China's promising Ed tech market

China's promising Ed tech market

Introduction

The continued development of innovative technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, and others, along with increased public adoption and comfort with their use, has led to current and expected transformations in the approach organisations take towards talent management, training, and workforce development. While the expected value of these new methods is great, their current implementations always seem to fall short of what's promised by enthusiastic tech vendors and start-ups, indicating that more investment and development is necessary.

One entity to look to for this investment, is none other than the Chinese government, which has been heavily funding AI and other technology development to an estimated tune of over US$6 billion in recent years.  Furthermore, they've launched a major government initiative to use AI to improve their education system. Plans and progress for this ambitious project were on display at JMDedu's recent Global Education Technology Summit in Beijing this past November, 2018.  One of the present authors attended this event, and we've gained an inside view of China's burgeoning Ed Tech industry, thanks to an organised tour of five notable start-ups that we attended.  

The Global Education Technology Summit

The Summit was held in Beijing, which itself has rapidly transformed over the past 35 years.  Having visited China in 1983 for post graduate work, and again in 1996 to present a paper at China's first Internet Education conference, the difference I perceived in the city, the people, and the field of EdTech was dramatic, and breath-taking. Beijing is now a modern metropolis with affluence evident everywhere. The people appear happy, and are energised with a positive outlook Fortunately, there was little indication of any animosity towards me as American due to reported "trade wars" between our two countries).  The conference centre was extremely modern and accommodating, located near the former Olympic Village in Beijing. There, hundreds of speakers, media representatives, and exhibitors catered to almost 14,000 attendees from over 22 regions.  The halls were filled with government officials, teachers, developers, tech vendors, venture capitalists and young intelligent Chinese Entrepreneurs all excited to learn, sell, and understand developing trends in a rapidly evolving field.  There was a sense of passion and ambitious drive permeating the event, participants believed their work could change everything for the better in Chinese society and culture.

Why Ed Tech Is So Big in China

The conference's success was fuelled by continued government and venture capital interest and investment in the Chinese EdTech market.  The Chinese government has likely out invested the U.S. in Education Innovation by three to one. And US$4.5 billion of venture capital will be invited by Chinese and foreign entities in 2019, according to P. Brothers, Holon IQ (12, 2018).

The reason for this enthusiasm is unique to China.  Firstly, their large population and lack of restriction on data collection enables solutions to be piloted with large populations, increasing the reliability of their results and also contributing to the effectiveness of A.I. focused solutions. Additionally, a large majority of Chinese parents are willing to make almost any financial sacrifice to ensure their children get into the best schools and are competitive for the best jobs.  This, in part, is due to the expectation and necessity for children to support their parents upon retirement which in China is at age 60.  There is no Social Security, and pensions are mostly non-existent.  This, coupled with the fact that Public schools are crowded and teachers in less affluent provinces tend to use less innovative teaching methods, leads to parents' belief that public education isn't good enough. Parents are willing to spend big money to provide their children with a competitive edge.  Twice as many parents in China invest in afterschool education when compared to the USA, and four times as many as parent's in the UK.

Parents investing in after-school education

TEK Consulting (GET presentation, 2018) a firm research firm based in Singapore, has found that Chinese and Indian parents place much more of emphasis on after school education than their Western counterparts in the US and Europe.  They are therefore more willing to pay for additional education to improve the probability of their child's success.

These supplemental, after school education programs, tend to fall into 3 key categories: English language learning; preparation for national examinations; and tutoring on assorted STEM topics. Previously, only location based Tutoring Centres were available to meet this demand.  Now, blended solutions combining eLearning, virtual classroom sessions, and only occasional visits to physical tutoring centres are becoming more available as well as on-line versions of tutoring as a stand-alone, more cost-effective approach.  Parent's see these new on-line services as a better value not only because of convenience and lower cost, but also because they often employ higher quality teachers, utilise better materials and innovative practices, and allow for more frequent practice, thus delivering improved results.

Government Stance on Education Technology

While demand for these solutions is clear, there are also cultural and political factors which guarantee continued progress and investment, because in China, education is considered to be one of the key responsibilities of government. They've announced ambitious goals for the future of education such as:

Make our country more powerful and help make things more equal

Provide more access to quality education for less affluent families in wealthy, highly developed areas (e.g: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen) as well as in rural, less developed regions of the country

The government wants to ensure that all children have access to quality instruction and educational resources and they plan to do this through incubation of Ed Tech start-ups and the introduction of new learning products.  They plan to channel parental and foreign investment in many ways to improve education quality and level the playing field between the more affluent provinces along the coast and the less developed interior.  (JMDedu: Research Report, 2019).

Latest Promising Innovations

With all the investment and interest in this area, there's no shortage of promising innovative learning technologies and methods emerging in China. In future articles, we will cover these developments in more depth, but some interesting examples include:

On-line and Simulated Environment Assessments which quickly group students into different cohorts depending on their knowledge and skills.

Next Generation Virtual Classrooms which utilise facial recognition software and AI to interpret the emotional states of students taking an on-line class at a distance in ways that help a remote instructor better understand if his students are engaged and his instruction is effective.

Virtual and Augmented Reality programs improving science learning and other study techniques by enabling unique experience for example learners can climb inside an atom or travel through space to view planets and other phenomenon in three-dimensions.

As these new innovations are incubated, and tested by the Chinese education industry venture capitalists will no doubt seek to export and apply the most effective methods identified to corporations and other private sector training and development domains to unlock the full value of these solutions in the business world and commercial education initiatives.  Therefore, in the years to come, HR professionals will find it valuable to keep a watchful eye on the Chinese Ed Tech market in order to understand what innovations are coming next and how they can effectively adapt them to their organisational needs.


Authors: Ronald Kantor and Justin Paul, are Talent Management Consultants at Latchmere Performance Solutions Co. Ltd. Ronald Kantor (Ron@LatchmereSolutions.com) is a Senior Solutions Architect Ph.D. in Education & Human Development, Justin Paul (Justin@Latchmereconsulting.com) has helped executives in over 30 countries improve leadership capability.

Series Editor: Christopher F. Bruton is Executive Director at Dataconsult Ltd, chris@dataconsult.co.th. Dataconsult's Thailand Regional Forum provides seminars and extensive documentation to guide business on future trends in Thailand and in the Mekong Region.

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