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China Breakthroughs: Pursue the scholar's life with web education

Editor: Qian Ding 丨CCTV.com

08-30-2017 15:59 BJT

By Tom McGregor, CCTV.com Panview commentator and editor

Online education and academic-learning APPs have become widely-popular in China and if you have any doubts just take a ride on a busy subway in the country. Glancing at passengers, you are bound to observe a few people staring at their smartphones to view videos of a professor giving a lecture.

The most popular APPs appear to show professors giving lectures on science or math courses with chalkboards in the backdrop. You can see them teaching viewers how to solve difficult equations.

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) have proven to take the Chinese nation by storm. Many Chinese lead hectic lives, required to work all day and return home to raise a family. The only time they can find for learning might just be on the subway.

MOOCs certification

MOOCs filmed in China are routinely produced by major universities, including Tsinghua University, Peking University, Nanjing University and Southern University of Science & Technologies.

One of China's most popular sites is operated by One Man University (Wanmen University in Chinese literally) founded by Tong Zhe, who studied Physics at Peking University.

The company started in 2011 and offers free access to course lectures, but students must pay fees for certification. As of September 2014, according to the Economist, they have over 130,000 registered users.

"Education in the Internet age can make everyone equal," said Zhu Qingshi, president of Southern University of Science & Tech. "I believe it will bring a revolution to education."

Tsinghua University is offering MOOCs hosted by EdX, non-profit platform sponsored by Harvard University and MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

Meanwhile, US-based Coursera has teamed up with Chinese distributor NetEase to enroll over 700,000 Chinese students on the platform.

Big-time financing

For fin-tech, the big trend in China has become online education projects. China.org reports that VIPKID, online children's English educational camp, completed D-round financing - US$200 million investment.

Sequoia Capital took charge of the initiative and received investments from Tencent Holdings, Yunfeng Capital and ZhenFund. VIPKID was founded in 2013 and incubated by Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business (CKGSB in Beijing).

VIPKID offers one-on-one video courses between teacher and student that connect leading language teachers from North America with Chinese children, aged 4-12.

Some experts forecast the market scale of online education in China could surge to RMB200bn. (US$30bn.) while average annual growth rates are likely to hit 20 percent.

The consultant firm, Frost & Sullivan in China, believes 25 percent of investments will go to K-12 (primary and secondary schools) education, followed by pre-school and vocational training.

Overcoming challenges

"The online education sector faces some challenges too," said Neil Wang, president of Frost & Sullivan in China. "It's hard to supervise and guarantee stable teaching quality."

Wang added, "Online education requires self-control of the students. Besides, there isn't a comprehensive assessment standard to evaluate learning effectiveness."

Obstacles should not be ignored. Fraud could potentially turn rampant, since Chinese parents are eager for their children to learn English, but they might be unfamiliar with the language in order to judge the teacher's performance.

Yet, NetEase has also upgraded its technologies to prevent cheating, ensuring that students can't hire third-party representatives to take academic exams on their behalf.

Accordingly, Frost & Sullivan makes these recommendations: Improve curriculum, resources and expand teaching time.

Providing "tailored services" for students with specific study plans would be another good solution.

Bridging urban-rural gaps

Online education can transform students who are suffering from dire poverty, as well as those living in isolation and rural areas.

Schools in China's big cities are of higher quality than rural schools, on account of access to more local funding, better facilities and teachers, while rural schools struggle to survive, usually with one teacher giving lectures to all students, K-12.

Online education can not only make life easier for rural teachers, but give students an opportunity to gain access to top-notch academic materials and teaching methods.

Nevertheless, large parts of China's rural regions continue to lack adequate IT resources, such as access to Internet lines and Wifi. But Beijing and charity groups are working together to fill in the gaps.

The World Bank has played a crucial role in assisting China to introduce web education to rural schools. In China's 13th 5-year plan (2016-2020), Beijing hopes to train 13 million K-12 teachers in education-technology skills.

The World Bank has held symposiums to organize training programs for Chinese teachers. The bank has worked closely with Peking University China Institute for Educational Finance Research (CIEFR).

Incubator for success

China's Silicon Valley, known in Chinese as Zhongguangcun, located in northwest Beijing, has witnessed an explosion of online education startups.

Young Chinese entrepreneurs recognize that hi-tech upgrades will transform education as we know it. And when education undergoes rapid changes, startups can cash in on the opportunities.

Nevertheless, investors must address challenges, such as the potential for fraud, unqualified online teachers and disorganization as some companies expand much faster than anticipated.

Too much investment money pouring into web education could ignite a speculators' bubble. Nonetheless, educators should adopt hi-tech solutions to teach students in order for education to succeed for everyone in the future.

China is leading the way in the online education sector and we can expect more amazing advances to come soon.



(The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )

Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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