China Focus: A massive, open, online solution to China's education gap

BEIJING, April 18 (Xinhua) -- How can a prospective college student from west China find a way to study in the country's privileged Peking University?

Ten years ago, the answer might have been "there is no way" or "go to Beijing," but now any college student with a smartphone can access the university as massive open online courses (MOOC) have become widely available from universities in China.

The gap between China's top universities and others, and between universities in developed and less developed areas,is a huge problem.

MOOC came to China around 2013 to let students from all over the country take lessons at any time, from anywhere.

"College education is still beset with problems like old-fashioned teaching methods and content, as well as a lack of teaching quality," said Zhan Dechen, a professor with Harbin Institute of Technology.

To supply high-quality educational resources to universities in less-developed areas, China's higher education institutions in 2013 established "WEMOOC," a league now with more than 100 institutional members, including Peking University and Fudan University.

As courses are available online, limited higher education resources are better utilized and delivered to more students. In five years, over 3 million students from colleges in west China have obtained credits by taking WEMOOC.

"In the past I could only give lessons to 500 or 600 students, even in an auditorium, with many students sitting on the floor," Ye Lang, a professor with Peking University, told the People's Daily. "Now 160,000 students from over 600 universities take my course online, which is hard to imagine in a real classroom."

The Ministry of Education (MOE) announced in January the first batch of 490 approved national quality online courses, about 70 percent of which are provided by first-class universities.

The ministry plans more MOOC benifiting universities in middle and west China and other remote areas, said Wu Yan, head of the MOE's department of higher education, at a press conference in January.

There are more than 5,000 MOOC with over 70 million viewers in China. Over 11 million college students have obtained credits by viewing MOOC.

The MOE will make 3,000 national quality courses available online by 2020.