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Cabinet boost for online education

Xu Wei
Updated: Sep 03,2019 09:14 AM    China Daily

The State Council has announced measures to encourage the growth of online education in a major boost to businesses in the sector, with experts calling for administration to be streamlined to further invigorate the market and promote education equality.

The Cabinet said in a statement released after its executive meeting on Aug 28 that it will ramp up efforts to promote Internet Plus education - the use of information technology in teaching - and encourage market entities to develop online education.

New, open and inclusive platforms will be established for vocational training and skills upgrading, it said.

Premier Li Keqiang, who presided over the meeting, said there is a great need for online education and training, and the measures will meet public demand for education services and enable better sharing of resources.

Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said the growth of various types of entities is key to the development of the online education sector.

"For the authorities, it is important to reduce licensing red tape and boost compliance oversight, and to transform government functions so that market entities can start to flourish," he said.

Chu said scrutiny of the online education sector remained tight, and further opening up would boost market vitality.

China stepped up oversight of after-school training institutions last year to reduce the extracurricular burden on students. Unlicensed institutions were required to obtain the necessary certificates, and licensed ones were told to provide details of their teaching activities to the education authorities.

A report published by the China Internet Network Information Center on Aug 30 said China's online education sector had 232 million users as of June, up by 31.2 million, or 15.5 percent, from the end of last year. The report also found that over 199.4 million people take online education courses on their mobile phones.

"Customized education powered by artificial intelligence will be an important direction for the future growth of online education," the report said.

By using AI and big data, online education platforms were able to analyze users' behavior and progress to provide the best solution for their learning activities, it added.

The report also underscored the important role of online education in offering solutions in rural education.

At its executive meeting, the Cabinet also called for the development of dedicated networks for education to be sped up. By 2022, all schools will be connected to fast and stable internet services.

It also vowed more support for the development of diversified online educational resources for areas experiencing extreme poverty and pledged greater regulation and oversight to effectively protect the rights and interests of consumers.

Xia Peng, the founder of English-learning website, said the growth of the online education sector will help the country upgrade the structure of its labor force.

"Online platforms teaching programming will prepare people for the arrival of the age of AI, and those teaching language skills will enhance their communication abilities in workplaces," he said.

However, Xia said, the recent boom in online education had, in part, been fueled by increased government scrutiny of after-school institutions, which spurred more of them to develop online arms.

He said he believed incentives from the authorities would only be the first step, and there would be follow-up measures, including more oversight, to guide the growth of the sector.

"Institutions that go online will be easier for the government to supervise," Xia said.

"The statistics of platforms can be monitored, and the teachers' qualifications can be traced."

Zuoyebang, a Beijing-based online education startup, said in an emailed statement that the Cabinet's decision pointed the way for the development of the online education sector, and follow-up policies could help it grow in a more orderly manner.

The company, which provides online courses to over 6 million people, said most of its users were from third-or fourth-tier cities in China.

"Combining education and technology in a better way and improving the quality of education will be key elements for the growth of the sector," the company said.