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Online instruction grows in popularity amid controversy

Updated: 2016-04-01 08:10
By Cang Wei in Nanjing (China Daily)

Big paychecks, govt ban on schoolteacher participation debated

Teachers earning eye-popping paychecks for online classes in subjects ranging from English to physics has stimulated a lively debate across China that touches on the power of Internet instruction, the state of Chinese education and the ethics of entrepreneurship.

Zheng Anke, who earns up to 3.6 million yuan ($554,000) annually through her English classes on WeChat, China's most popular instant messaging app, provides a case in point.

Zheng, in her early 30s, organized 10 WeChat groups with 120 students each and charges each student 3,000 yuan ($460) a year. She once worked for New Oriental Education, China's biggest English-training school, but now runs her own business.

"I compile my own English learning materials, which I send to the students every week," said Zheng, who has two assistants to help her keep in touch with all of the students as they also receive weekly feedback on their pronunciation.

The proliferation of Internet instruction has raised questions among Chinese netizens. First, the whopping sums some teachers make has led to criticism about compensation and fair salaries. Second, some online teachers are having to hide their identities, as they work in government schools and are barred from outside instruction.

After-school instruction has long been popular among parents with big hopes for their children's academic achievements, so the growing popularity of online teaching is not surprising.

Yuanfudao, or Ape Tutor, an online educational agency that started last year, already has more than 15 million members who are paying for distance learning.

"We have no limitations on classroom space and student numbers," said Huang Minhui, director of the company's brand public relations department. "On average, we charge only one-eighth of the traditional training schools' fees. With so many students and so many eager parents in China, we believe we're quite competitive."

Many Internet teachers have higher salaries than regular teachers because there are a huge number of online students across the country, Huang said.

High earnings have caught the public's attention. One screenshot, which went viral on WeChat, drawing netizen criticism, showed a physics teacher who charged each of his 2,617 students 9 yuan for a single class. He earned 18,842 yuan for an hour's instruction after sharing 20 percent of the tuition with an online educational agency.

Yang Jie, a government worker in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, said distance learning has many advantages compared with traditional educational agencies, including cheaper fees, repeated opportunities to review the teachers' instruction and the ability to attend classes when it's convenient.

Yang also appreciates the ability to choose instructors.

"I can choose the teachers I like freely on the Internet," Yang said. "I'll continue to attend their classes if they turn out to be humorous and their classes are prepared well."

Those who work in government elementary and high schools have been barred from teaching for online educational agencies since 2015. Those teachers are only allowed to teach for free for online platforms established by the schools to help the students with their studies, but some moonlight anyway, said Huang.

Zheng is undeterred by the netizen criticism and intends to continue to build her business.

"I'm going to further my study of English teaching skills in Britain this year," Zheng said. "I believe I can recruit more students if I better my skills."


Online instruction grows in popularity amid controversy

 Online instruction grows in popularity amid controversy

Students interact with a teacher through an online course at a rural primary school in Xinxiang, Henan province, in September. Chen Jie / for China Daily

(China Daily 04/01/2016 page4)

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