Mon, Sep 11, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Amid education boom, China’s tiger moms try virtual US tutors

Funding and interest is pouring into the virtual tutoring industry, which has found a foothold China, where tutoring is set to reach 50 percent of grade-schoolers within five years

Bloomberg News

Traditional tutoring companies, with brick-and-mortar classrooms, are already cashing in.

New Oriental, founded by Peking University professor Minhong “Michael” Yu in 1993, is projected to reach revenue of US$2.2 billion this fiscal year.

TAL Education, which opened its doors about a decade later, has more than 500 learning centers in about 50 cities and is expected to boost revenue to US$1.7 billion this fiscal year.

VIPKid has set itself apart by recruiting US teachers and positioning its services as similar to the education in top US schools.

Cindy Mi, the start-up’s 34-year-old founder, says that teaching online allows the kind of data analysis and scientific review that will lead to fundamental improvements in education.

She is expanding internationally and bringing her approach to the US.

The Beijing-based start-up has become one of the fastest-growing companies in the industry, with revenue on pace to reach 5 billion yuan (US$771 million) this year.

Many Chinese parents see advantages in learning online.

For one thing, they do not have to drive their kids to a classroom across town. For another, there are bragging rights associated with hiring a teacher from the US.

Gong Aihua, a 35-year-old mother in the southern city of Shenzhen, heard parents were placing their kids in English class even before they started elementary school.

Gong did not want her only son to fall behind. She checked out VIPKid’s videos at the suggestion of a friend and then booked classes for her child, Noah, who was four at the time.

“Right now it seems that all the kids are learning English,” Gong said. “I’d say about 50 percent of my friends are sending their kids to English classes.”

Offline schools are slightly more expensive, but what she really likes about online classes is all the data.

“With VIPKid, you can see what your kid has learned, what needs to be improved and you can understand his progress,” she said. “At other schools, you can’t fully grasp the situation.”

Noah, now five, usually takes classes three times a week. The lessons take place over a videoconferencing system — student and teacher can see each other in squares on the right-hand side of the computer screen. Both work on a digital chalkboard to the left.

In one class, Yasche Glass, a teacher who lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, showed him a picture of a girl pointing to different parts of her head.

“Ears, mouth, face, eyes, nose, uhhhh...” the boy said before freezing.

“What is it?” Glass asked. “No, up here.”

“Hair!” the boy shouted with glee.

“Good job, Noah!” Glass said, laughing.

VIPKid’s growing popularity has not gone unnoticed.

New Oriental and TAL Education have both been pouring money into online courses and highlighted these investments on earnings calls.

iTutorGroup, which began with adult education online, relaunched its services for kindergarten through 12th grade under the VIP Junior brand in January.

Ads featuring basketball star and sponsor Yao Ming are plastered all over buses in Beijing and other major Chinese cities.

iTutorGroup, which also counts Goldman Sachs Group Inc and Temasek among its backers, was founded in 1999 and reached a valuation of more than US$1 billion in 2015.

It is determined not to fall behind a company 14 years its junior.

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