China’s Ministry of Education on Monday suspended the filing and review process for homework search apps that allow students to upload pictures of exam questions and search for related answers.
Why it matters: The move signals an extension of China’s sweeping edtech crackdown that began in July with the online after-school tutoring sector targeting K-12 students, once the most lucrative sector of China’s private tutoring market.
- Chinese edtech giants, including ByteDance, Yuanfudao and Zuoyebang, have already made deep headcount cuts in the wake of the crackdown.
Details: The education ministry said in the Monday statement (in Chinese) that it will suspend the filing and review process for all homework apps targeting primary and middle school curriculum courses, pausing approvals for related edtech apps. Those apps already listed on its filing platform must be taken down.
- The review process and relisting of homework apps will resume once developers get approval from local educational authorities.
- Online tutoring apps that could be affected include Yuanfudao’s Xiaoyuan Souti and Zuoyebang, although both of the apps have recently shifted their focus and labeling themselves as tools for parents and teachers.
- Zuoyebang has started the re-application process, a representative told TechNode. The company added that use of the app in the meantime won’t be affected and that the app is still available on app stores despite its removal from the ministry’s filing platform.
- The ministry cited negative impacts on students as the reason for the suspension, saying that the apps may make students “lazy,” affect independent thinking, and result in lousy learning habits by violating the rules of education and teaching.
Context: “Snap and search questions” is a popular feature in Chinese homework apps; it enables users to search for answers by taking screenshots of homework questions, thereby avoiding the difficulties of inputting hard-to-recognize characters, mathematical symbols, and equations.
- Despite its popularity, the feature sparked controversy this June when a student from China’s Hubei province was caught searching for answers with Xiaoyuan Souti (a homework search app) while taking the college entrance exam. The app’s maker said it reported the case to relevant authorities and didn’t answer the student.
- Edtech platforms such as Tipaipai and Afanti said in August that they would no longer offer homework search features.