In the summer of 2019, a special competition kicked off at the Hangzhou International Expo Center in China. It was a competitive, ornamental world-class robotics competition. The participants on the arena concentrated on debugging their robots, hoping that they could successfully complete tasks, amidst cheering in Chinese and English from the audiences. The competition was special because all the contestants were middle school students aged about 14.
This RCC Qianjiang International Robotics Open is the FRC playoff officially recognized by FIRST, while FRC is the highest level, most influential event of the international youth robotic competition. In the end, Qin Haoyun, a high school student from Shanghai, and his team entered the semi-finals and won the Innovation in Control Award.
Qin Haoyun showed a keen interest in robots since the age of 12. This year, he signed up for the 3rd World Laureates Forum in Shanghai. As a global scientific event held in Shanghai for three consecutive years, a major feature of this year’s forum is that it’s “committed to youth development and building a team of scientific talents.”
Apart from top scientists, the forum has set up 15 young scientist forums, 5 doctoral (post-doctoral) forums, 1 little academician forum and 1 youth forum. Each forum was attended by two or more top scientists to make direct exchanges with the young scientific talents.
A reporter from Xinmin Weekly interviewed two young scientists including Qin Haoyun. It is easy to see from dialogues with them that the trend of “starting to cultivate scientists from children” is becoming more obvious.
Why should we start from children?
In the last WLF, the topic “a 15-year-old girl participating in the WLF” got the most searches on the internet. In addition to WLF Teens in the Academy Forum, the organizers added Little Academicians Forum and Youth Forum. Have a look at these teenagers’ shining resumes, and you can not help but wonder why they are so outstanding.
In an interview with Xinmin Weekly, Qin Haoyun said that his bonds with robots dated back to five years ago. At that time, he chose an elective course of robotics when he was attending the preparatory class for middle school, and began to learn about computers and robots. “Since then, I have fallen in love with computer science and learned many related courses by myself, including online public courses of Stanford University, SoC microsystem course of Fudan University, etc. Later, in order to better understand deep learning, I learned calculus and statistics by myself.” Qin Haoyun said.
Netizens said with admiration, “I was still caught in trigonometric functions when I was 17, while others were already studying calculus.” Since 2015, Qin Haoyun has participated in many youth robotics competitions at home and abroad and won awards. Thanks to these previous accumulations of knowledge, he was able to achieve good results in robotics competitions.
Although Qin Haoyun is still a high school student, he is clear about his scientific dreams in the future when talking with the reporter. “In 2018, I went to Chicago to participate in the competition. At that time, I visited the laboratory of Northwestern University, which made me see our insufficiency in equipment and other aspects. I became more clear that I will choose computer science as my research direction in the future. I will go to university in the year after next. I will try my best to get admitted to my favorite university, learn more about computers, and continue to work hard in this direction.”
These clear goals and plans are closed linked to his exposure to this field at the age of 12. It’s impossible for young people to make achievements in the scientific field overnight. It requires a long period of hard work to lay a solid foundation. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand the call of “staring to cultivate scientists from children”.
Another critical reason of starting to cultivate top scientists from children is curiosity. “Since curiosity is human’s nature, the guidance and cultivation of interest in science should start from an early age,” said General Secretary Xi Jinping at the scientist symposium held in Beijing on September 11 this year, which pointed the direction once again.
Throughout the ages, many scientists who have achieved remarkable results began to develop their careers on the basis of their interests during adolescence. They followed the guidance of interests, and finally blazed a path to success. In face of a world full of unknowns, curiosity is the driving force for humans to make exploration, the stepping stone and golden key for children to enter the world of science, and the starting point to cultivate future scientists. How to properly guide and safeguard their curiosity is a question worth deep thinking.
The young scholar Liu Kaiwen thought that she didn’t suddenly embark on scientific research, which was the result of accumulation over a long period. Rather than a flash of inspiration, the realization of the ultimate goal is more like long-term quantitative changes causing qualitative changes. In this process, a good academic atmosphere has made her stay curious.
During the 3rd World Laureates Forum, Liu Kaiwen, having just graduated from the iHuman Institute of ShanghaiTech University this year, attended the Doctoral Forum Biology Session. In an interview with the reporter, she said that she had never thought of being able to engage in scientific research until she entered university. “I chose the life science as my major in university. Since I was an undergraduate, I have been conducting many hands-on activities in the laboratory, and received lots of help from the graduate students and teachers in the laboratory. Looking back now, the good atmosphere have exerted a great influence on young people like me.”
Which aspects remain to be improved in terms of cultivating scientists from children?
It is definitely necessary to start to cultivate scientists from children. But in this process, it’s worth mentioning that as parents or teachers need to understand the difference between “being over-enthusiastic” and “proper guidance.”
“I still feel that it’s impossible to make scientific achievements without the cultivation of values at an early age and knowledge accumulation of basic science. Normally, it takes a relatively long period to train a scientist, which lasts from the elementary school, middle school to university. Some people think China’s education, especially before university, is mainly about cramming knowledge into students. But in my opinion, it is not as poor as that. In terms of my personal experience, knowledge learning starts from the macro level, and I still often think of macro basic knowledge learned before when I am engaged in a specific field. The knowledge is not useless. It has become my learning memory in the process of accumulating,” Liu Kaiwen says.
Therefore, Liu Kaiwen believes that if someone skips the process and directly gets scientific research results, he may be a real genius or there may be something shandy. “If a child is found to be talented in scientific research, it is acceptable that he finishes the learning tasks for five or six years within two or three years with proper guidance. The key is that the learning process is a must.”
This can be seen from Qin Haoyun’s experience of learning knowledge taught in high school and extracurricular knowledge about calculus. “I think that learning computer programming is actually complementary to the study in class because it can help me better understand basic subjects and promote learning in class. Both are necessary for robot design.”
In middle July this year, the topic “an primary school student at sixth grade from Yunnan won an award for cancer research” sparked heated discussions on the internet. At that time, some netizen discovered that the student surnamed Chen won the third prize of the primary school student group of the latest National Youth Science and Technology Innovation Contest for the research results titled C10orf67 in the Development of Colorectal Cancer. Industry insiders pointed out that it was surely a complex project judging from the title. In fact, its research reached the level of graduates or even doctoral students majored in medicine or life sciences. However, the official website showed that the sixth grader was the only researcher of the project.
It was later confirmed that the child’s award-winning project belonged to the same field with his parents’ academic research. His father admitted that he excessively participated in the editing. In the end, the first prize was revoked, and the father made an apology online.
Parents who are over-enthusiastic value results, while those who offer proper guidance care more about the process. “If children have some creative ideas, we need to encourage them, and create conditions to help them keep interested in science,” said Lan Wenhua, an associate researcher at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences. “However, we must seriously reflect on the education evaluation mechanism if someone takes advantage of loopholes in the rules and challenges the bottom line of social integrity in order to get admitted to a better school or finds a shortcut for further education.” In addition, Xiong Bingqi, Vice President of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, also said that the organizers of this kind of youth science and technology innovation competitions must rethink the evaluation criteria and methods. In the competition, more attention should be paid to students’ participation in innovative activities, and guiding them to value the process and experience of participation, instead of the results submitted by students.
It is self-evident that valuing process over results is more conducive to cultivating top scientists in the future. On the other hand, this is the direction that parents and teachers as the “front rise” should follow in order to cultivate more real scientists as the “back rise” in the future.
During the interview with Liu Kaiwen and Qin Haoyun, the reporter from Xinmin Weekly found that their parents were not scientific researchers, but similarly provided necessary support for their growth. “My parents’ requirement for me is very simple. They will support me in do anything as long as it doesn’t affect study in class,” Qin Haoyun said.
The exchanges between high school students and top scientists allow young students with scientific talents to receive the best guidance in the world. More importantly, although brief conversations cannot be directly translated into actual results, they are like a beacon in the mist guiding youngsters to continue exploration in their scientific research career in the future.