China tells teachers to quit assigning homework through WeChat

Tech 18-2-2019 TechCrunch 22

China’s education authorities are about to take some burden off parents with school-aged children. A proposal posted last week by the Department of Education in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang said teachers should be banned from using WeChat, QQ or other mobile apps to assign homework or ask parents to grade students’ assignments.

As mobile internet booms in China, phones have become an extension of daily activities, including school practices. Instead of announcing homework in class or handing out notices to students in person, teachers are now dumping assignments into WeChat groups designed to interact with parents. Many teachers are keen to exercise their power through these digital channels, asking parents to help students with problem sets and even grade their homework.

The regional call to action follows a set of national guidelines released by the Ministry of Education in October directing teachers and schools to take more responsibilities rather than shift the load onto parents. “Teachers should be accountable for their job, treat teaching seriously, correct homework with prudence and help students with care.”

Not all schools abuse digital platforms to such an extent. A Shenzhen-based parent told TechCrunch that her second-grader who attends a local public school still does much of her homework in written form and parents’ involvement is moderate.

“Different schools treat technology differently and I’m not opposed to the use of it. It’s helpful, for example, to use a digital device to learn English because much of the process involves audios and videos,” the parent said. “I think sometimes media are painting teachers and schools in such a negative light just to get attention.”

Other recommendations in the national notice include limiting the amount of online homework to reduce nearsightedness, which has become a source of concerns for parents and society at large.

The new directives also come as Beijing tries to rein in what and how private technology services are infiltrating students’ lives. In one far-reaching move, the government ordered video-game publishers to cap children’s playing time, sending shares of industry leaders Tencent and NetEase tumbling. More recently, the Ministry of Education asked schools and universities to audit apps used by teachers and students on campus in accordance with guidelines set by the regulator.

Despite the government’s intent to ease stress and unplug devices for students, education apps have flourished in China. Those that help students outperform their peers have done particularly well. Yuanfudao, a startup that offers live courses, exam prep and homework help, gained a $3 billion valuation in its latest $300 million funding round in December. Its rivals Zuoyebang and Yiqi Zuoye have similarly attracted big-name investors and sizable funds to help their young users get ahead.

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