A new white paper on China’s “digital children” shows that less than half of youth aged 6-15 have used a desktop computer in the past year, or ever. Only around 15-20% said the same for smartphones:
Mobile was by far the preferred device for almost every online activity. The only two use cases in which desktop outstripped mobile was for “search” and “online classes” – mobile phones were even the preferred device for doing homework:
Why it matters
Homework is assigned on mobile and completed offline
Even in a society as phone-focused as China, it might seem a little strange that mobile is the preferred medium for homework, particularly since desktop is the choice for other education-based use cases, like search and e-courses. It seems even stranger in comparison with the US, where 39% of middle and high school students prefer to complete their homework on a laptop, and only 6% on a smartphone (Pearson).
But we can make some guesses as to why mobile trumps desktop in China:
- At the 6-15 age level, students are required to complete pen-and-paper assignments, rather than typed assignments, to practice penmanship and Chinese character memorization.
- Few Chinese families have desktops at home.
- Chinese education authorities are actively urging teachers to encourage offline work (Techcrunch):
[National recommendations by China’s education authorities] include limiting the amount of online homework to reduce nearsightedness, which has become a source of concern for parents and society at large.
Teachers and students communicate over social media
While educators in Western countries may draw firmer divisions between their personal and professional lives by refusing to connect with students over social media, Chinese educators rely on social media platforms to keep classes organized and stay connected to parents and colleagues. Teachers frequently organize WeChat or QQ groups for each homeroom and parent committee, then assign homework and keep parents involved via those groups.
The practice is so widespread that China’s education authorities have felt compelled to condemn it, citing concerns about teacher “laziness” (Techcrunch):
A proposal posted last week by the Department of Education in China’s eastern province of Zhejiang said teachers should be banned from using WeChat, QQ or other mobile apps to assign homework or ask parents to grade students’ assignments.
What to watch: With homework assignments happening so pervasively over mobile, the transition to completing those assignments on the same device will be a natural one.