Chinese teens have it rough pretty with schoolwork—students in Shanghai spend an average of nearly three hours per weeknight on homework—and the summer, when many take extra classes, isn’t much better. So it’s no wonder that many smartphone-wielding students are turning to technology to lessen their load, including an app developed by internet search giant Baidu that lets them crowdsource their homework questions.
The company’s mobile app “Homework Helper,” launched this year, and has been downloaded at least 5 million times from Android and IOS app stores, according to Homework Helper. Users can either take a photo of their homework questions or type them in by hand. Other users who answer the questions in online forums are rewarded with virtual e-coins when their answers are deemed correct. The coins can be used to buy everything from photo frames to iPhones and Lenovo laptops.
A staff member for Homework Helper, responding to a request to Baidu for comment, said through the company’s messaging service that the app’s answers were correct around 80% of the time. Asked about the dubious morality of the app, the staffer admitted: “I think this is a kind of cheating.”
Other competing apps, like one called “Mr. Nerdy,” try to automatically provide answers from their own databases of homework questions. But one Chinese reporter found that the app only had a 30% success rate (link in Chinese).
Students, unsurprisingly, seem to like the apps, but parents are less enthusiastic. “Once she gets stuck on a problem, she turns to these apps for the answers and loses the ability to think independently,” said one mother of a middle school student. Others were more sympathetic. “They have no choice but to finish their homework at home when they should have been playing outside. That pressure makes them find other ways like this,” one man commented (registration required) on Weibo.
A recent report suggests that on average, Chinese students spend three hours every day doing homework, twice as much as the global average, three times the amount in France, four times that in Japan and six times that in South Korea.
The report was based on big data generated by 20 million users of the education app Afanti in 31 provinces across China over a year's period.
It also shows most Chinese students sleep less than 7 hours every night, 1.5 hours less than their global peers. In addition, 46.3 percent of junior high students usually go to bed after 11 p.m., and nearly 90 percent of senior high students often stay up late. Some 8.9 percent of students in east China's city of Nanjing do not hit the hay until after midnight.
The data did not seem to surprise Chinese netizens. They quickly took to Weibo to express their thoughts on homework:
Here is a sample of comments on Weibo:
@hefengxiyu: Three hours? This is a LIE! I am spending more than four hours a day on my homework!
@On_the_top: We are all nerds, but we don't perform that well, compared with our international peers. People say we Chinese students are hardworking and smart and I admit that. However, I don't think we should be proud of it because we lack creativity and we don't get too many chances to develop this ability.
@Tiger669: I interpret the report a bit differently. Sometimes, playing is another form of studying. Students from other countries are doing their homework outside their home, like doing community work or having field trips. These activities cost more than 3 hours per day.
@hunu: I think it depends on students. Some students need others to tell them how to study. If so, doing homework works for them. However, for those self-learners, doing more than 3 hours of homework might just be counterproductive.