On 22nd November, 2016, migrant workers learnt how to log on to the online classroom at the opening ceremony of “I Go to University at ‘IYK’”.

A special opening ceremony was held at Shenyang Wahaha Rongtai Food Co., Ltd, at 10:15 am on 22nd November. Migrant worker Wang Xitian gave a speech on behalf of the 68 students on site. He said, “I would like to thank Shenyang Federation of Trade Unions and Shenyang Radio and TV University (RTVU). Thanks to them, I have had the chance to improve my knowledge and skills, and to realise my dream of attending university.” Upon receiving his admission notice and student ID card, Wang Xitian could not help but be excited and updated his WeChat moments saying, “I’m going to university!!”

32-year-old Wang Xitian is from Zhalantun County, Hulun Buir, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. In 2008, he came to work at Shenyang Wahaha Rongtai Food Co., Ltd. and is now a section chief in the Bottle Cap Making Workshop. Since he graduated from technical secondary school, he had been looking for an opportunity for further study. He enquired about the adult college entrance examination on several occasions. However, he always failed to do so due to being unable to study on the job and afford the high tuition fees. Wang Xitian’s university dream was nearly over when university courses were released on the “IYK” app this August by Shenyang Federation of Trade Unions and Shenyang Radio and TV University, which rekindled Wang Xitian’s hope.

The struggle between work and study

Two months ago, the Notice on Offering Junior College Degree Education in Mechanics and Electronics was posted on the bulletin board of each workshop at Shenyang Wahaha RongTai Food Co., Ltd. “At first, I didn’t care about the news because I had been numbed long ago by the struggle of studying after work,” Wang Xitian said. However, phrases like “open admission with the recommendation of the enterprise”, “no need to leave your job”, “two and a half years of online education”, “RMB 1176 per year”, and “junior college graduation certificate recognised by Ministry of Education after graduation” caught his eye. “Can I really go to university on my mobile phone without leaving my job? Is there really no need to pay expensive tuition fees?” Wang Xitian could barely believe his eyes.

After years of attempted study, this opportunity was a moment of unexpected happiness for Wang Xitian and his colleagues. After Wang graduated from Shenyang Electronic Industry School in July 2000, he had been thinking of upgrading his education. He had found a college, but the teacher in charge of enrolment told him that students had to guarantee their learning time and that the students weren’t allowed to graduate if they had too many class absences. Furthermore, the tuition was nearly RMB 8,000. Wang Xitian consulted his employer the next day and the reply was disappointing: “Staff are only eligible for a few days of leave, and it is difficult for the company to approve frequent leave to attend classes.”

Wang considered resigning and embarking on full time study, but the thought of having to ask his parents for money when he was nearly 30 put him off. He was also concerned about missing out on new technology and processes if he spent three years in full time theoretical education. What he needed most was to learn how to solve production problems and improve his vocational skills. After several rounds of struggle, he gave up his plan to pursue further studies.

Sun Jie, who is two years older than Wang and works as the filling section chief of the Beverage Workshop at Shenyang Wahaha Rongtai Food Co., Ltd, comes from Zao Zhuang, Shandong Province. Since he only had a technical secondary school education, he got a monthly salary of just over RMB 2,000 yuan at a food processing factory in his hometown, while an internship junior college student who had just graduated could earn as much as RMB 4,500 . He felt bitter about this treatment. “We did the same job, but our wage was different because of my low educational level. I had visited seven to eight junior colleges with the intent of obtaining a diploma. However, part-time learning was not available, and my company wouldn’t grant my leave. It was a real dilemma. In the end, I resigned out of spite.” said Sun Jie.

According to Lv Mengmeng, a HR specialist at Shenyang Wahaha Rongtai Food Co., Ltd, a journalist at the Workers’ Daily learned that the university notice has been well received by the company’s 400 staff. Over half of the qualified members planned to register.

Jiang Yang, director general of the Migrant Workers’ Department of Shenyang Federation of Trade Unions, told the journalist that Shenyang Municipality had about 700,000 migrant workers across its 13 counties, cities and districts working in construction sites, factories, hotels and other industries. A survey conducted by the Trade Union revealed that many migrant workers want to improve their educational level and skills. However, due to their busy work most of them have abandoned their dream of further education.

“Much more effective than learning in school”

Wang Xitian finished work at 8pm on the evening of the day of opening ceremony. After grabbing some dinner, he took out his mobile phone, sat at his computer desk, and found the textbooks and discs handed out by the school that morning. He watched the orange “IYK” App icon he had already downloaded and installed with excitement.

Recalling the operation method explained by Secretary Liu Yan of Shenyang RTVU Finance School at the ceremony, Wang Xitian logged into his account and opened the online classroom. Below it were his student number, class code, name, ID number, job status, major, and other personal information. Clicking on the course list, he found lists of syllabi and teaching videos. Since it was the beginning of school and course selection had yet to started, there were only syllabuses for seven courses, such as Numerical Control Programming Technology, Electrical and Electronic Technology, and Mechanical Drawing.

There are 41 teaching videos. The micro courses last a little more than 5 minutes and the long ones 50 minutes. Wang Xitian randomly clicked on “Voltage Sources, Electric Current Sources and Their Equivalent Alternating Power Elements” of the course Electrical and Electronic Technology , and the video started to play, lasting 5 minutes and 7 seconds. Professor Wang Yuxin began to explain the content against a familiar background of a workshop. Images or animations followed each time the professor explained some terminology. A chart appeared with the explanation. Wang paused the video every now and then to take notes. He wrote a question mark under “schematic diagram of current source model” and used the keyboard to search if he had any doubts. “You can search on the Internet if you still don’t understand one of the teaching points. In a traditional class, the lecture is over as soon as the teacher stops speaking. By contrast, mobile learning can be repeated whenever I have a question. Even better, the lectures are accompanied by practical demonstrations. Since I work in a factory anyway, I understand as soon as I see the demonstration. This is much more effective than studying in school!”

“Students can watch all the shared resources of the Open University of China (OUC), in addition to courses related to their major,” Shenyang RTVU Vice President Fan Jie said to the journalist. The OUC, established on the basis of China Central Radio and TV University (CCRTVU) and local RTVUs, is a new type of higher education institution dedicated to open and distance education supported by modern information technology and operated directly under Ministry of Education. At present, it has 3.59 million registered students, including 1.05 million undergraduate students and 2.54 million junior college students. Nearly 200,000 of these students are migrant workers.

Liu Yingyan said that there are many ways to learn via your phone. In addition to video courses, the tutors and students can interact online and use the shared resources on the OUC’s webpages on learning network. There are also face-to-face tutorials for students to answer questions, and teachers pay regular visits to companies with lots of students. This helps the school to encourage the students to learn and get the graduation certificates through the back-end query of the students’ online learning time, their completion of assignment, mid-term theses and final term examination results.

Wang Xitian’s could get a scholarship of RMB 1,060 two and a half years later if he did well in his studies. He did a calculation for the journalist. The tuition charged for Shenyang RTVU’s mechanics and electronics major is RMB 4,900 yuan, with the 60% discounted tuition for migrant workers’ registration on “IYK” coming to RMB 2,940. The top 10% of students can get a yearly grant of RMB 1,000 yuan and the Shenyang Federation of Trade Unions would gives each migrant worker with a graduation certificate RMB 1,000 of financial aid. Shenyang Wahaha Rongtai Food Co., Ltd gives another RMB 1,000 of financial aid. “If I get the grant it essentially means that I don’t have to pay tuition” said Wang Xitian.

More confidence with skills learnt

Over the past eight years, Wang Xitian solved difficult equipment problems at work by making careful explorations . Wang dared not touch any of the equipment imported from Germany and Taiwan, and faced frequent circuit problems. Each time a bunch of letters and numbers popped up on the circuit alarm, he would feel especially nervous and had to hurry to find the maintenance man. However, it turned out that the problem was just a broken connector, which only takes 5 minutes to replace if the part is to hand. Yet even simple problems like this stumped him.

“It is very difficult to find a job without a junior college education. People with a minimum junior college education are given preferential treatment,” Wang Kun, a cost clerk in the portioning section of the Shenyang Wahaha Rongtai Food Co., Ltd milk workshop, said. Wang Kun’s hometown is in the rural area of Panshi City, Jilin Province. She became a migrant worker at the age of 22 and has worked as a nanny, a waitress, and a saleswoman. Due to her low education level, she couldn’t find a job with better pay, and could only take supporting positions. She registered as soon as she heard she could attend university without leaving her job, as she believed it would help her to find a job in the future.

Improved education brings about a rise in wages and more promotion channels in professional development. Sun Jie is already looking forward to his future in two and a half years. When he got his junior college diploma, his basic salary increased by RMB 100-300 and he got more bonuses. The minimum education level required to be head of the workshop is junior college. As a section chief, he is entitled to compete for this position, which would also offer him more pay. Sun Jie couldn’t help but smile when he thought of the future.

So far, 143 migrant workers have registered for the mechanics and electronics, civil engineering, architecture, welding, and logistics management majors, among others, with a total of 18 majors. In the future, more migrant workers will benefit from going to university on their mobile phone.

By Workers’ Daily