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Shanghai authorities are regulating the local education and training market, with 502 institutes gradually being closed down (gradually, so that thousands of unsuspecting students don't suddenly find themselves out on the streets this summer), Jiefang Daily reported. However, online courses remain unregulated.

Hao Hao, who will become a junior high school grade one student this September, has been attending online courses for the past month. Sitting in front of his computer, the boy takes down notes for a math lesson while his teacher (on the computer screen) explains problem-solving methods. Writing on a blackboard occupies almost the entire screen.

According to Hao Hao's mother, online math lessons are very popular. Hao Hao has been attending such classes since he was in primary school. After he was enrolled into a private junior high school, his mother purchased an entire online course, which she hopes will give him an advantage.

According to an investigation by Shanghai Municipal Education Commission and Shanghai Administration for Industry & Commerce, there are nearly 7,000 educational training institutes in Shanghai at the moment, yet only one-fourth of them have business licenses and qualification certificates.

Over 1,300 educational training institutes were found running without either license or certificates. Among them, 502 were offering courses and subjects for primary and high schools. These institutes were forced to gradually close down rather than immediately close their doors to thousands of unsuspecting students and their parents.

In June, the Xuhui District Education Bureau ordered six training institutes in the district to carry out "rectification," emphasizing that cram schools are banned to teach ahead of official syllabuses.

However, the result of the rectification was that many training institutes turned to the Internet. An industry insider who was unwilling to be named said that these online courses, which are teaching ahead of official syllabuses, escaped the authorities' supervision and regulation jurisdiction.

A girl and a boy learn from a computer.

Lack of quality

According to Jiefang Daily, online teachers vary in their professional experience and skills. Some are former public school teachers, others have always been teaching at private training institutions, and some do not have any qualification or certification.

For many foreign language online courses, those teachers are foreigners, with an equal number living abroad as opposed to being based in China. Thus it is nearly impossible to verify their qualifications or supervise them.

Different online educational platforms have different standards for the content of their courses and different verification processes for their teachers. Some stricter platforms require their teachers to pass evaluations and must give trial lectures before starting.

Online courses have become an essential part of China's cram education industry. But compared with traditional training schools, some parents are still uncertain about the teaching content and results of Web-based classes.

A local parent surnamed Lin who applied for an online math course for her 6-year-old son found out that the teacher was filling her preschool-aged child's head with primary school-level math instead of kindergarten-level. Although the price was only 1 yuan ($0.15), Lin still stopped the courses as she did not think it was appropriate for such a young child.

Not all the online courses are so cheap or easy to cancel. A local parent surnamed Cao wanted to apply for an online English course for her daughter, but among those she researched, one charged 150 yuan for only 30 minutes. Although the online teachers were real foreigners, Cao decided on a less expensive option.

This new class charged 2,500 yuan for a package of 30 lessons at 30 minutes each. The teachers were also foreigners, but this course did not have its own unique teaching website, materials or app (they used commercial textbooks and Skype). Parents also had to understand some English already in order to translate the lessons for their children. Cao felt that most of the "lessons" were just simple chatting, and her child learned nothing.

Global Times

A young woman taking online courses on her computer Photos: CFP