A deadly epidemic is still no excuse to slack off. Demand for online education has surged in China as the coronavirus confines children to their homes.
Swiss language school Education First says about 150,000 of its students in China have migrated to online learning since the first cases of infection were reported in mid-January. Between 5,000 and 10,000 customers, mostly existing students but also some new ones, are signing up for cloud-based lessons daily, said Jacob Torén, head of the business in China.
“We are solving a quite difficult problem, which is how can you ensure the schedule of tens of thousands of students into small group online classes, for students to be with the same classmates and their favorite teacher on a daily basis,” Torén said. “I don’t know if anyone else has done this before.”
The privately held education firm employs about 20,000 people at more than 300 schools in China. It specializes in language training with programs ranging from prepping students for high-school or university to immersion study abroad. In 2019, Education First registered six million online students in China—both children and adults. Torén declined to say how many students have yet to make the move to online.
Chinese authorities have gone to great lengths to try to contain the coronavirus, which has killed at least 2,200 people and infected more than 62,000. Hundreds of millions of people across the country are now restricted from leaving their homes in some way. While most schools are closed, the government this week set up a national internet cloud classroom offering lessons in basic subjects.
But that’s not enough for some parents: In a country where education is a high priority, many expect children to pursue their studies in after-school programs.
The uptick in online learning at Education First raises the risk that students won’t return to the classroom when the epidemic ends. Felix Liu, a UBS analyst in Shanghai, said the coronavirus outbreak could be the catalyst for a boom in online education.
“We believe online education, particularly online afterschool tutoring, could be the mega trend in China’s education sector over the next three to five years,” he said in an email.