With schools in China remaining closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, China has launched a national online learning platform and started broadcasting primary school classes on public TV to help 180 million students “keep learning even with classes suspended.”

From Monday, a national cloud learning platform will provide learning materials for students in junior and senior high school, according to a statement by the Ministry of Education (MOE). The e-learning platform is meant to provide resources for students but not to replace classroom learning, the ministry said, urging educators and parents to continue guiding students.

From Monday, China’s national cloud learning platform will provide learning materials for students in junior and senior high school. (Picture: Shutterstock)

At the same time, classes for primary school students will be broadcast on state-broadcaster CCTV’s China Education Television Channel 4. The division of learning platforms for different levels of students is to limit the time primary school students spend online and “protect the students’ eyesight,” as well as prevent network congestion from too many students going online at the same time, the MOE said in the statement.

The move toward remote learning comes as schools have postponed the upcoming spring semester until further notice. Chinese authorities have encouraged people to stay at home to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus through human-to-human contact.

Education is just one of many examples where everyday life has changed for many Chinese people because of the outbreak, with more preferring to do things online than offline, such as grocery shopping, health checks, web-conferencing and gaming.

On the national cloud learning platform, 169 lessons were introduced for the first week, covering 12 subjects for junior and senior high school based on the national curriculum, according to CCTV News. The national broadcaster added that the materials will be supplemented by key teachers from Beijing and other cities as needed.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology also roped in the three major telecommunications operators – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom – and tech companies including Baidu, Alibaba and Huawei to back up the e-learning platform with 7,000 servers and 90 terabytes of bandwidth. This is to ensure that it can run smoothly with up to 50 million students using it at the same time, CCTV reported.

The health crisis has put the spotlight on China’s online education market, which grew 25.7% year-on-year in 2018 to 251.7 billion yuan (US$35.9 billion), according to iResearch Consulting Group. The previous forecast of annual growth of between 16% to 24% in the subsequent three to five years may now need to be revised upwards, the research firm said.

Before the launch of the national cloud learning platform, Chinese tech companies including Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei also stepped forward to offer free online classes for students of different levels in light of the school closures and outbreak situation. Alibaba is the South China Morning Post’s parent company.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post.)