China urges greater effort in improving online education infrastructure

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On September 30th, the Ministry of Education, along with Cyberspace Administration of China, National Development and Reform Commission of China and other eight departments, released the document of “Guiding Opinions on Promoting the Development of Online Education”《关于促进在线教育健康发展的指导意见》(hereinafter referred to as “Guiding Opinions”).

With the development of technology and rapidly-growing mobile internet penetration, online education (e-learning) market continues to expand with over 200 million users as of the end of 2018 and is getting increasing attention from the government these years. In July this year, the “Implementation Opinions on Standardizing After-School Online Training”(《关于规范校外线上培训的实施意见》) has been issued as the first official document in terms of formalizing after-school online tutoring activities also as part of the country’s oversight for this booming industry since last year.

However, different from the previous strict scrutiny, the “Guiding Opinions” issued this time aims to lay out more favorable measures for online education in a broader sense. According to the document, by 2020, infrastructure construction in this sector will be greatly improved, and information technologies such as internet, big data, and AI will be more widely adopted into education industry.

The “Guiding Opinions” clearly points out to encourage social enterprises to set up online education institutions, which used to be uncommon amid a country rife with regulatory risk. In fact, since the State Council issued the “National Vocational Education Reform Implementation Plan”(《国家职业教育改革实施方案》) earlier this year, an array of educational policies have placed emphasis on the importance of social entities to be engaged in education development. Practical support and incentives for enterprises have been initiated afterwards.

In the new document, the government highlights the in-depth cooperation between internet companies and online education institutions to fully address new educational needs. Meanwhile, the “Guiding Opinions” emphasizes to comprehensively build an interactive and intelligent e-learning model by technology means such as big data analysis and cloud computing, which could benefit the players in education informatization.

Penetrating public schools is always a growth bottleneck for education enterprises to tackle. According to the “Guiding Opinions”, schools are encouraged to promote the development and sharing of online education resources through the “national digital education resources public service system”(国家数字教育资源公共服务体系). Specifically, schools are enabled to formulate own standards and methods to incorporate qualified online courses into their curriculum and teaching activities. This will undoubtedly ease the curbs for online education service providers to tap into public schools.

In terms of bettering the “national digital education resources public service system” we mentioned above, the “Guiding Opinions” advocates that the “Education Resource Sharing Plan” will be implemented to bring together e-learning, research, and cultural resources then develop a number of high-quality online courses.

At the same time, the “Guiding Opinions” also encourages universities and vocational schools to attach more attention to social needs and set up related majors such as AI, Internet of Things, big data, and network security, aiming to address the prominent shortage of skilled talents particularly in advanced manufacturing through online education.

China has a vast territory associate with complex geographical conditions, causing uneven distribution of educational resources. And e-learning by leveraging internet technology is not limited by space and time and thereby increasing access to education. The new policy indicates strong support of overcoming the lack of basic public service for underprivileged students by expanding online education resources in terms of school subjects including English, mathematics, music, physical education and arts.

In brief, the “Guiding Opinions” will bring more opportunities for companies targeting at MOOC platform, online vocational education and K12 online tutoring.

While the “Guiding Opinions” implied “positive signals” to the development of online education, it also pledged greater efforts in establishing a standardized access system of the companies in this field. This refers to a record review system for online education resources and an appropriately revised blacklist that states what kinds of business will not be allowed. In particular, in accordance with the previous regulations, the online training and teaching activities in primary and secondary schools still need to be normalized with strict scrutiny.

The “Guiding Opinion” also proposes that local governments should include online education resources and services in their procurement plan and improve relevant regulations. Moreover, the policy encourages banks and other financial institutions to develop financial products consistent with the characteristics of online education and incentivize qualified online education start-ups to issue financing tools and bonds.

Finally, specific objectives set out in the “Guiding Opinions” are underlined to build a special online education network: by 2022, all schools in the country are expected to access high-speed and stable internet services. And at least 10,000 principals and 20,000 teachers from primary and secondary schools and 3,000 principals along with 6,000 teachers from vocational schools will be trained to meet the requirements of information-based curriculum.

Plus, at least 3,000 national massive online open courses, 1000 national virtual simulation experimental teaching projects, around 6,000 national and 10,000 provincial high-quality higher education courses(both online and offline), 10,000 basic education demonstration courses, 1,000 vocational education demo courses and 200 demo courses in continuing education will be launched.

Driven by policy support and the goals nationwide, each sector in this industry is ushering in a promising era with unprecedented market potentials.

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