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2022-09-16 10:35:48

China’s top education authority has banned schools from demanding parents and students to purchase smart touchscreen devices and learning software programs after growing complaints over unreasonable prices and promotional tactics of such products.

The Ministry of Education asked provincial authorities to strengthen their review of online learning resources and ordered schools from making unreasonable purchase demands on students, according to a statement Thursday. The ministry also said such acts have resulted in “evil” consequences by increasing the financial burden on families and sabotaging the fairness of education.

China introduced a range of digital devices and learning apps to modernize its education sector in 2016, with the technology widely adopted in virtual classes during the pandemic. The sales volume of smart devices on online platforms surpassed 1 billion yuan ($142 million) in 2020, with the amount expected to approach 100 billion yuan in 2024, according to an industry report.

However, students and their parents said they have felt compelled to adopt the trend after schools deemed them necessary learning tools. Some of them have even claimed that some schools were selling such devices at higher prices.

Fang Ziqing, a high school student in the eastern Shandong province, told Sixth Tone that her parents paid 580 yuan for a three-year membership of an app as requested by the school. Despite seldom using the app, she said teachers were pushing parents in chat groups to buy it.

“Though it’s voluntary in theory, there’s almost no chance of saying no because they would even disclose the list of people who bought it in the group,” she said, asking to be identified with a pseudonym fearing repercussions. “It more or less feels like blackmail.”

The issue came under the spotlight after some schools used the purchases to divide students into different teaching groups. In August, many parents in the northern Shanxi province complained to the State Council that they were urged to spend 8,800 yuan on a smart tablet that would make their children eligible for the school’s “wisdom class.”

In recent years, the education ministry has ramped up the monitoring of such practices, instituting a similar ban in 2020. Thursday’s notice said it will launch inspection campaigns in at least six provinces, including Shanxi, Guangdong, Zhejiang, and Yunnan.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Students use tablets to learn at a school in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, Sept. 7, 2021. VCG)