Many people have asked me why I decided to create Chinese Fridge — where the idea of a Chinese game for kids came from, how I created the app and what I hope to accomplish from it. The answer to all of these questions lies in my personal educational experience throughout my childhood and my desire to improve access to education for future generations.
When I was growing up, Chinese was not offered as a language in any school I attended until I went to college at UCLA. However, as a mixed-race Taiwanese-American, I always had interest in learning Chinese because it’s the national language of Taiwan and the first language of my beloved relatives on that side of my family. When I was a kid, the only option for learning Chinese in a structured classroom setting was after-school cram schools taught by members of the community. These classrooms were a great way for members of the Chinese community to teach their kids Mandarin, but why should they need to exist outside of public education? And what about kids of other backgrounds who want to study Chinese? On one hand they may not know about these classes which are a staple in the Chinese-American community, and on the other hand their local school system still may not offer Chinese lessons for kids. Even many of the Chinese-American kids I grew up with expressed disappointment that they couldn’t learn the foreign language most related to their ancestry, and I feel this contributes to a general feeling of lack of support for their identity. Therefore I strongly believe that kids of all backgrounds who want to learn Chinese deserve improved accessibility to Chinese lessons.
My hope and vision for Chinese Fridge is to provide kids everywhere the opportunity to learn some basic Chinese, whether it be in a classroom setting to supplement a teacher’s lessons or outside of public education where Chinese classes are unavailable for kids. Not every family can afford to send their child to college, let alone pay for tutoring or classes outside of the public education system. Furthermore, iPad and other tablets are becoming more and more commonplace in our world, and more and more parents are turning to them to help teach and entertain their kids with various games and tools. At the same time, several of my friends were becoming Chinese teachers in schools districts around California. Taking notice of these important technical and educational trends, I quickly identified iPad and tablet games as the perfect means for me to begin pursuing my goal of providing better Chinese language instruction to kids around the United States and beyond. Chinese Fridge became the project of my dreams as a Chinese game for kids that could realize my vision for improving education accessibility. However, I don’t see the game as a tool only for kids who can’t afford tutors or are not offered Chinese lessons by their school, but I also see the game as an important resource for teachers and tutors to use to help interest and motivate kids in a way that can facilitate their professional instruction.
Armed with a modest amount of personal capital and an extensive background in web development and project management, I went to work to make Chinese Fridge a reality. My first step was to immediately consult my friends who are Chinese teachers at elementary schools in the United States, since they are the most knowledgeable experts in this new but expanding realm of public education. After getting their input, I worked with designers and developers to produce and continually improve the game, and reviewed the code where necessary to ensure upgrades were made to maintain the quality of the game. I drew upon my childhood love of educational computer games for inspiration, keeping in mind classic games like Number Munchers and Super-Solvers while designing the project specifications. When my personal budget for the project reached it’s limit, I stepped in and modified designs and code myself to create future versions of the game. My personal background and enthusiasm for the game fostered a strong emotional feeling within me towards the game — I knew this was my chance to make a real change in the world through improving education, and that idea kept me motivated through all the setbacks that take place during app development.
Ultimately, I’m very satisfied with Chinese Fridge as my first project to improve the process of learning Chinese for kids. I consider the game a modest first step in what I hope will be a series of projects to build better and broader-reaching technological resources for kids. I believe that kids should be able to learn whatever they desire, no matter what school district the child lives in, how much money their family has or their cultural background. In addition, I believe that teachers should have more resources like Chinese Fridge that can help bolster their lessons and teach kids in a cost-effective way by making the most of newly emerging technologies.
Ken Shen Robinson is the creator of Chinese Fridge and is a proponent of equal access to basic education. Born to a Taiwanese mother and an American father, he double-majored in Chinese and Communications studies while at UCLA and has worked in the Internet industry since 2008. You can find him on Twitter and LinkedIn.