According to greatfire.org, a site that monitors Internet censorship in China, Chinese Internet users can no longer access the Scratch site. The site was 100% blocked as of August 20, after a user reported the Scratch ban on August 14. China’s enthusiasm for teaching kids to code faces a new hurdle as organizations and students lose a vital tool: the Scratch programming language. The Scratch programming language was developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab.
China bans Scratch, children’s graphics programming language, calls its content anti-Chinese
Almost 60 million children around the world have used Scratch’s visual programming language to create games, animations, stories and more. This includes students in China. China experiencing a gold rush in early coding as the country tries to turn its 200 million children into world-class tech talent. At last count 5.65% of registered Scratch users, or 3 million, are based in China, although its reach is greater than the figure suggests, as many Chinese developers have built derivatives based on Scratch. , an open source software. And this is only the recorded number, the actual figure could be even higher.
Why has China banned the Scratch programming language ?
Although no official statement has yet been made from either the Chinese authorities or the Scratch organization, clues suggest that the Scratch ban has been imposed due to growing anti-Chinese content on the open-source platform. .
In fact on August 21, china.com.cn, a news organization run by the Chinese state, published an article on Scratch’s projects. He claimed that the platform hosted “a lot of demeaning, bogus and defamatory content about China,” which included placing Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan on a drop-down list of independent “countries.” The paper states that “any service distributing information in China” must comply with local regulations. He also suggests that the Scratch website and user forum have been banned in the country.
The Scratch Editor, which boasts encoders in every country in the world and is available in over 50 languages, is downloadable and usable offline. This means that Chinese users who installed the software can continue to use it for now. It is not certain that this restriction extends to future software updates and that it hinders them.
“Scratch is widely used in China by student users. In schools, it is used in many official information technology textbooks for elementary school students. There are many coding contests for kids that use Scratch, ”said Anqi Zhou, general manager of Dream Codes True, a Shenzhen-based coding start-up targeting elementary and high school students.
Indeed, Scratch’s infiltration into the public school system is what initially alarmed the Chinese authority. Another article published on August 11, 2020 by a youth-focused state agency on a youth-focused public enterprise detonated a bomb: “Platforms like Scratch have a large number of young Chinese users. It is exactly for this reason that the platform must demonstrate self-discipline. Allowing the free flow of anti-Chinese and separatist rhetoric will hurt Chinese feelings, cross China’s red line, and poison China’s next generation.
The title of the article captured Beijing’s attitude to imported technologies, including those supposed to be educational and harmless: “An open China is not ‘xenophobic’, but must be” detoxified “”.
What will happen next ?
Regardless of the problematic user-generated content on Scratch, China is likely to encourage the growth of more local tech players. Outside of textbooks, Scratch has found its way into expensive recreation centers across China. Some companies publicly attribute Scratch’s open-source codes as their foundation, while others are building lookalikes that claim to be made in-house.
“Scratch is like the gold standard in children’s programming software. Most parents learn about Scratch through after-school programs, which tend to keep all web traffic to themselves rather than directing users to Scratch, ”said Yi Zhang, founder of start-up Tangiplay. based in Shenzhen which teaches children to code.
Despite Scratch’s popularity in China, competitors of all sizes have emerged. Among them is Code Mao, a five-year-old Shenzhen start-up which is one of the first major players in the field and which is well funded by venture capital firms. With its own programming language which it describes as “more robust than that of Scratch”, the startup is present in 21 countries, has more than 30 million users and around 11,000 institutional clients. Incumbent Internet operators NetEase and Tencent have also designed their own products for young coders.
“If it’s something permanent and if traditional competitions and schools stop using it, we too will consider stopping using it,” said Zhou, whose start-up is also based in Shenzhen, which has developed a community of young coding companies through local businesses like Code Mao and Makeblock.