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Hyphen shows e-education gaining traction

By Cheng Yu | China Daily | Updated: 2018-07-02 08:59
A student tries Hyphen's AI-enabled learning system at a brand-upgrading conference in Beijing earlier this year. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Online education is not only revamping the traditional way of learning and teaching but proving to be a potential sunrise industry in China, said Zheng Wencheng, founder and CEO of Hyphen Education, an online after-school tuition service.

"Technology has redefined the scope and reach of online education in recent years," said Zheng. "Advanced technologies including artificial intelligence (or AI), big data and cloud computing are becoming useful tools for students, teachers and parents alike."

Zheng Wencheng (second from left, with folded hands), founder and CEO of Hyphen, oversees proprietorial software development at the company's research and development division.[Photo provided to China Daily]

He said the broad trend sweeping China includes an array of education companies such as TAL Education Group and VIPkid, a one-on-one English learning online service.

According to internet consultancy iiMedia Research Group, the online education market in the Chinese mainland clocked sales revenue of 281 billion yuan ($33.4 billion) in 2017 and is expected to exceed 348 billion yuan this year, up almost 24 percent.

Liu Jiehao, an analyst from iiMedia Research, said in the report that growing popularity has made online education one of the sunrise industries in China.

A report from iiMedia found that some 37 percent of Chinese users surveyed are willing to pay 101 yuan to 200 yuan a month for online learning products for K-12 education, which refers to students from kindergarten through the 12th grade.

Impressed by such huge demand, Zheng shifted his offline tutorial business to the online medium, specializing in one-on-one livestreaming courses. This move appears to have paid off as Hyphen has attracted more than 4 million registered users so far, according to Zheng.

Through Hyphen's platform, students can take online courses in all subjects including mathematics, English, physics and history. Each class usually lasts 45 minutes to an hour.

The content is independently developed by Hyphen's team of experienced teachers.

For students, it has become a supplement for school curriculum. Compared to online courses, it is much more expensive to hire a private teacher for personalized tutoring.

"Online education in China faces a big bottleneck though. Teachers prepare and teach across the screen and ignore that students may be bored and may not concentrate on classes online."

He said technology can be used to recognize and analyze students' responsiveness as well as their ability to grasp the lessons, which could help teachers to adjust their teaching methods in time.

The Shanghai-based company recently launched an AI-enabled product to improve learning and teaching experience.

The voice-recognition system will help record and grade learners' pronunciation and intonation while facial recognition technology will discern students' attentiveness.

"If we compare the teaching process to driving a car, then our AI system is like an intelligent assistant to help drivers (teachers) to better control the speed and the direction," said Zheng.

Hyphen has invested more than 300 million yuan by now in the development of the AI system. Its investment on technology alone accounts for about 20 to 40 percent of the total, he said.

Zhang Shuang, an education professor from Capital Normal University, said technology can be used to promote personalized education.

"Usually, there are dozens of students but only one teacher in traditional Chinese classes. It's impossible for teachers to take care of every student in the class," Zhang said.

"But technology broke through that barrier. Through online education platforms, every student can have his or her personal teacher whenever and wherever.

"And through integration of AI, teachers can also find time to teach in a more personalized way."

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