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Online teaching group bets big on technology for growth

By Cheng Yu | China Daily | Updated: 2018-04-13 11:23
A girl tries the latest livestreaming courses of Xueersi Online School in Beijing. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Xueersi Online School, a subsidiary of leading Chinese education company TAL Education Group, has unveiled its latest online English learning products in response to strict policies regarding after-class institutions.

The step came after Chinese education authorities called for more intensified efforts to renovate after-school training institutions to cut excessive academic burdens for the country's primary and secondary school students.

The newly launched products emphasize technology that enables students to take online classes combining livestreaming courses, quizzes, voice tests and mentoring, all aimed at helping students to "improve efficiency" rather than simply increasing their educational burdens.

"We scramble to advance education through technology," said Zhou Nan, head of Xueersi Online School, who is responsible for English language study products. "Our latest products will help students to learn English in a more immersive and efficient way, which furthermore lightens students' burden."

The artificial intelligence-enabled product acts like an "AI teacher" integrated with hard technologies.

Its voice-recognition system helps to record and grade learners' pronunciation and intonation, while face recognition helps to discern students' status through observing their facial expression.

Also, students can role play with the AI-enabled system and can take part in an immersive learning environment with the company's tailor-made, cartoon-based scenarios.

The move also exemplifies TAL's broader efforts to advance education through technology, thereby expanding its online course businesses to seek new growth engines.

"Regulations from top education authorities may lead to some adjustments of K12(kindergarten through 12th grade) businesses, but in the long term, they will benefit leading education companies like TAL and New Oriental to some extent," said Wu Yue, an analyst from China International Capital Corp Ltd.

Wu explained that the market will tend to be healthier under regulations as some small and mid-sized institutions are expected to drop out of the competition as they gradually lag behind market leaders.

"Online businesses are expected to become the next big growth point for TAL and the company will continue to benefit from its investments in technology," Wu added.

"Advanced technologies in the education segment will be of great help to improving teaching progress as well as expanding businesses," Wu said, adding that TAL's intensified application of technologies including AI have helped its online classes be more interactive, which has improved user experience to some degree.

Overall, TAL shares have seen steady growth since its debut in the New York Stock Exchange in 2010. Its shares rose from $30.27 per share on Jan 2 to $37.19 per share on Apr 11 recently.

"We will continue to enlarge our investment in technologies as well as research and development this year," said Zhang Guohui, head of Xueersi Online School responsible for technologies.

According to Zhang, Xueersi Online School has attracted more than 7 million students registered for courses, with a maximum of 100,000 students taking livestreaming classes at the same time.

He said that more than 400 talents focused on technologies are enrolled in Xueersi Online School and this figure is expected to rise to 1,000 by the end of this year.

"We have accumulated around 10,000 hours of voice samples in the past year. With the increasing number of data, our technologies tend to be more accurate. It will help teachers to teach better and help students to learn better," Zhang added.

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