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Opinion
Should Schools Make Students Use Apps to Do Their Homework?
Schools' widespread use of homework apps has sparked debates
 NO. 45 NOVEMBER 8, 2018

(LI SHIGONG)

Recently, schools have been allowing all kinds of apps for students to do their homework. Homework is regarded as a window for teachers to gauge students' overall academic performance, and these apps can help students do their homework more efficiently and interact better with their teachers. Besides, as these apps are often designed to attract students, it's thought that they can kindle students' interest in their studies.

However, the use of apps is also creating problems. Some of these apps have video games, and even inappropriate content. As a result, instead of improving their efficiency and performance, students become addicted to online games and their eyesight is damaged. Sometimes, some apps may not be good for students' academic work, but they are still recommended as the schools get incentives from the companies that promote them.

So the use of apps by students, particularly during homework, has triggered a heated and widespread debate, especially among parents.

Supervision needed

Jiang Debin (Workers' Daily): Apps are welcomed by teachers and students because they help to improve students' efficiency in doing their homework and boost their interaction with their teachers. However, problems such as built-in video games, excessive entertainment and even indecent content have tainted some apps to the extent that the whole genre has to be readjusted if the apps are to continue to play a role in students' schoolwork.

Some companies, after getting a large number of users, begin to add all kinds of inappropriate content to the apps. For example, in the name of helping students with their social skills, they induce students to shop by using the apps so that they can make a big profit. This is making people wonder if these are schoolwork apps or entertainment and shopping apps.

A survey of 400 online education companies indicated that by the end of 2017, 70 percent of them were losing money and struggling for survival. Some so-called study apps have actually been designed for these companies to expand their profit margins. In such a scenario, it's important for such companies to be punished and the apps to be brought under supervision or even scrapped for the good of students. There must be clear-cut standards on the content of such apps to sustain healthy development of the online education industry.

Qian Suwei (Beijing Morning Post): Most parents are not in favor of the so-called "educational informationization." For example, most parents believe that large-scale use of iPads in classrooms will not help much to arouse students' interest in their studies. Some parents are even afraid that continuous use of electronic devices will make their children become clumsy at writing Chinese characters.

Doing homework with apps also worries them. Some think without the oversight of parents or teachers, these apps will do more harm than good as most students are too young to be able to control their desire to use iPads and computers to play games or do other things unrelated to studying.

It has to be admitted that sometimes using apps is an interesting way to do homework and students do like such apps. However, if teachers rely too much on these apps, people will suspect that they are shirking their work.

Migrant worker parents who are in cities are even more worried about their children, who have been left behind at home in rural areas with their grandparents. Grandparents are often unfamiliar with these electronic devices. They can't tell whether their grandchildren are studying with the devices or playing with them. The lack of oversight will lead to children getting addicted to electronic devices, which is detrimental both to their studies and eyesight.

We don't want to ban online education models, but they must be used carefully.

Wen Jinyu (Gusu Evening News): Children in kindergartens can be encouraged to learn through games, but primary school students have already reached a stage where they should know education requires putting in some effort and should be encouraged to do so despite the hardships. Having interest in learning helps but overdependence on it will do more harm than good.

Schoolwork apps should be simple, instead of dazzling and distracting students from their work. Primary school students should be helped to develop the ability to concentrate on their work. Schools should make use of multimedia and digital devices to deliver information and knowledge more efficiently to students. Modern technologies are good, but they are supposed to serve textbooks, not steal the show. If it's true that study apps are installing a lot of games and improper content, then it's really time to take some tough action against such apps.

A nuanced approach

Xiong Bingqi (www.iqilu.com): Parents differ on whether to use apps to do homework. Those who support it argue that these apps help with the homework, acting as a kind of tutor. They believe this will grow students' interest in studying. Children can be stopped from playing online games if some services are locked up. However, some parents hope that schools will not assign homework to be done with apps, at least not too much, worrying that electronic devices will affect children's eyesight and neck. Many of the students get addicted, not to doing homework but to playing games.

Obviously, the crux of the matter is not the apps but how parents manage the situation. If parents allow their children to use these apps as long as the kids want, without limiting the time for using electronic devices, there will be problems. It's impossible to ban the use of electronic devices and the apps on them in the era of the Internet. The important thing for schools and parents is to offer guidance on the use of these apps, so that students can develop good user habits.

Some people have been suggesting that students should be forbidden from using handsets, computers and such devices to prevent them from getting addicted to online games. This is unrealistic and skirts the real issue. What schools and parents should do is to inculcate good habits for using electronic devices related to the Internet.

Parents are not supposed to allow children to use laptops or handsets at their will. Some apps have some functions that allow parents to control the services available to children. But some parents do not study the apps carefully and so, don't know how to make good use of them to benefit their children.

There are games said to be designed to awaken students' interest in education and strengthen their learning capacity. However, some companies, in order to make hefty profits, put improper content in these apps. Schools must resist such apps.

As for supplementary educational tools like study apps, their advantages should be fully utilized while their downsides should be removed. It's unrealistic to ban all study apps and other electronic devices. However, this does not mean that students can be allowed to indulge in the online games attached to some study apps.

For years, middle and primary schools had partially or even completely banned the use of laptops and handsets in the classroom. So when these students entered college, their passion for the Internet became unbridled and many became a slave to the Internet, unable to control the time they spent on their electronic devices. In this sense, it's necessary to help them develop good habits while using study apps, handsets and laptops.

Zhang Limei (www.eastday.com): Compared to the traditional way of using pen and paper to write one's homework, study apps have their advantages. They can trigger students' interest in learning in interesting and vivid ways. To do homework becomes fun instead of a daunting task. For subjects like English and Chinese, study apps help to improve students' listening and speaking ability. However, the downside of overdependence on these apps is also obvious.

In recent years, the incidence of myopia has been rising sharply among students, affecting more younger people. Apart from the huge burden of schoolwork, all kinds of electronic devices, particularly those with small screens, are to be blamed. If study apps are used more extensively, more primary school students will become shortsighted.

If parents do not keep a close eye on their children, the children might play on computers or iPads after finishing schoolwork. Addiction to online games will gradually become a big issue.

If teachers use these apps as the only tool for doing schoolwork, the economic pressure on students' families will mount. Although doing schoolwork using apps may not cost anything, other services may be chargeable. If students want to know more, they may have to pay the app operators. Besides, not all families can afford iPads or smartphones.

It's ok for schools to use apps for schoolwork, but overdependence on these apps is not good for students. It must be ensured that apart from apps, students can also complete their homework the usual way, so that students who can't afford iPads, computers or smartphones can also do their work.

If some work does need the use of study apps, schools and teachers must be stopped from making any profit from these apps. They are not supposed to receive any benefits from the companies that sell these apps.

Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar

Comments to dingying@bjreview.com

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