China: education on the move

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In the past couple of months, some information has emerged about an impending change of policy concerning non-compulsory education and young learners in China.

On March 3rd, The Fly quoted Bloomberg and commented on New Oriental Education & Technology Group shares falling “following a report that some local governments in China are carrying out inspections of after-school tutoring institutions and have suspended offline classes until further notice”. This news affected other online learning companies, such as TAL. Despite downgrading, the shares of both companies have held with minor losses.

On March 26th, investment bank Jeffries reported that China may ban the use of online education for students below seven years of age “and may also ban online education companies from advertising in Chinese state-owned media” (see the source here).

Little is known about the extent of these potential changes. What is well known to all operators is that educational authorities are pursuing enforcement of existing regulations for online tutoring organisations. For example, government inspections have been occurring to ensure all teachers have government-required qualifications irrespective of their location (in China or overseas).

Having said this, a change in policy may be in the making if we take into consideration other news released in recent weeks. We refer, in particular, to an article in The Global Times (April 1st) about the MoE discontinuing “the Main Suite Exams (MSE), a worldwide recognised English qualification designed by Cambridge Assessment English”. This news adds to the stance defended by some lawmakers that English should be removed as a core subject from the Chinese curriculum (see here for the latest on this reoccurring saga).

It is too early to say how new policy and other changes will affect the public and private education segments. As market players in China understand, new government policies and pronouncements have an unpredictable impact until provincial and district-level authorities interpret and attempt enforcement in line with the perceived urgency of the Ministry of Education and other central government policy makers. What seems clear at this stage is that the new policies will affect the entire non-compulsory education sector (whether offline or online).

We understand that some of these changes are welcomed by families especially as they choose from a flooded market of sometimes dubious educational offerings. The MoE is adamant about reducing the pressure on students (for example, secondary schools are no longer allowed to recruit students based on competition results and certificates). The government also wants to ensure that private institutions comply with policies around providing quality education (the drive for adequately qualified teachers has been going on for some time). Another macro policy goal is an attempt to level the playing field between the top middle and high schools and the rest (the recently implemented admissions for both private and public schools based on a lottery rather than one’s home location or student ability).

Whether there is also an interest in regulating the emergence of new market entrants — and the massive investment that is going into mature startups and listed companies — remains to be seen. Across many education sub-sectors, customer acquisition costs are reaching thousands of yuan with some companies spending 2-3x their revenue on advertising. Competition among online tutoring centres is fierce, as we know, and it may well lead to a situation where equity capital to fuel advertising and market share grabs runs dry and only the fittest survive via mergers and acquisitions. This impression is reinforced by recent news released by South China Morning Post about the authorities fining some operators for “false or misleading pricing methods”. Again, this is not the first time that we see companies penalised in this respect.

Leaving aside the need to regulate the space, It is EDT’s impression that the Government is primarily interested in consolidating quality in private education offerings. Families spend a considerable amount of their disposable income on supplementing the education of their children. It is only natural that the authorities concentrate on safeguarding standards and favouring compliance across the different operators. In this context, solid programmes, sound technology and optimal instruction will continue to make a difference for all the agents in the education value chain.

At the end of the day, we may also be talking about changes that affect how Chinese society perceives education. The administrations of other Confucian countries in the region have tried to alleviate the pressure exerted by some parents on children. In countries like Korea or Singapore, change is slowly happening. It remains to be seen how operators and families will adapt to a similar push in China.

 

 

 

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Mending bridges

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Taken in Lebak (Indonesia), this image depicts children in peril while crossing a partially collapsed bridge over an overflowing river while trying to get to school. When asked, children said they’d rather take this risk than walk another 30 minutes to use the next bridge. The image has often been brought up as a shocking example of how arduous “the road to education” can be.

This picture went viral in early 2012 and the bridge was mended soon after. Yet many other bridges are still waiting to be fixed. One should not think only about physical or technological infrastructure. Poor quality of instruction; shortage of suitable content, and the lack of qualified teachers are just a few of the core issues to solve when it comes to education in emerging markets worldwide. This is especially evident in early childhood learning. The imbalance in science and maths instruction in rural schools due to lack of qualified teachers in India, Indonesia, Malaysia or the Philippines remains largely unresolved.

The road to equity in education is long and winding. Fortunately, many stakeholders in the education industry are determined to bring balance and sow the seeds of social and personal growth for current and future generations.

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6 essential areas of work for true digital transformation in Higher Education

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Similar to other industries in the past, the whole tertiary education segment has its ground-breaking open. Tier-I institutions will navigate this shift differently than the rest of the industry (if you haven’t read Prof. Scott Galloway on this topic, click here). However, for most of the 19,400 higher education institutions (HEIs) recognized by the International Association of Universities (IAU) around the world, the work ahead is uncertain and it will require a relevant shift in its engagement format and value perception.
Here is a list of 6 key areas of work. We consider 3 of them foundational, or that provide the foundation for future sustainable growth. The other 3 are more competitive in nature and aim at providing institutional differentiation.

 

Foundational Workstream #1 — Smart, Sustainable & Social Campus

These days, a competitive HEI needs to reference a smart, tech-enabled and data-rich infrastructure that favors green and sustainable growth. Campuses can vary significantly in size from small to “city-sized”. HEIs need to rethink how they optimize their resources and the vast amount of data they produce and how that affects their objective of closing the overall GAP to reach the 2030 SDG Goals.
A smart, sustainable and social campus also needs to impact teaching & learning by promoting more informal and hybrid learning, becoming an engine for innovation and entrepreneurship, and ensuring their students’ wellbeing and safety.

Foundational Workstream #2 — Big Data & AI

An increasingly-competitive landscape requires looking further than just the core LMS and student engagement portals to leverage data for quick decision making and greater agility.
Big data and AI-enabled universities will be able to actively prevent dropouts by developing new and engaging programs and initiatives that respond quickly to market needs. They will also be able to apply AI to provide resource and experience optimization in almost real-time.

Foundational Workstream #3 — Interoperability and Cybersecurity

Interoperability and cybersecurity are often listed within the top 10 Higher Education IT issues and challenges. With ever-increasing data sources — including but not limited to biometric, financial and health information — HEIs need to set the standard for privacy and data security.
Avoiding silos of information and securing the institutional data and reputation are transitioning from issues that IT deals with to being strategic differentiators. All the systems, infrastructure and knowledge generated by a higher education institution need to be accessible in a safe format to the different constituents of the university community.

Competitive Workstream #1 — Digital (and Social) Experience

During their HE selection process, prospective students are more likely to be influenced by Instagram, Twitch or TikTok than that of a great library or institutional websites.
HEIs need to think both about the back-office and front line student experiences from the digital perspective over the entire student lifecycle. HEIs have the opportunity to transform into a lifelong capital and skills development service provider, rather than just a one-off undergraduate or graduate experience. For this, HEIs need to ensure a simple digital experience throughout the entire student journey and meet their constituents where they are most active (i.e. WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, Instagram or other social media platforms).

Competitive Workstream #2 — New Methodologies

Digital infrastructure and software investments do not guarantee a relevant teaching and learning experience or overall educational impact.
Competitive HEIs needs to be thinking about different models of engagement and competency/skills evaluation. Initiatives like virtual labs, project-based activities, AR/VR/XR experiences, global perspectives & interactions, and increased peer collaboration should be standard in all disciplines and part of a more sophisticated and relevant learner experience. In a world where online and hybrid delivery methods are crucial, this is an essential focal point for any HEI that wants to remain relevant.

Competitive Workstream #3 — Digital Competencies

It is very difficult to prepare digitally-enabled leaders of the future while a university lacks a holistic technical and digital vision.
Aspiring, impactful HEIs need to be laser-focused on teacher and staff professional development, looking beyond its walls to secure industry partnerships and interactions. Ongoing evaluation of internal capabilities and market trends should inform investments in this area. The ultimate goal should be delivering on the evolving employability and life-changing expectations that learners are placing on their higher education service providers.

 

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This is a space to share our vision of education globally, in a personal way through our knowledgable and experienced team members, thus allowing you to imagine, inspire and improve your educational vision.

Follow us for more insights on LinkedIn.