According to a new report by UBS Securities, the Chinese online education market will grow significantly from the 29bn yuan reported last year. Liu Jiehao, an analyst at consultancy iiMedia, said that government support, technological progress and a cultural emphasis on education have all contributed to a burgeoning online education market in China.
This combination of factors has given the country’s online education a boost, and analysts point out that Chinese parents are a key driver. Edwin Chen, an analyst at UBS, said: “Chinese parents have high expectations for their children, wanting their kids to get into Tsinghua or Peking University. This is creating huge demand.”
In China, education is always high on the agenda for parents and their children. The majority of Chinese parents expect their children to continue learning after the end of the school day.
“One important reason that we choose to take extra classes online is that our child can get one-on-one tutoring without wasting time in traffic, especially in Beijing,” said Wang Liping, a mother in the capital of a 15-year-old boy.
However, Chinese parents currently pay for fewer extra classes than their neighbours in Asia, leaving huge room for growth.
The UBS report pointed out that about 37 per cent of Chinese parents paid for tuition compared with 70 per cent in places such as Japan and South Korea.
The wider acceptance of online after-school tutoring has led to vigorous competition among education companies in China. VIPKid, a Chinese online education company, recently raised $500m (£384) in its latest round of financing, the world’s largest-ever fundraising in the online education sector. The fresh fundraising pushed the company’s valuation above 20bn yuan, making it the biggest online education company globally.
The Beijing-based company, founded in 2013, provides children with one-on-one online English courses, and links teachers from North America with Chinese children aged four to 12. The latest data from the company showed it has enrolled more than 60,000 foreign teachers in its network, enabling it to work with 500,000 paid users.
“The financing accelerated the cumulative effect of the country’s online education segment,” said Lyu Senlin, founder and chief researcher at Learneasy Times Online Education Research Institute, an industry research consultancy.
He added that industry leaders are competing for bigger market share and pushing small firms out in this segment.
In recent years, TAL Education Group and New Oriental Education & Technology Group, China’s top two education players, have transformed from offline to online, putting great emphasis on online education.
TAL unveiled its latest technology products and online solutions in July, aiming to step up technology efforts to back up its online businesses. “The company is striving to advance education through technology, hoping to build a large-scale, low-cost and high-quality online education experience,” said Zhang Bangxin, founder and chief executive.
The platform’s latest fiscal report has shown the transformation to be a success. Revenue of Xueersi Online School, the online subsidiary of TAL, soared by 158 per cent year-on-year in the fourth quarter of the 2018 fiscal year.
However, the industry still faces challenges, according to Zheng Wencheng, an education expert and founder of Hyphen Education, a Shanghai-based online education platform. “Teachers working online often fail to realise that students may be bored and not concentrating on lessons,” he said.
To tackle the problem, an array of companies are scrambling to leverage hi-tech solutions to make online teaching more personalised and appealing. Hyphen, for example, has developed an artificial intelligence-enabled product to improve students’ learning and teaching experience online.
The technology can help recognise and analyse students’ responsiveness as well as their ability to grasp lessons, which could help teachers adjust their teaching methods quickly.
“If we compare online education to driving a car, then we hope technology can act like an intelligent assistant to help [teachers] to better control the speed and the direction,” Mr Zheng said.