Nowadays, information technology, including the internet, cloud computing, big data and artificial intelligence, is sweeping the world, affecting production, lifestyles, and more. In education, novelties such as micro-classes, MOOCs, flipped classrooms, ubiquitous learning, online education, and so on, have posed a severe challenge to traditional models, and ways of incorporating IT into education are being explored throughout China.

In recent years, China has seen remarkable achievements in the development of IT for education. However, problems remain with the formulation and implementation of policy in this area, its development, and its integration with education as a whole. China’s unique history, culture and national conditions mean that this development needs to take its own course and be understood and explored on its own terms.

The fundamental problem is establishing the relationship between people and technology, where technology is a tool and human development the ultimate goal. Technological development should not be pursued for its own sake; in some places heavy investment in the latest equipment is turning classrooms into "demonstration zones" for new technologies without considering their appropriate application. Instead of bowing down to technology, we should ensure that human development is always being promoted above all, and assess the use of IT on this basis.

When it comes to stages in the development of education, China has been moving from "securing learning opportunities for students" to "offering them better learning", and the development of IT needs to be in line with this transition, helping ensure that supply of high-quality education is sufficient to meet demand while still ensuring that educational opportunity is fair. Technology should assist with collaboration and the sharing of educational resources, coverage expansion, personalised instruction, promotion of independent and lifelong education, and the use of big data to construct government policy.

Educational development is also diverse in form, and this needs to be respected. Differences between city and country, among regions, and between schools are based on levels of economic and social development, local histories and cultures, and the stages of educational development, as well as individual differences based on household structures, family traditions, teaching styles and parental literacy. With such diversity, there is no "one-size-fits-all" when it comes to using IT. Instead,exploration has to be local, and should respect the diversity of regional educational development while also having an eye for national conditions. How should IT be integrated with the teaching of subjects such as languages, mathematics, music, sports and art? How can flipped classes supported by information technology help smooth out differences in the learning and development of students? How can city-oriented digital resources meet the needs of rural areas, and especially those of rural tutorial centres? What level of IT literacy should teachers have? These are all questions that remain to be explored.

Finally, the complexity and non-linearity of the education system needs to be acknowledged in order for IT to be placed within this ecology as a positive rather than as a disruptive element. By “ecology” here we are referring to educational ideas, systems, policies, forms of instruction, school cultures, and numerous other aspects with which IT needs to be integrated in such a way as to provide a tangible and continuing boost to the overall system.

By Lei Wanpeng, Dean of the School of Education, Central China Normal University, China Education Daily