Teachers will not be allowed to use the WeChat or QQ messaging apps to assign homework or ask parents to grade students' homework, the Ministry of Education said.
In a recent response to a proposal to the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the ministry said it is the teachers' responsibility to grade students' homework and teachers should not pass the buck to parents.
The ministry and seven other departments issued a guideline in August designed to protect students' eyesight by curtailing the use of electronic devices to assign homework. Teachers should assign homework on paper only and limit the time they use electronic devices to teach, the guideline said.
But many schools rely heavily on WeChat groups and other mobile phone apps to give assignments. The practice poses a challenge to the country's goal of protecting children's eyesight, and feeds parents' worries about their children becoming addicted to cellphones and the internet.
Liu Yanming, a sixth-grade student in Shanghai, usually has to use his mother's cellphone to do his homework because it is handwritten by his teacher on a piece of paper that is then photographed and posted to a parent-teacher group on WeChat.
Liu Yong, his father, is not a fan.
"He is just 12 years old, and I do not want to buy him a cellphone," he said. "But it has become more inevitable.
"One time, both my wife and I had to work overtime and couldn't get back home on time. I had to entrust a friend to go to my home and show my son his homework.
"I also worry that my son's eyesight will be damaged from staring at the phone for too long."
Chu Zhaohui, a senior researcher at the National Institute of Education Sciences, said that although it is impossible to ban the use of electronic devices in the internet era, students must be able to complete their homework without using them, so that those who cannot afford tablets, computers or smartphones can also do their work.
"What's wrong with paper and pen? Students should only use electronic tools for homework assignments when it is necessary, such as doing listening comprehension or to practice oral presentation," he said.
"We don't want to ban online education models, but they must be used carefully. Modern technologies are good, but they are supposed to serve as textbooks, not steal the show."