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.