Baidu, China’s largest search engine, recently announced an initiative on its Baidu Library (Wenku) platform to provide translations of educational materials in the native languages of several Chinese ethnic minority groups.
Education materials for primary and middle schools, including homework exercises, teachers’ class preparation notes, and teachers’ presentation decks, will be made freely available in Uygur, Kazakh, Tibetan, Mongolian, and Korean, with additional languages to come.
The initiative aims at the expansion of educational equality among different minority nationality groups in China.
The initiative, called the Desert Poplar Plan (胡杨林计划)—named for a species of willow, Populus euphratica, that grows in arid regions of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia， will provide translations from Chinese to primary and middle school students in areas like Xinjiang and Tibet where bilingual teachers are few and far between. The program will reach an estimated 5 million students and 270,000 primary and secondary school teachers.
Teaching materials available online in digital formats in standard Chinese are abundant, with over 54 million education-related documents on Baidu Library—compared to almost none for the languages the Desert Poplar plan will cover. This has resulted in a significant gap in education equality between Han Chinese and ethnic minorities. Ethnic minority students have not traditionally had access to the massive amount of educational materials and references available to their counterparts in other parts of China.
Volunteer translators—mainly local bilingual teachers and education researchers—now number over 4,000. Since May, when the project kicked off, teams have already translated more than 10,000 documents. Translation work has focused with materials on math, Chinese, and science, subjects on which ethnic minority students identify a more urgent need.
Baidu Library has enabled search for these documents within the Baidu Library database in native ethnic minority languages.
Baidu also launched a special campaign on Baidu Library, where Baidu will donate one yuan to fund the Desert Poplar Plan’s fund each time the campaign page is shared on social media. The funds will go to compensate translators and develop multilingual search capability within Baidu Library. The campaign page can be found at http://wenku.baidu.com/huyanglin. This campaign was launched on September 10—International Teacher’s Day—and already more than 10.69 million yuan has been raised for the cause.
Since November 2009, Baidu Library has been an invaluable resource where people can upload and share documents with other Baidu users. Over 130 million documents are available on Baidu Library, and the site gets approximately 50 million unique daily visitors generating 500 million daily page views.