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Online education gains momentum in China

Xinhua | Updated: 2017-09-07 17:43

BEIJING - Five-year-old Peng Xiaoyi has never met his English teacher in person. While he sits in front of a computer in his home in Beijing, this teacher is thousands of kilometers away in the United States.

Peng, who is in his second year of kindergarten in northwest Beijing, takes online English classes after school, which are taught by teachers based in the United States and Canada.

"The American teachers are fun," he said. "I like them a lot."

Even after taking just a handful of classes, he has become more confident in speaking English and developed a habit of preparing and reviewing the lessons, according to his mother Li Juan.

"It is good for him to take American-style classes," said Li, a civil servant. "This is a new experience for him and he doesn't even have to leave China."

Thanks to the development of the Internet across China, online education has become increasingly popular in the country of 1.3 billion people.

VIPKID, the platform that runs Peng's classes, has over 200,000 registered students in China and more than 24,000 teachers in the North American region.

Mi Wenjuan, founder of VIPKID, told Xinhua that she hopes to change the way Chinese children learn English and offer them opportunities to experience native English teaching styles, which are very different to how English is taught in Chinese schools.

"One of the major challenges we have face is parents accepting the concept of online learning," she said. "We have to continuously offer high-level teaching and technical support."

Data from the China Internet Network Information Center showed that 144 million Chinese have undertaken online education as of June this year, 4.8 percent higher than the number by the end of 2016.

"Compared with traditional after school classes, online courses are convenient and efficient," said Li Juan. "They are also less expensive because no venues are needed."

He Tingting, a teacher working for online education platform "Qingqingjiajiao", said an online teacher usually teaches one-on-one or in small groups while traditional after school classes have one teacher for 30 to 40 students.

"Online teachers use powerpoints to assist our teaching," said He. "They are more attractive to students, particularly for younger children."

However, He said online teachers have to work harder to make their voices and facial expressions more engaging in order to hold students' attention. "Reliable Internet connections are also very important to ensure the courses go smoothly."

Online education has become increasingly known to Chinese in recent years, particularly since 2013 when MOOC, short for massive open online courses, entered China in cooperation with universities and websites.

In the last couple of years, capital inflow from investors helped online education firms develop at a faster speed.

A survey issued by HSBC this year showed that 76 percent of Chinese parents would consider online university courses for their children.

"As consumption levels rise and the second-child policy takes effect, China is likely to become one of the world's most dynamic online education markets in the future," said Mi.

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