China's EdTech firms seek new opportunities in smart education
By Lyu Lyu
Giving assignments, collecting and reviewing homework and conducting students-teachers and parents-teachers dialogues... doing all these tasks online has become a new norm in China.
In the past few months, the country has moved all teaching activities online due to school closures amid the coronavirus outbreak. But as the virus situation eases, schools are gradually reopening. Data from the Ministry of Education showed more than 100 million students in China have returned to school - that's nearly 40 percent of the total.
Online classes on such a scale and frequency are unlikely to be repeated. However, for EdTech companies, it is also the beginning of a new approach to smart education. For instance, smart education functions that raise efficiency in grading homework and school-home communications will remain popular even after the students return to school.
"During the pandemic, tens of millions of students used QQ to submit their homework every day. Now as more and more students get back to school, online classes will be less frequent, but the communication between school and home is still important," explained Huang Changfeng, deputy product director of Tencent QQ.
"Sometimes, parents could miss a few school announcements posted in group chats. We've introduced QQ group announcement functions to deal with this. Also, we will introduce homework grading and automatic grading functions. That will save the teachers a lot of time and students can know their grades sooner."
The market rewarded the first movers during the pandemic. Many EdTech firms witnessed a boost in revenue during the first quarter. Analysts say they're likely to see a consolidation now but the trend of smart education will not be reversed.
As for how to stand out in the market, Huang said what's important is to build a platform that promotes efficient communication among teachers, students and parents to understand their true needs and customize products. "If our users are satisfied, we believe we can make some real difference in education."
Among China's under-aged internet users, nearly 90 percent used the internet for educational purposes in 2019, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. In 2020, this trend is likely to continue, because the e-learning and e-teaching habits formed during the prime of the pandemic will stay and influence China's future education reforms.