2019-01-31 08:57:36

People with young children in Beijing may breathe a sigh of relief this Chinese New Year thanks to a new policy aiming to rid school chat groups of monetary transactions and inappropriate content.

On Tuesday, the city’s education bureau published a notice banning non-school-related posts in parent-teacher chat groups on social platforms like WeChat and QQ. The notice explicitly targets commercial content and red envelopes filled with digital cash, which parents often use to curry favor with their kids’ teachers.

The notice also prohibits parents, students, and teachers from posting pornography, sharing violent content, boasting of family connections, criticizing or praising students, disclosing grades or class rank, promoting video games, engaging in flattery, assigning extra homework, or doing anything else that contributes to student anxiety. It covers not only chat groups but also education apps and social media accounts backed by or affiliated with Beijing’s primary and secondary schools. Apps, chat groups, and social accounts found to be violating the rules may be shut down, the notice concluded.

As with any other sector in China, mobile messaging platforms — and especially WeChat — are an integral part of education, as chat groups are an efficient way for teachers to communicate with their students’ parents. But these groups have a tendency to devolve into endless streams of sycophancy and one-upmanship, with parents jumping through hoops to flatter teachers and flaunting their supposedly superior wealth and influence. Some parents reason that gaining even a small advantage for their child could have a much larger impact on their future.

In the past few years, district governments in places like Shanghai and the northwestern Chinese province of Qinghai have passed similar policies to regulate school chat groups, but the Beijing case stands out because of its much larger scale. Education apps must now be strictly reviewed by local education authorities and the schools that hope to use them before being introduced to students and parents. This measure follows a Ministry of Education notice published Jan. 2 that bans “harmful” apps on school property, without mentioning any by name. If such apps are discovered on campus, the notice said, the school should report the case to police or cyberspace authorities.

In October of last year, state broadcaster CCTV reported that some so-called education apps targeting schoolchildren contained sexual content or enticed kids to spend money on mobile games. Three months later, CCTV noted that after 15,000 “harmful” education apps had been purged from app stores as part of a government crackdown on prohibited content, many began resurfacing in a new form, as public accounts on WeChat.

Yin Fei, an associate professor in the School of Education Science at Nanjing Normal University in eastern China’s Jiangsu province, told Sixth Tone that rules for school chat groups and digital media accounts are “desperately needed” because such platforms are so susceptible to abuse. To comply with the notice, he proposed that Beijing schools train their teachers in appropriate online behavior and establish their own oversight systems.

“New media is a good tool,” Yin said, “but its functionality should not be misused.”

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: IC)