2019-02-15 12:32:04

In a bid to improve children’s eyesight, a department of education in eastern China has issued a draft regulation forbidding teachers from assigning digital homework on apps, according to an announcement Monday.

The regulation would require teachers in Zhejiang province to distribute homework assignments on paper to cut down on students’ screen time and prevent myopia. The document also stipulates that electronic devices should not be used for more than 30 percent of teaching time per class and encourages schools to organize sports activities such as soccer, ping pong, and basketball.

The announcement comes amid a nationwide initiative to improve children’s eyesight. Last August, eight government departments issued a joint guideline to curb myopia levels among children and adolescents, calling for restrictions on mobile gaming and screen time. According to that document, local governments’ performance evaluations would be partly based on how well they can limit the condition’s prevalence.

National and provincial directives soon followed the guideline. In December, parents in the southern province of Guangdong were asked to cap children’s “exploratory use” of electronic devices at 30 minutes a day, and teachers in eastern Fujian province were told earlier this month that homework assigned via apps should not take more than 20 minutes a day to complete.

App usage is now commonplace in many classrooms across the country. Educational apps under the brand 17ZUOYE — the name sounds like “Homework Together” when pronounced in Chinese — are used in over 120,000 schools and boast over 60 million users.

In an article published Thursday by the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper, parents and teachers expressed concern over the trend of app-based assignments. A mother from the city of Guangzhou complained that her daughter spent more than one hour every day completing homework across five mobile apps, while teachers said that schools required apps for classroom attendance, lesson planning, and homework completion records. The report noted that nearly 89 percent of all students are shortsighted.

Meanwhile, some in the report argued that apps are useful in moderation and shouldn’t be banned outright, as they provide students with English pronunciation and listening practice, and encourage learning through gamification.

News of the draft regulation in Zhejiang sparked reactions on the Chinese internet, with many netizens agreeing that students should not be encouraged to use their phones. “[Mobile phones] should be banned outright!” read the top comment Friday beneath an article about the province’s announcement on news platform Sohu. “Most primary school children are using them to play [the video game ‘PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’]!”

Editor: Layne Flower.

(Header image: A student does homework in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, Dec. 19, 2016. Li Hui/VCG)