Shanghai to inspect online training organizations

Move follows central government guideline to enhance regulations aimed at ensuring a healthy teaching environment and reducing the burden on students. 

Shanghai is to launch a citywide inspection of organizations providing online training and establish a credit management system to better regulate them, the Shanghai Education Commission announced on Monday.

The announcement was made after six central government departments, including the Ministry of Education, the Cyberspace Administration of China, the Ministry of Public Security and the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications, released a guideline to enhance regulation on online cramming schools to ensure a healthy teaching environment and reduce the burden on students.

Lu Yugang, director of the Ministry of Education’s basic education division, told a press conference in Beijing on Monday that a campaign by the ministry, the market watchdog and other departments since February last year had brought the vast majority of offline training organizations under official supervision, and some running without license or with security hazards had all rectified problems or been cleared from the market.

The new guideline targets online training so as to further reduce the after-school burden on students.

Lu said out-of-school training had been developing rapidly and moving online.

“While providing diverse and individualized educational services, the online training industry also has some problems,” he said. “Some training platforms provide vulgar information, games and other content unrelated to study, while others offer test-oriented training and teach in advance of the national syllabus against scientific educational rules. The quality of training providers is uneven and some lack basic teaching ability. Some training organizations charge high prepayments with difficulties around refunds, posing high risks for consumers.”

He said these problems were harmful to the healthy growth of students and the interests of families, causing after-school academic burdens for students and economic burdens for families. The guideline would promote orderly and healthy development of online training.

It sets out detailed requirements or instructions in various aspects, ranging from establishment standards and qualifications for teachers to operation requirements and administration.

It requires all online training organizations to register with provincial educational administrators with information including related licenses, training content and training staff. Those teaching academic courses must have related teaching qualifications.

The organizations need to display names, photos and qualifications of teachers on the training platforms and the pages of the courses they teach. And if the teachers are foreigners, the information should also include their study and work experience.

They are banned from hiring teachers teaching at primary and middle schools.

The guideline requires the agencies to teach content suitable for children without obscene, violent, horrible, gambling content or games. The courses offered must match students’ growth rules and cognitive ability. The organizations are banned from teaching students content beyond the national syllabuses or above the grades they are on.

All training content data should be stored for at least a year and videos of teaching should be saved for at least six months.

The guideline also notes that the training time should be designed according to students’ ages. Each class is required to be within 40 minutes and breaks should be at least 10 minutes. Live teaching should not be offered during school time and training classes for first and second graders should be designed without homework. Live classes for primary and middle school students should be conducted before 9pm.

All the online training platforms should be provided with functions to protect eyes and enable monitoring by parents.

The organizations also have to prominently display charges and refund information. They are required to charge fees for no more than 60 classes in three months, providing fair contracts that do not infringe consumers’ rights while mitigating or exempting responsibility of training operators.

It asks all provincial educational administrators to finish inspecting local online training organizations by the end of year to make sure they are registered and meet standards. Those with problems should finish rectification and re-registration by the end of June next year. If they fail to rectify problems, they face fines and closure.

The guideline also calls for the establishment of a national supervision platform as well as a blacklist and a white list.

Ni Minjing, vice director of the Shanghai Education Commission, said that Shanghai has closed up more than 1,300 illegal training organizations since 2017 and stopped over 20 competitions for primary and middle school students to ensure teaching order.

He said Shanghai will work out a plan as soon as possible to carry out a citywide inspection of online training organizations. The commission will also work out a comprehensive system for management of both online and offline cramming organizations.

He said the city will explore more effective management measures, such as a single-purpose prepaid card management system with supervision and insurance to secure consumers’ interests and a credit management system where good-performing organizations will be rewarded with credits while illegal ones will be punished.

"There are too many online training organizations with uneven quality," said Ling Yun, mother of a six-grader. "I have bought many courses online for my daughter but few of them were satisfying. But you cannot know until you take the classes as the organizations all have advertised themselves very well. I'm looking forward to seeing an official white list or blacklist so that I can make fewer such mistakes in the future.”

Adelaide, another mother, said she wanted the administrators to enhance supervision of organizations’ funds as she had spent about six months to get a refund of around 8,000 yuan (US$1,160) after her daughter quit an online English-speaking class as the teacher had a bad accent.

"The customer service staff had used a lot of excuses to delay the refund, such as that they had to go through a strict procedure, but half a year is obviously too long," she said. "I hope the government will urge them to make the procedure more transparent and shorter."

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