Beijing bans preschool learning apps as crackdown on private tutoring continues

Preschool learning apps banned in Beijing.
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The Beijing city government will no longer accept applications to launch new education apps for preschool children and will remove existing ones, as China's crackdown on private tutoring continues.

In addition, tutoring apps targeting all ages shall not provide "negative or undesirable information", "nor shall they contain gaming links or ads", according to a regulation co-issued by the municipal education, cyberspace and communications administrations on Monday. The draft rule was published in February.

The official regulation is the latest move by Chinese authorities to reduce screen time and addiction to smartphones among kids, which is seen by the government as a social problem that must be tackled. Learn-and-play apps aimed at toddlers have been popular in the country, with many private tutoring institutions developing apps targeted at this segment.

China made a big regulatory pivot last July to outlaw most for-profit tutoring services aimed at schoolchildren. China's once-booming private tutoring sector has been decimated, with companies banned from raising funds or conducting classes during the weekend and holidays.

Although Beijing's latest policy is currently a city-level order, it is likely to be followed elsewhere in China as many officials now take the view that online learning does more harm than good for young children, said Xiong Bingqi, head of the Beijing-based 21st Century Education Research Centre, in February when the draft regulation was issued.

Beijing is home to some of the country's biggest private education companies, including New York-listed New Oriental Education & Technology Group and TAL Education, as well as unicorns Zuoyebang and Yuanfudao. Some have started to explore new business directions, with New Oriental selling goods via live-streaming and Yuanfudao producing clothing.

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Some of the companies deleted online classes on their general tutoring apps for children of all ages last year, after the Ministry of Education vowed to "correct and reverse the practices and behaviours of after-school training institutions, kindergartens and junior schools that are contrary to the natural law of physical and mental development of children".

The removal of preschool apps is aimed at stopping those as young as three years old from learning Chinese, English, maths and other skills via online apps, a common phenomenon in China as "tiger parents" push their kids to be competitive from a tender age.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.