A child plays at an exhibit at the Children's Science Paradise, an exhibition hall at the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing, on Sept 8, 2020. [Photo by Wei Xiaohao/chinadaily.com.cn] Online platforms, especially social media accounts, see rapid growth China saw steady increases in manpower and spending to popularize science last year, signaling healthy and positive growth of the nation's scientific outreach effort, the Ministry of Science and Technology said on Thursday. Last year, science popularization events in China attracted a total of 1.15 billion visits, a 28.6 percent year-on-year increase. China will continue to expand the popularization of science by building more grassroots science education facilities, allowing younger generations to directly observe and interact with new technologies, an expert said on Thursday. Last year, there were 1.87 million full-time and part-time personnel dedicated to popularizing science, up 4.8 percent year-on-year, Yang Qiming, head of the ministry's national 2019 science popularization survey, told a news briefing in Beijing on Thursday. Around 250,000 were full-time science communicators, and 1.62 million were part-time, Yang said. Roughly 150,000 full-time personnel held a bachelor's degree or higher, 11 percent more than in 2018. China spent around 18.5 billion yuan ($2.84 billion) on science popularization last year, a year-on-year increase of 15.1 percent. Government grants accounted for 14.7 billion yuan, or 79.6 percent of the total. There were 1,477 science museums and education centers across China at the end of last year, one for every 947,900 people. However, that was still significantly behind the 500,000 people per science museum in developed countries, said Qiu Chengli, an expert on science popularization statistics. China is hoping to remedy the situation by hosting more open days at universities, State key laboratories, major scientific facilities and other science institutes. They hosted around 11,600 events that attracted 9.47 million visitors last year, Qiu said. Online science education platforms, especially social media accounts, saw rapid growth last year. There were 4,834 science popularization accounts on Sina Weibo, a microblogging platform, up 72.1 percent year-on-year. There were also 9,612 science education accounts on the WeChat instant messaging platform last year, 36 percent more than in 2018. "While online science education platforms and resources have been booming in recent years, it is still vital for the public, especially young children, to see, play and interact with real technologies in person," Qiu said. "This will instill a stronger sense of curiosity in them and foster their interest in science and technology." However, two developments last year warranted attention. The first was the shrinking number of part-time science educators in villages, which fell 7.7 percent to 409,700. The second issue was a 6.7 percent year-on-year decline in the number of science education facilities in communities and a 16.8 percent drop in the number of science outreach caravans. There were 54,700 such facilities and 1,135 vehicles last year. Qiu said expanding scientific outreach in rural and remote regions has always been one of the priorities of the ministry's science popularization effort. But maintaining a designated space within a community for science education may not always be cost-efficient. Increased access to local museums and science centers also meant there was less need for science caravans - mobile exhibitions able to visit the most remote parts of the country - he said, adding that China will build more science education facilities in rural and remote regions.