As Chinese parents continue to battle for high-quality education for their children (examples range from queuing for Hong Kong’s kindergartens to sending kids to study abroad), there is ample room for the development of the happy encounter between technology and education.  Indeed, back in 2012, China’s State Ministry of Education issued a “Ten-Year Plan” with an aim to promote information technology in education (see the plan in Chinese here).

And there came A7, who aims to  “challenge traditional education with fun and mastery” through games and animations based on school curricula. The startup claims that its products “align with teaching methodologies employed in both the U.S. and China,” although its current website seems more tailored to the US Common Core standards. It is unclear how A7 plans to disrupt China’s public school curriculum.

A7’s ambition does, however, confirm a familiar belief – that startups sees big potential in China’s marketplace for online education. The market that A7 targets – online education for children – is just one piece of the big cake. Other market segments include early education, elementary and secondary school tutoring, vocational/career skill training, language training and hobby learning. China’s education giants like New Oriental and TAL Education Group are already pouring investment into online education, and big internet companies like Alibaba, YY, Netease and Baidu certainly don’t want to miss out.

How do we come to terms with the buzz? Deloitte’s 2013 report on China’s technology and education provides some helpful insights. In the preschool sector, educational apps triumph: apps for toddlers through 12 years olds comprise 55% of the market for education apps (China Children’s Industry Research Center). Nevertheless, Deloitte observes that “[many] online education companies promote children’s educational apps for the purpose of brand marketing, rather than putting real investment and development into the service line.” In the tutoring sector, companies are investing more in online education, although most of these websites remain static – not in the personalized, collaborative learning environment we see in Khan Academy but of the format of prerecorded videos as in the case of Xueersi (a sub-brand under TAL).

Where is China’s online education heading then? As the Deloitte report poignantly points out, the biggest vacuum in China’s online education industry is the lack of interdisciplinary talents, that is, people who have expertise in both education and technology. The profit model is still unclear, but one thing is for sure: the paradigm of China’s exam-/score-oriented education will guide whoever wants a slice of the cake in online education for students.

A7 is one of the winners at the Beijing regional Challenge Cup competition back in February. Its team members includes the American actress, Nichelle Nichols, who got her fame from Star Trek and others with entrepreneurial and technology experience in both the US and China.

Telling the uncommon China stories through tech. I can be reached at ritacyliao [at] gmail [dot] com.

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