Archive for May 2016

Camps abroad offer students a new experience

As the summer break approaches, many Chinese parents are making plans to send their children overseas-but no longer just as tourists or language students.

The latest trend is to introduce young people to novel experiences at camps run by professional organizations, according to a report on overseas study tours by Ctrip, a major Chinese travel agency.

In addition, those taking part are getting younger. The age range of the children enrolled this year is 8 to 15, three years younger than in 2014, the report said.

Zhang Jie, head of overseas study tours for Ctrip, said parents today want their children to learn new things.

“Before, study tours were basically focused on two aspects: trips to renowned universities or middle schools, or language skills. It was more like preparation for studying (long term) overseas,” she said. “However, when it comes to camps, it’s totally different.”

Sun Kai, director of international admissions at Sappo School, a private school in New York’s Long Island, agreed and added that parents are choosing activities abroad that their children would not have access to in China.

These include “wildness survival programs, which challenge children’s hardworking spirit by training them to save themselves and to react fast in the wild”, he said.

Sappo School has been receiving international exchange students for more than six years, and Sun said it is true that more Chinese have started to participate in US summer camps, with most being from junior high schools.

“More Chinese parents have chosen camps for their children because school is class-based and cannot cover lots of activities,” he said. “Professional summer camps can teach pottery, ballet, piano, violin and martial arts.”

He added that participants in his school’s program come mainly from relatively rich “and open-minded” areas of China such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou in Guangdong province.

In addition to those in the United States and Canada, summer camps in western and northern Europe are also popular with Chinese parents.

The Ctrip report said bookings for summer camps account for more than 30 percent of its total overseas study tours this year and that inquiries from parents have risen threefold compared with last year.

“The average price for a professional summer camp is 10,000 to 15,000 yuan ($1,520 to $2,280) higher than a regular study tour,” Zhang said.

Sun at Sappo School said parent feedback has been strong.

“More parents hope short-term overseas study will give their children new experiences and help them to build knowledge of the unknown,” he said. “Without knowledge, how can you know if you like or dislike something?

“As living conditions get better, parents are willing to encourage their children to discover what they like and what they dislike.”

Hong Xiao in New York contributed to this story.

Math games help students learn

The class has no rules written on the blackboard or complicated calculations. Students sit in groups, absorbed in a wooden block puzzle, sometimes rotating the blocks and sometimes discussing.

This is a math class in Beijing’s Dongtiejiangying No 1 Primary School.

The math teacher introduces the concept of pentominoes – an arrangement of five squares joined along their edges – and then guides the students to explore 12 different shapes.

“The pentominoes look simple, but together they can be transformed into thousands of shapes. Today we start with building a big rectangle,” says Ren Jingxia, the teacher.

Ren says the school has introduced several educational toys into experimental math classes. They focus on logic and problem-solving instead of teacher instructions. The students have reacted positively to the interactive lessons.

“We have set up a work group on developing logical thinking and will promote experimental math classes in all grades to enhance students’ interest in math,” Ren said.

Tian Lili, a senior teacher in Beijing who has observed the class, said the class breaks the stereotype of math as boring and dull.

“Math can be fun. We are not training expert puzzle players, but we can combine puzzles with knowledge. The teacher might ask students to explore the surface area, the perimeter and the volume of the pentominoes,” Tian said.

She suggests the philosophy of learning through play can be adopted throughout math education.

“I think it’s important to relate math to real-life projects that students might be more engaged in. When they realize that math is everywhere and part of daily life, they find pleasure in learning.”

Associate Professor Fang Yunjia of Capital Normal University said that China’s math education is gradually changing to a greater emphasis on practical application and thinking ability.

Chinese students have a reputation for quantitative skills and have featured in international education studies. A group of British education officials visited to Shanghai to study Chinese math teaching methods in 2014. The British government later launched a project to import Chinese math teachers and Chinese-style math lessons to British schools to help improve math education.

Fang’s extensive research on teaching methods and class organization in many countries found that Chinese math classes are teacher-centered and allow less time for student input, while classes in some Western countries focus on real-life projects and use cooperative groups to encourage active participation.

“These elements, which are lacking in Chinese classes, deserve our attention and can be used in China’s math education,” Fang says.

Mobby is a training agency that focuses on the development of children’s thinking ability. It offers courses for children aged 3 to 8, helping them learn early math skills by building on their natural curiosity and having fun.

According to Hong Yang, head of Mobby, the popularity of the courses reflects society’s changing expectations of math education.

“Parents do not want traditional methods to teach their kids math, such as multiplication tables. They hope their kids can develop mathematical thinking and appreciate the fun of math through games and interaction,” Hong said.

Keeping the candle burning at sunset

With its fast-aging population, HK is finding ways to slow the onset of dementia among over a million elderly people. Wang Yuke reports.
Ting Hing, with trembling hands, picked the toy cars from a box and set them in order on a grid, as the instructions in his handbook told him. He’s 86. Three years ago, he was diagnosed with dementia after a fall that put him in hospital.
Brain workouts delay the onset of dementia. They lead to more years of “quality living for senior citizens”, says Timothy Kwok Chi-yui, director of the Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing.
Ting was having fun. His fingers were too frail to grasp the toy cars, often requiring several attempts to pick them up. At times, he fixated blankly on the handbook of instructions, as if his mind had drifted. Still, he got through to “level 40″.
His wife Chan Kit-yee, 72, said his condition deteriorated quickly after he was diagnosed. He slept most of the day, didn’t have a clue where he was. He was weak on his right side, said little and wept for no apparent reason.
Hong Kong, with one of the most rapidly ageing populations in the world, is applying every means to slow the decline of cognitive faculties in older people, says Kwok, professor of Medicine and Therapeutics at Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Dementia is his principal area of study.
The toy library, for older people suffering mild dementia, opened last month, as a joint project of the Hong Kong Lutheran Social Service and the Jockey Club Centre for Positive Ageing. It works in partnership with day care centers for the elderly.
There are more than 1,000 toys. Seniors can borrow them, or play with them on site. Play fosters better memory, improves motor skills, creativity, logical thinking, visual and spatial perception and helps people to focus their thoughts.
The toy library has branches all over the city. One is on the ground floor of the building where Ting lives.
He wasn’t very interested in the place at first. He was shy of women other than his wife and fidgeted when they were around.
Ting had no education and worked all his life in kitchens. “He seldom read or wrote, and had few friends,” said his wife. He was full of energy until a short time before he got sick, then he started appearing detached, aloof, and always tired.
A Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan revealed he’d probably had several small strokes, even before the fall put him over the edge. “He complained about numbness of his limbs,” Chan recalled. “But we didn’t take it seriously.”
Dementia has several causes. The most common is Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for nearly two-thirds of dementia cases. Another 29 percent are afflicted with vascular dementia, caused by multiple strokes. It also comes from brain tumors, head injuries, brain cell abnormalities and drug and alcohol abuse.
About one in 10 people in Hong Kong over the age of 65 have dementia to some degree. About 30 percent over 80 have it. That’s alarming in the population projections released by the Census and Statistics Department last year. There were 1.1 million people over 65 in 2015. Less than 50 years from now, there will be 3.3 million. Close to a million of them will be over 80.
“Playing games worked (for him),” Chan said.
Studies show that people who stay mentally active are more resistant to dementia. For them, the onset of dementia comes much later in life, if at all, said Kwok.
Ting’s favorite games are jigsaw puzzles and card matching game dealing with pairing cards or matching them in groups.
At first, Ting couldn’t play a full game. He’d get distracted. Now he has no trouble playing all the way through and Chan says he’s recovered some of his faculties.
Use it or lose it
Mentally active people have a better “cognitive reserve”, says Kwok. That’s the faculty that maintains the ability of the brain to work around the effects of brain cell damage, and keep the brain functioning normally. There are billions of neurons sending information to the brain. Problems arise when they are damaged.
Connections between neurons, through which we make sense of the world, are made through experience. Without stimulation, the neurons scatter independently, and then go rogue, explains Kwok. Connections can also be broken if a person has a skill, but doesn’t use it for a long time, the same as unused muscles atrophy. Brain cells do die off anyway, as part of the ageing process.
“People who always challenge their minds and constantly are exposed to new information have an immense number of neuronal connections. Some connections may be disrupted as neurons degrade, but (in a healthy person), other connections will take over, to keep the brain functioning normally,” says Kwok.
The cognitive reserve keeps the brain resilient and adaptable. People with large reserves develop cognitive difficulties much later than people who are mentally stagnant and don’t have the amount of neuron connections to compensate for brain cell damage, says Adrian Wong, a research assistant professor at CUHK. His expertise is stroke and clinical neurosciences.
Today, Ting has moved on to more systematic rehabilitation in a program at a seniors’ day care center. Chan has to pay for the service but it puts Ting in a class with nine other dementia sufferers, who play computer-based games.
“He often tells me after class what questions he answered correctly and how his classmates applauded him,” laughed Chan. She noted that Ting has overcome much of his shyness with women.
He speaks normally now and betrays no sign of his disability in public. He is no longer expressionless, but is able to respond appropriately during day-to-day encounters.
Chan completed primary school. She used to do hotel cleaning and watch parts assembling. She attributes her brain and physical agility to her previous working and educational background. “Some of those games were hard even for me. It took a lot of brain work to sort things out.” She learns Putonghua on Mondays, watches spy dramas, travels and hangs out with friends to keep her mind active.
People from mentally demanding occupations appear substantially insulated from the memory loss that precedes Alzheimer’s disease. The findings are drawn from a published study in 2008 led by Swiss scientist Valentina Garibotto.
Sharpening the mind
Fung, 82, has cared for his wife for the last 10 years. That’s about the time she was diagnosed with dementia. She was illiterate. Her only real interest was Majhong. Other than that, she did simple housework.
Once a capable housewife, Fung said, his wife started turning odd in her late fifties – like putting the rice cooker on the stove, over a flame. She could never find anything that wasn’t in plain sight and there were visits from the police after she’d left restaurants without paying.
When it dawned on Fung that things were not right, it was already too late. Without intervention to slow the decline of her mental faculties, she had lapsed into dementia, he recalled, with surprising haste.
She would go out, get lost, and security staff or a cop would have to bring her home. She was completely dependent. Fung fed her, bathed her and turned her over in bed.
Finally he put her in a nursing home. “She has difficulty swallowing, recognizes nobody but me, and screams and cries because she wants to speak but can’t.”
Playing games is one of the best ways to keep the brain sharp, remarks Kwok. The best approach, he said, is to introduce games that emphasize variety – because there is such a broad range of cognitive domains. Different types of games are effective for different mental faculties.
Computer games get much credit for putting the brakes on cognitive decline. Skeptics worry, however, that whatever may be learned from the games doesn’t transfer to daily living.
Kwok agrees on that basis that games present no social interaction. “The group setting” is vital, he says. Groups create opportunities for interpersonal communication and the sharing of emotional experience. He believes a social element in training would help dementia patients in everyday life.

More cybersecurity awareness needed’ as challenges grow

China must raise people’s overall awareness of cybersecurity and strengthen research and development of core technology in the sector to better address mounting challenges, top Chinese network security experts said at a conference in Chengdu, Sichuan province, on Thursday.

The 13th China Cyberspace Security Annual Conference, hosted by the National Computer Network Emergency Response Technical Coordination Center of China, covered a range of cyberspace topics, including security threat intelligence, cybersecurity talent development, security vulnerabilities and mobile internet and data security.

About 900 people from institutes, the government and domestic and foreign enterprises attended the three-day event, which started on Tuesday.

According to the 2015 China Internet Network Security Report, which the center issued during the conference, the center received 126,916 reports on network security incidents from home and abroad last year, an increase of 126 percent from 2014.

The three main targets of cyberattacks in China are government departments, financial agencies and basic telecommunication enterprises, the report said. The most common network security concerns are webpage counterfeiting and security vulnerabilities, it added.

Huang Chengqing, director of the center, said that the security capabilities of the cloud platform and big data in China will face big challenges this year. Equipment involved in the Internet of Thing swill face more security threats, and network fraud and racketeering in China will become more rampant this year, Huang predicted.

In the past year, the security protection level of China’s basic telecommunication network improved, and so did its domain name system’s ability to resist server attacks, the report said.

“But China’s industrial internet faces harsher security challenges, and the advanced persistent threat to China’s important information system became more severe last year,” said Wu Jianping, an academician in computer science at the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

According to the report, the security condition of China’s public internet is generally stable, and the security of the main telecommunication operators has improved. But the number of personal information leaks rose, it said.

Take home a bit of history

Following in the footsteps of Palace Museum’s successful sale of souvenirs, other museums get into the business with the help of new guidelines.

Hopefully it will soon be easier for visitors to China to take the country’s “national treasures” home with them. This is because the production of more cultural souvenirs by Chinese museums is to be encouraged, according to the country’s Ministry of Culture.

The announcement, which was made at a press conference last week at the Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, is in line with a State Council directive, which was issued earlier this month in a bid to promote more creativity among cultural heritage institutions.

It is hoped that the guideline will boost the use of new technical approaches and improve design and marketing to improve museums’ interactions with the public.

“A major hurdle now is that public museums cannot autonomously allocate income earned from their sales of souvenirs because they are defined as public institutions,” says Wu Jiangbo, director of the cultural industry department of the Ministry of Culture.

“However (with the latest announcement), they (the museums) will now be allowed to use income generated from the sales to enhance their public service, boost collections, create better souvenirs and even offer bonuses to designers,” says Wu.

The development of such souvenirs could also become part of the museum evaluation system, he says.

The new move is undergoing trials at national and provincial museums before being expanded nationwide.

Asian nations attract more Chinese students

Some of China’s regional neighbors are becoming popular choices for Chinese choosing to study abroad, according to a survey.

They join traditional destinations such as the United States and Britain.

Asian countries, including Singapore and Japan, are attracting more Chinese planning to study overseas, according to a White Paper on Chinese studying abroad in 2016.

The paper was released on Tuesday by Vision Overseas, a company under New Oriental Education & Technology Group that provides services for overseas studies.

The survey questioned nearly 3,000 Chinese students planning to study overseas and found fewer were willing to study in the US, the UK, Australia and Canada when compared with 2015.

The proportion of those showing an interest in countries such as Singapore and Japan is rising.

Guo Xiaojuan, director of Vision Overseas’ European and Asian Division, said the fact that the two Asian countries have become more popular with Chinese students is due to their strengthened quality of education and booming tourism industries.

“The education systems in the two countries are quite open and well developed. Many of their universities are also rated highly in the latest world university rankings,” Guo said.

Sun Tao, vice-president of the company, said the four traditional destinations do not have to worry about losing their leading positions.

“In the long run, the four countries will remain the top choices for Chinese studying overseas,” Sun said.

“But what is certain, is that Chinese students’ choices for overseas study will continue to diversify. The rise of Singapore and Japan is just a start.”

The survey also found that choosing the right major is the top consideration for Chinese students and their parents when selecting an overseas educational institution.

The ranking of the institution is the second most important factor they consider, while a year ago, institutions’ rankings were the main concern.

Sun said, “A great change has occurred among Chinese students, and especially their parents, who were known for choosing prestigious universities.

“The change indicates that students and their parents are becoming more rational when making decisions on studying overseas.”

US lifts arms embargo on Vietnam

HANOI – President of the United States Barack Obama on Monday announced the United States is lifting a decades-long arms embargo on Vietnam.

Obama made the announcement at a press conference co-chaired with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi during his ongoing visit to the country.

Obama also made it clear that the United States may sell military weapons to Vietnam under a case-by-case basis, when answering questions from media during the conference.

The Vietnamese president, for his part, said that “Vietnam welcomes US decision to completely lift arms embargo on Vietnam.”

The US imposed arms embargo on Vietnam in 1984. Vietnam has been under the embargo despite the normalization of diplomatic ties in 1995.

In July 2013, former Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang and Obama launched the Vietnam-US comprehensive partnership during Sang’s visit to the United States.

In 2014, the US partially lifted the 30-year-old arms embargo against Vietnam, allowing transfer of maritime security-related defense articles to Vietnam.

Pham Quang Vinh, Vietnamese ambassador to the US said in an interview with Vietnam’s state-run news agency VNA ahead of Obama’s visit that the embargo is “the last barrier in bilateral ties.”

Obama arrived at Noi Bai international airport in Hanoi late Sunday night, kicking off his first visit as US president.

His visit, made at the invitation of Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, is scheduled to last till Wednesday.

The Chairman’s Blog: An Update From the May 2016 Board Workshop in Amsterdam

Three times a year, between ICANN meetings, the ICANN Board meets in a workshop format. During these intensive workshops, the Board, supported by senior ICANN team members, comes together for in-depth consideration of important and timely ICANN issues. On behalf of the Board, Markus Kummer and George Sadowsky report on our recent meeting, 13-15 May in Amsterdam.

This meeting took place at a critical time for ICANN and the Board. We welcomed our incoming CEO and President Göran Marby to his first workshop, as well as Becky Burr, our Board member-in-waiting who is taking over Bruce Tonkin’s seat at the end of ICANN57 in October. We were delighted to have them both with us.

As you can imagine, we focused on topics related to the IANA Stewardship Transition. We received an update from ICANN management on the status of the transition and all its various parts – including the status of implementation pre-planning for Post Transition IANA (PTI) and the contracts and Service Level Agreements (SLA) with our partners.

We devoted one session to understanding the new Bylaws and the public comments received thus far. We’ve been paying careful attention to this critical area, to ensure that the Board is ready to vote on them after the Public Comment closes.

While we focused on the elements leading up the transition, we also devoted time to understanding the work of the organization post-transition. How does the transition affect what we do and how we do it? How do we bring the core values into ICANN and the organization? How do we communicate and engage differently as a post-transition ICANN? This is part of an ongoing discussion that the Board takes seriously – it’s our responsibility to make sure we, and the organization, are ready for the future.

As part of looking to the future, we asked Göran to share his early observations about the organization, as well as his initial approach, priorities and plans. While we will leave it to Göran to talk about this once he formally takes over later this month, this discussion led us to think about the various roles and responsibilities of the ICANN Board, ICANN management, and the ICANN community in a post-Transition world. We also talked about ways to structure Board-CEO communications, to best serve the organization and the community going forward.

We’ve all been talking about trust lately, and the workshop gave the Board an opportunity to take a hard look at what we can do to build trust between ICANN as an organization and all of its stakeholders. This is also an ongoing discussion, and one that we all have a stake in. During the workshop, we considered concrete steps that the Board could take to increase our transparency and accountability. We agreed to post the transcripts and/or recordings of our deliberative sessions and, as a result of this discussion, passed a resolution asking Göran and his team to develop a plan for the implementation of this new procedure, also making sure that we respect confidentiality, as necessary. We know there is a lot of interest in our meetings and discussions, and we look forward to reviewing Göran’s proposal in Helsinki.

In addition to a detailed review of the Draft FY17 Budget, we discussed the status of KSK Rollover planning and the planning underway to anticipate and mitigate associated risks. We discussed the current efforts to update ICANN’s Expected Standards of Behavior, and also looked at the Draft Framework of Principles for Cross Community Working Groups.

Our agenda for this Workshop was ambitious, and we didn’t get to everything on the agenda. For example, we had planned to discuss ICANN’s volunteer model, including the volunteer pool, volunteer fatigue, and ways to help our growing community work together more effectively. We will pick this up at our next opportunity.

We also held a formal Board meeting (you can find the formal details on our Board page) and a range of Committee meetings, from Audit, Risk and Finance to Governance and Organizational Effectiveness. The Board meeting included a lengthy discussion about the location of ICANN57 and the challenges we all saw in staying and in relocating. Akram sums up our collective feelings well in his blog. We are all very sorry not to be going to Puerto Rico this October, but are very much look forward to getting back there soon.

Alibaba vows to stamp out fakes after membership suspension

E-commerce giant Alibaba has pledged to stop fakes appearing on its online platforms after being suspended as a member of an international anti-counterfeiting group.
Alibaba Group Holding’s membership was suspended by the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition on Friday.

The suspension came only about a month after the company became the first e-commerce member of the nonprofit global organization that fights counterfeit products and piracy.

The coalition announced the suspension after questions were raised about conflicts of interest involving the organization’s president and complaints from some members, who view Alibaba as a haven for cheap counterfeits.

Alibaba said on Sunday the suspension will not affect its relations and cooperation with the coalition. “As the world’s largest e-commerce platform, Alibaba is an integral part of the solution to solving the worldwide issue of counterfeiting,” the company said.

“We will continue to discuss and communicate with more brands in the IACC … expedite the process to remove products identified as fakes and protect the interest of brands, no matter big or small,” it said.

The coalition has more than 250 member companies, including leading brands such as Apple and Rolex.

According to people familiar with the matter, the suspension is likely to lead to Alibaba Executive Chairman Jack Ma calling off his plan to deliver a keynote speech at the coalition’s annual spring conference in Orlando, Florida, from Wednesday to Friday.

The suspension comes as Alibaba is transitioning from a platform attracting buyers with cheap goods to providing good quality, genuine brands. Membership in the coalition is the type of endorsement the company is looking for to back this transition.

Tian Hou, an analyst at TH Capital in Beijing, said Alibaba is keen to seek global recognition in line with its status as the world’s largest online retailer. “It is willing to clean house, but all transitions and upgrading require time,” Tian said.

The coalition memberships of two US e-commerce sites, Wish.com and The RealReal, have also been put on hold.

China should establish complete industrial system to promote development of art films: Jia Zhangke

The development of Chinese art films should not just rely on the state’s subventions, but also on the establishment of a complete industrial system, Chinese director Jia Zhangke said in Cannes.
In an exclusive interview with Xinhua during the 69th Cannes Film Festival, Jia said a complete industrial system will “allow art films not only to reach a larger audience, but also to promote their commercialization”.

For the Chinese director, it is “regrettable” and “shocking” to see that no Chinese films were in the official selection of this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

Stressing that this might be just a coincidence, Jia didn’t deny the fact that there are few young Chinese filmmakers who can represent China in important international film festivals in recent years.

“Also, most of the Chinese audience prefer going to watch the entertaining movies instead of supporting art films,” Jia said.

According to Jia, who won Best Screenplay of the 66th Cannes Film Festival and served as a jury member of the main competition in the 67th Cannes Film Festival, “the increase of artistic quality of the films depends on the overall promotion of the cultural level of filmmaking”.

“It requires both strengthening the artistic level of the filmmakers themselves, and improving spectators’ appreciation,” Jia added.

He suggested the government introducing more measures to support art films, including favorable tax rates or offering specific subventions.

China also should further provide platforms to support young Chinese directors to show their works across China, and mobilize all the cinemas to create a favorable atmosphere to the commercialization of art films, Jia proposed.

The development of art films should not totally rely on the government, it is necessary that the filmmakers seek to better exploit the market, Jia told Xinhua.

“Compared with the United States or European countries, the development of the film industry in China has a short developing history,” he said, adding that it takes a gradual process to form a globally high artistic level of the films.