Ministry removes homework help apps, citing impact on student learning

China’s Ministry of Education on Monday ordered the temporary removal of homework help apps that allow students to take pictures of their homework and search for answers online, citing the apps’ impact on students’ independent thinking ability, in another move aimed at strengthening regulation of China‘s online after-school tutoring sector.

Until local educational authorities complete reviews of primary and secondary online tutoring schools that teach curriculum subjects and give approval for their operations, the filing work of online tutoring apps will be suspended, and those that have already filed will be taken down from app platforms, the ministry said in a statement.

The homework help apps, which provide services such as solving homework questions by uploading a photo, will be removed temporarily, because these apps may make students “lazy,” affect their independent thinking and give bad learning habits by violating the law of education and teaching, read the statement.

The move is in line with the country’s “double reduction” policy in the education sector, following the country’s tougher regulations on private online tutoring, a market worth about 453.8 billion yuan ($71.31 billion) in 2020, according to iiMedia Research Institute.

Several online tutoring apps may be affected, and they have many users, said analysts.

For instance, Zuoyebang app, which launched in 2014 offering online courses and homework help, had more than 100 million users in 2020 and accounted for 27.8 percent of the market, according to a report by Xueyan Thinktank.

By the end of 2019, about 8.6 billion searches had taken place on question search app Xiaoyuan Souti, which included nearly 200 million questions. It solved at least 23.47 million questions each day.

In June, a student taking the college entrance exam in Central China’s Hubei Province cheated by uploading a photo of a math exam on Xiaoyuan Souti, and was caught by the staff. The app said it didn’t provide any search results to the student.

These homework help apps spoiled some students, an English teacher surnamed Yan in North China’s Hebei Province told the Global Times on Monday.

“Some students take a photo of an English article and upload the picture on an app to search for answers. They finish the homework fast and well but score poorly in exams,” Yan noted. “These apps will cause mental dependence. Over time, students may lose independent thinking ability,” she added.

The notice actually targets the misuse of these tools by some students, Chu Zhaohui, a research fellow at the National Institute of Education Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday.

He noted that the ministry aims to resolve the huge number of after-school tutoring institutes and their disorderly expansion, instead of just beating them down. “The demand for tutoring schools is still there and I believe there will be opportunities in the market,” Chu said.

Author: Zhang Dan, Global Times

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