Net reaches rural China but threatens teaching

February 2, 2001

China's ministry of education has taken more tentative steps into the online learning environment, allowing 25 universities to carry out internet trials.

The number of Chinese universities offering degree and diploma programmes over the net is 31 and the number of enrolled students runs into tens of thousands. Universities taking part in the trials include Beijing, Fudan, Shanghai Jiaotong, Beijing Normal University, Beijing Foreign Studies University, Tsinghua, Tongji and the People's University of China.

The ministry views the net as a potential way to extend higher education provision to previously disenfranchised people, particularly those in outlying regions, at a fraction of the cost. Benefits include flexibility, choice and, after allowing for initial investment, savings in teacher salaries, buildings, classrooms and labs.

But students enrolled on conventional programmes are also receiving a similar internet educational input via computers or big screens and electronic keyboards or writing pads. There is concern that online education may be used as a wholesale replacement for conventional teaching.

A Beijing university official admitted that fewer students would experience the benefits of face-to-face teaching. A handful of teachers could now teach tens of thousands of students across the country where thousands of teachers would have been required before.

The savings have obviously not gone unnoticed by politicians and educational administrators.

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