To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, China’s Ministry of Education (MOE) in late January decided to postpone the 2020 spring semester for schools and later halted offline extracurricular trainings, resulting in a surge in the demand for online teaching. Under these circumstances, China Global Television Network (CGTN) carried out an investigation on how the country’s educational institutions are coping with the change.
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Closed school gate of China University of Geosciences, Beijing, China, February 14, 2020. /CGTN Photo by Qu Bo
Switching to online
Taking advantage of the situation, online educational companies have started taking action.
EF Education First, an English language training provider, has canceled or postponed all offline lessons and put them online.
Many private education and training institutions besides the Lucerne-based education giant, such as New Oriental, TAL Education, and Offcn Education, have successively shifted their focus to online lessons.
To attract students and their parents, they provided free online lessons. Even the elevators of many residential buildings are bombarded by dazzling ads about online education.
How does it work?
To transfer real classrooms into online lessons is not easy.
Server crashes, unstable networks, endless registration on various apps and lots of WeChat groups, the online classroom has led a heated debate on Weibo, a Twitter-like social media platform in China.
On the first day of the free live course on Zuoyebang, which has over 400 million users now, there were 5 million users online at the same time, causing the server to overload.
Other traditional education institutions, which have to use a third-party platform, face problems like bandwidth limitations, online surveillance and difficulty in choosing the proper equipment.
Yu Minhong, Founder of New Oriental, pointed out three difficulties companies face in his WeChat post. First, the online system is not ready for the sudden transformation. Second, some teachers lack online teaching experience. Third, students and parents are not well prepared.
Traditional tutoring agencies are involved in the fierce contest with other online competitors.
“Traditional tutoring institutions have fewer students at this time. Meanwhile, online lessons are cheaper, causing a reduction in the teachers’ payment,” said Sun Jian, marketing executive of a Beijing Campus of Youwin Education.
The MOE has issued a guideline for universities to organize online classes, with 22 online platforms offering 24,000 courses to students and will launch more in the future.
It will also start uploading K-12 courses to a national public service education platform next Monday to provide students in elementary and secondary schools with education resources covering all major school subjects.
Bai Jiaoyu, president of Kids & Teens at EF Education First China firmly agreed that online teaching can be a supplement to the traditional offline education, rather than a replacement.
“But we firmly believe that the online and offline blended teaching will be the winning methodology in the future,” Bai cited.
Challenge and opportunity
“The epidemic is both a challenge and an opportunity for private educational institutions,” said Zhang Guoqing, co-founder and senior executive of Zhuge Academy.
“Online education is a new trend as modern technologies like AI have been employed in the educational industry. Back in 2003 when SARS broke out, the e-commerce business and delivery services took the opportunity to develop quickly, so this special time also provides new opportunities for online education,” Zhang observed.
According to the China Education Development Report 2018 released by Deloitte China in 2018, the overall market size of K12 will exceed RMB 500 billion (about USD 71.64 billion) in 2020, with a compound growth rate of 9.2% in the next three years.
“Only those companies who invest more on product research, training of teachers, improvement of services and fast adoption of new technologies can be the winners in the end,” Bai said.
Headquartered in Beijing, CGTN is a multi-language and multi-platform media organization. CGTN operates on television and online. It has an international team of professionals based around the world with production centers located in Nairobi, Washington D.C. and London.