Business / Technology

Online teaching -- fad or future?

(Xinhua) Updated: 2016-03-30 17:27

BEIJING - Underpaid teachers, uneven distribution of resources, and high fees. These predicaments have plagued China's education system for decades. However, with the emergence of online courses, they may be a thing of the past.


Tech-savvy teachers are making a fortune without stepping out of their homes. Chinese writing teacher Xie Mingbo recently quit his job as a classroom teacher to turn his attention to teaching online.

Xie, 33, offers live and recorded lessons on his website. "Writing skills for senior high schoolers," a 15-lessons pre-recorded course that costs 499 yuan ($76.5), has got about 300 orders.

A live-broadcast lesson on preparation for the 2016 college entrance examination is 799 yuan for 24 lessons.

Xie said each of his courses has at least 100 paid followers, making him a teacher to about 4,000 students. He earned more than 1 million yuan last year.

"Instead of teaching the same thing over and over to different classes, I just record it once and use the rest of time to improve my teaching," said another online teacher.

For students and parents, online courses can save them money, as tuition fees are a fraction of that charged by brick-and-mortar cramming institutions. With more courses to choose from, students can manage their own time and their classrooms can be anywhere. Even parents can join the learning.

"Online courses save me time, and money. I don't have to send my kid to school and pick him up, it really saves me tons of trouble," said one parent.

Grey area

According to a report on China's Internet development, released in January, 110 million Chinese Internet users had tried online education in 2015.

A separate investigation conducted by Beijing-based Tianto Info Consulting forecast that online education industry will expand by 28 percent year-on-year in 2016.

However, Xiong Bingqi, vice president of 21st Century Education Research Institute, said online teaching by school teachers is not allowed under existing rules.

"Teachers may shift their focus and energy to their online teaching, and that will inevitably affect their performance at school. This is unfair to school-goers," Xiong said.

The effectiveness of online education has also been questioned. Education experts are worried about the quality of online courses and credibility of many online teachers.

Liu Chengbo, a researcher with the Department of Education, said education relies on the influence teachers have on students, which is best developed through face to face interactions.

Liu added that traditional classroom education took a holistic approach to development, teaching children social responsibility, innovative thinking, interpersonal skills and problem solving ability, which can never be satisfied by online education.

Supervision in need

The central government has proposed to speed up the building of a learning society, by supporting the opening and sharing of learning channels, and developing online and distance education in the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-2020).

Thus, "independent teachers" are expected to become a part of the wider education-support network in China, according to industry insiders.

He Qiang, CEO of, a popular online tutoring site, said during a forum on individualized education that the industry must follow the rules of the Internet and market, and most importantly, objective laws of education.

"For education, no matter online or offline, technology is just the assistance, quality is the most important," he said.

Fang Haiguang, associate professor from the educational technology department of Capital Normal University in Beijing, called for universal standards and assessment methods that would apply to online schools, teachers and courses.

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