China's Booming Online Education Market
Online education is on the rise in China. As the middle class rapidly grows, so too does the demand for further education - and where better to look than online?
According to The China Online Education Report 2016-2021, China’s online education industry has expanded by around 20% in recent years with an estimated 78 million learners. This increase in interest has lead to a boom in online education technology like IQBar who aim to provide one-to-one, individualised lessons to students across the country. Education has become one of the biggest issues for the current generation. With hugely competitive university places and the incredibly challenging Gaokao national exam, a vast number of parents are looking online to fill the gaps they feel are left by the schooling system.
So what are the factors causing such a rapid rise? Alongside increased university competition within China, there has been a soar in the number of Chinese students wanting to study abroad. Last year, the UK alone saw 95,000 Chinese students attend university according to the UKCISA report, up 4% from the year before, and there is a similar picture in the US and Australia. Online tutoring is often used to understand foreign exam boards and what is expected in foreign universities. For many, understanding group projects or critical analysis is important as it is something focused on more in Western universities than in China. On top of this, being aware of cultural norms is something highly important. For many students, it is the only opportunity they have to speak with native English speakers for much needed pronunciation help and colloquial expressions. IQBar’s CEO Helen started IQBar primarily as a tool for those about to study in the UK; preparing them for the cultural differences, understanding the university process and structure, and getting to grips with more informal language:
“I founded IQBar, an online mentoring platform, because I was determined to bridge the existing cultural gaps between British and international students. My objective was to create an opportunity for speakers of other languages to become more confident and comfortable when communicating in English.
As an international student myself, I experienced a number of challenges while adapting to life in the United Kingdom. From struggling to understand the cockney accent, to learning to look the opposite way when crossing roads, to even realising that British people love to drink beer …and I mean A LOT!
These subtle differences were actually new to me, and many were initially difficult for me to become accustomed to. My mission in creating IQBar was to help international students overcome cultural boundaries by connecting them with English-speaking tutors from around the world. By enrolling in our online programme, students will both practice speaking English and also become more familiarised with British cultural norms and values!”
Now IQBar has seen a rise of students looking for English language tutoring, however it hasn’t forgotten its roots. It continues to promote cultural exchange between ‘Buddies’ and ‘Breadies’ offering seminars to educate on certain elements of British or Western culture and encouraging students to talk about their lives and their Buddies’ lives. This year it is also looking to open cultural courses for both adults and children to expand cultural awareness in school, work and everyday situations. This proves invaluable for many different reasons and offers personal, global education that is difficult to achieve in mainstream schools.
What are the other benefits of online, distance learning? For one thing, location. Regardless of where you are in China, in the middle of Beijing or somewhere in the mountains, as long as you have a decent wifi network you do not need to leave your home. This is something very desirable as many online students have classes after school, often past 9pm so it is not uncommon to have students going through the phonics with you in their pyjamas. This also means that people who live far from decent schools get the opportunity to supplement their learning. For adults too, it means they can relax after work but continue to practice their English. In his article about China’s online education, David Talbot links the rise in online learning to China’s history of distance learning. He comments, ’[f]or two decades, the country’s education ministry has used the television airwaves to broadcast agricultural lessons to more than 100 million rural students—making it the largest such program in the world’. It is unsurprising then, that it is China taking the lead in online learning.
As The China Online Education Report 2016-2021 comments, with the implementation of the two-child-policy, ‘the number of children in K12 (kindergarten to twelfth grade, i.e 4-19) education age group will increase steadily and market demand will further expand. It is expected the Chinese K12 online education market will grow at a pace of over 30% over the next five years, reaching RMB82.31 billion in 2021’. The need for qualified, experienced online teachers will continue to grow and there will likely be a mirroring in other countries looking to follow China’s example. In our current world of online film and TV streaming, ebooks and online shopping, it seems only inevitable that education would go the same way too. There has never been a better time to become an online teacher.