To prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus epidemic, China's Ministry of Education has postponed the start of school for at least several more weeks. Some local governments, including those in Shanghai, Zhejiang and Guangdong, have announced that their classrooms will stay shut until the end of February. In the meantime, online educators are stepping into the breach.
The sudden shuttering of the education system has aroused concern among parents and students about a gap in study programs. That's led to a big boost in the business of online education. One business portal says online teaching agencies have seen new users grow between five- and 10-fold over the past two weeks.
Blueprint started out as a private tutoring agency, mostly targeting middle school students. It was supposed to resume classes on January 28 but has had to move everything to an online platform due to the outbreak. The company said things seem to be working out well so far and it has even been discovering some advantages to teaching online.
"I think the students really enjoy the virtual class experience. All the classes we will teach this week are relatively new classes that we just came up with because the break has been extended for another month," said Yang Li, director of education at Blueprint.
Yang's new classes will emphasize reading and writing as well as math and he said plans are flexible because there have been no firm times announced for the reopening of schools as yet. The new classes will appeal to more students, given that this would normally be an active period for new enrollments. So far, new enrollments have not been a problem.
Empty classrooms mean more user traffic online. Data show that the market for online after-school tutoring reached 35 billion yuan last year. Many education institutions have embraced online channels to deliver their content. But the problem is how to adjust to the online teaching models.
"To be frank, it's not that easy and not every education sub-segment is suitable for online education," said Claudia Wang, a partner of Oliver Wyman, a global management consulting firm. "Given the current situation, all the training centers need to make instant changes to their organization structure, training of teachers, IT infrastructure upgrades and operational flow change. The most important thing is to ensure a well-knitted service flow to ensure student retention, otherwise, all the efforts will be in vain."
It's not only private schools that are working on the problem. The Ministry of Education said it will start uploading K-12 courses to a national public service education platform next Monday to address nationwide home learning demands. Some leading regional schools are sharing their resources with others, and for less developed regions with limited access to online education, China Education TV will be expanding its broadcast teaching content.