally felt very anxious for his son but felt there was nothing he could do. His friend referred him to a university which based their education system on multimedia information technology and developed a teaching and learning system supported by computer network technology. It was a perfect fit for his son, whose hobby was surfing the Internet and the father hoped it would be able to stimulate his son's learning interest. With an idea of having a try, he took his son to a local learning centre of the OUC. The tutors in the learning centre briefly introduced the OUC to them and presented a short demo of the OUC’s learning platform. Unexpectedly, his son took to this method of learning immediately and became hugely interested. That’s why the father and the son enrolled themselves in the OUC’s finance specialty together. He also noted that he decided to enroll in the OUC to improve and develop himself and meet the work requirements of his company, but most importantly to educate and guide his son to learn some financial knowledge and master certain skills, which would lay a foundation for his future life. His story proved my initial guess correct that, while primarily imparting knowledge, the OUC’s learning platform also built a bridge to join bright minds together imperceptibly.

In no time, the final exam of another semester arrived. A colleague and I were exam supervisors again. The father and son arrived at the university for their exams with their identity cards, student cards and exam notice sheets. It was an open-book exam, so they were fully prepared by downloading and printing many pre-exam tutorials. The father was still talkative and full of confidence. I smiled and nodded and checked his ID. His son also smiled and nodded to me; he looked stronger and taller. His childish face began to show signs of maturity, but his simple and honest smile still contained a certain shyness. He had kept his flat hair and there were no signs of a ‘bad boy’ in his simple dress. I felt happy for his father, who was now sporting a handful of white hairs on his temples and along his hairline. He was not only the oldest student in the exam room, but also the oldest student in the workstation and the branch school. When answering the paper, the son did so quickly, with little hesitation, although was concerned about his father sitting in the back from time to time. This display of care and concern moved me. After all, the father, with his increasing age, was slower to respond and slower to write. After his son finished the test paper, the father was still writing and persisting in answering one question after another. After handing in his exam paper, the son waited for his father by the door, with a smile. A rebellious child was reborn in his father's philanthropic mind and was now trying to comprehend everything an ordinary father like his had given him. I should have asked him to leave, but the special affection between the father and son weakened my resolve to keep to the rules of the exam. I could not bear to destroy the heart-warming atmosphere. I would instead let the son watch his father silently, his eyes brimming with love, and let their unspoken heart-to-heart communication continue quietly. The father was working very hard on his papers. The son was deeply worried his father might make unexpected errors, however the supervisors’ watching eyes seemed to ask him to leave. He managed to evade the supervisors and stayed standing at the door, watching his father. I focused my attention on the examination room while also silently trying to understand all this, as a middle-aged father myself. Waiting at the entrance of an exam room was deemed against the rules, however this procedural rule was a useless decoration for the father and son, who were both excellent students, and so the rules of the exam had somehow become as beautiful as the passing scenery at the roadside.

I could not help but look at the ordinary, and yet great, father again. In order to educate and guide his son, he gave almost all he had and studied together with his son for three years. He was ordinary because he was a son’s father as well as a student of the OUC. He was great because his unique method of education would not be accepted by many other fathers. He improved his son’s life through this unique way of learning together and left a wonderful memory in both their lives. The father’s face was still black and red, with a standard crew cut. His clean-cut face was full of confidence and perseverance as always. His happiness could be easily felt. By completing the test paper, he was also engraving his life journey. At that moment, I was convinced that as long as they persevered, they would have a fruitful life.

The bell rang. The father checked his paper for the last time and then handed it over to the supervisors. The son rushed into the exam room excitedly, like a child, helped his father pick up his exam tools and materials, and they then left the exam room together. The son wrapped an arm around his father and away they went.... Looking at the two shadows, tall and short, relying on each other, I was lost in my thoughts...

An ordinary exam scene interpreted a moving story, which shocked my inner world. I felt the deep affections of the father and son throughout the learning process, which made me respect all the more the father who worked so hard. As an ordinary father, he used unusual educational concepts and methods to influence his son. With the help of the learning platform of the lifelong education of the OUC, he realized self-improvement, enhanced his vocational skills and brought their aspirational “university dreams” to life. This was the best interpretation for the mission of “open education is ladder for civilian progress”.

The father and son’s journey of pursuing education led me to deep reflection. As an OUC educator and a practitioner of lifelong education, I failed to imagine that an abstract teaching model could be capable of showing true love, becoming a bond with love in real life, and promoting the growth of love.

The Open University of China, I am proud of you and I am happy because of you!

(This article won third prize in the OUC “My Teaching Story” essay competition.)

By Mu Ying, Agricultural Reclamation Hexi Branch of Gansu RTVU