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National online education key to learning society

QIAN XIAOLONG and SHI WENYA | 2021-05-27 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for online education surged. A teacher in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province records an online lesson for students. Photo: CFP

The online education system is an essential supplement to traditional education, one capable of satiating the people’s increased hunger for knowledge despite complex conditions. The Fifth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee required that educators “tap into the advantages of online education, improve lifelong learning systems, build a learning society.” Therefore, the work of developing a comprehensive online education system across China is an imminent task.  
Building a national online education system safeguards basic civil rights. Serving the people is the ultimate goal of universal lifelong learning systems, which means every citizen should have access to education. However, in reality, several factors constrain the ability to realize this right, such as supply of learning resources, economic conditions, infrastructure facilities, geographical locations, and so on. A national online education system could overcome almost all of these limitations, maximizing public access to the valuable right of education. 
Economically, a national online education system, initiated by all levels of government departments responsible for a range of services, could provide education in an inexpensive way or even free of charge, to meet the learning demands of users with different payment capabilities.
From a resource perspective, a national online education system, which has been established through the cooperation of different sectors and institutions,  can leverage collective strength, and offer abundant digital learning resources to people, thus meeting learners’ diversified needs and varied learning abilities. 
From a technical point of view, a national online education system, supported by information technology to fully adapt to learning styles and habits of different groups, can effectively solve the learning difficulties of special groups (such as the disabled, the elderly and other socially vulnerable groups), so that every citizen can enjoy the equal right to learn.
Learning society 
Building a national online education system helps establish a learning society. Lifelong learning recognizes that learning experiences happen to us throughout our lives, showing continuity in learning. To realize lifelong learning requires the reform of systems and mechanisms, and in innovative method, forming a learning society in which people are encouraged to maintain the inspiration, abilities, and skills for learning throughout their lives.  A national online education system can offer intelligence and technical support for this goal. 
A national online education system can stimulate people’s awareness of and passion for learning.Through the internet, an open and flexible national online education system can help people to see that lifelong learning is available and will bring lifelong benefits. By providing rich learning resources and learning content, it meets people’s diverse learning needs and mobilizes people’s enthusiasm for learning. Also, a national online education system can provide universal support for learners to learn. Such a system allows anyone to learn any content at any time and in any place. The national online education system would mainly rely on information technology, such as computers, multimedia, and modern communications, as a means to guide learners to pay more attention to the role of information technology in learning, and encourage learners to acquire learning skills, especially to learn through information technology, so as to improve their information literacy and to master the necessary learning skills.
Balanced education
The pursuit of an online national education system helps to promote the balanced development of education. Balancing education’s development is a systematic project, one highly correlated with the government’s primary responsibility, fiscal support, and the construction of a strong coalition of teachers. The national online education system can effectively integrate these three elements, forming a pattern of collaboration and multi-actor participation. 
First, a national online education system manifests the government’s primary responsibility. The national online education system is state-initiated, governments at all levels can fully fulfill their responsibilities under the principles of overall planning and upper and lower linkage, to improve policy measures, and work together to narrow gaps in regional, urban-rural, and inter-institutional education development. 
Second, a national online education system can improve fiscal support levels. The establishment and refinement of the national online education system requires sufficient funding. The continuous expansion of the online educational market breeds new online education sectors and online education products, which requires government departments at all levels to not only invest in educational funding, but also attach greater significance to the role of the market mechanisms, so as to alleviate fiscal pressure on the government, and through diversification, enhance the sustainability of fiscal support for education. 
Finally, a national online education system can strengthen the construction of a coalition of teachers. With information technology, the national online education system would tap into global resources of high-quality teachers, which would effectively alleviate the challenge of a limited supply of teachers and the high demand for educators. Meanwhile, this system can also improve the overall level of digital teaching, and add momentum to the creation of a well-structured and high-quality teaching coalition with a sufficient number of teachers.
New governance pattern
The creation of a national online education system helps to foster a new pattern of education governance. Universal lifelong learning requires policies which form a new pattern of education governance that encourages society’s participation as a whole. A systematic and comprehensive national online education system can provide a path towards the realization of this pattern. 
A national online education system integrates information technology into school education, promoting the modernization of school governance. Technology would streamline relationships between teachers and students, improve teaching resources and teaching evaluations as online courses are implemented and managed, and facilitate the gradual improvement of education. Technology usage would run through the whole governance process, collect educational data through big data platforms, synthesize and analyze information, establish proper decision management, resource allocation, and risk evaluation, and add risk prevention mechanisms according to each educational institution’s situation.
Meanwhile, a national online education system would give family education more space to improve efficiently. Family education is an important part of the education governance system, and plays an important role in supporting school education and social education. The national online education system can encourage family participation in school and social governance through its advanced and comprehensive technology, effectively integrating regional high-quality family education resources, providing more possibilities for solving education problems and closely integrating family, school, and society, within the educational system.
Knowledge economy era
A national online education system would embrace the new era of knowledge economy. The era of lifelong learning calls for the development of knowledge productivity and intellectual capital. Our learning systems should greet the arrival of the 21st-century knowledge economy era, regard knowledge as the first productivity factor, and provide strong talent and intellectual support for promoting the high-quality development of China’s economy by innovating lifelong learning modes and improving lifelong learning service platforms, advancing education with time.
Lifelong learning is an individual’s foundation in the knowledge economy era. Firstly, the idea of a national online education system has changed the traditional lifelong learning model. As information technology advances, a national online education system will transform traditional face-to-face teaching mode into a hybrid pattern which combines online lessons with physical classes.  At the same time, because of its openness and comprehensiveness, the online system would not only share the educational resources of higher education, continuing education, curricula education, and non-curricula education, but also organically integrate these four education formats to promote comprehensive lifelong learning. 
Secondly, the national online education system improves lifelong learning platforms. During the process of educational informatization, the national online education system follows people-oriented principles, which provides convenient services for many learners through e-learning platforms. However, the scope of its services has gradually expanded from only e-learning in the initial stage to multi-type and multi-tier social public knowledge domains. The national online system is committed to constructing a public education platform for all members of society, which meets the diversified needs of lifelong learners.
Finally, the national online education system is conducive to training knowledge-oriented talent  to meet the knowledge economy’s development needs. Different from previous economic forms, the knowledge economy is, of course, based on knowledge. People’s economic activities are derived from their knowledge. At present, the generation, innovation, and acquisition of knowledge are inseparable from the informatization characterized by digitization and networking. The key to the talent cultivation is education. The national online education system with the characteristics of “information technology + education” and the implementation of “autonomous” teaching forms will profoundly change education modes and lead to a breakthrough in the cultivation of knowledge-based talent.
Qian Xiaolong and Shi Wenya are from the School of Educational Sciences at Nantong University.
Edited by MA YUHONG