As gaokao approaches, China’s booming online education industry still plagued by lack of trust

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 June, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 June, 2015, 9:11am

China’s online education industry has cashed in on the ramped-up competition among Chinese students to attend prestigious universities both in and outside the country, but most parents still do not trust what is being offered, a new survey shows. 

Techweb polled 145 Chinese parents and found that only 5.5 per cent had turned to supplemental online education to help their kids prepare for the national university entrance exam, despite optimistic investors pouring millions into education-themed start-ups lately.

The test, called gaokao in mandarin, is a standardised examination that over 9 million Chinese students sit each year to determine which level of university they can gain entry to. Parents throng temples nationwide to pray for luck each year when it rolls around.

“Online education may seem to be time-saving and efficient, but there are many hidden risks,” said one of the people polled, pointing to a lack of standards in terms of the curriculum, quality of teachers, and the danger of infringing academic texts’ copyrights. 

Just over a quarter, or 27.6 per cent, of those polled said they had sent their children to use offline educational tools or teachers to prepare for the landmark exam, while 72.4 per cent had not deferred to any kind of supplemental learning.

Despite this apparent lack of interest, Chinese online education start-ups like Genshuixue seem to have had little trouble attracting capital. 

The company raised US$50 million in March and reportedly now has one million registered students on its site. That same month, Yuan Tiku, an app that helps students prepare for tests, received US$60 million in funding.

Techweb received feedback from some parents that online education offers a price advantage but still has to prove itself because of its fledgling status. 

Eight in ten respondents said they did not fully understand the industry, while many considered one-on-one tutoring at education centres such as New Oriental and Juren to be more effective.

“New Oriental once recommended their online education products to me, but I rejected them,” said one of the parents surveyed.

The high-stakes gaokao exam has been rife with examples of students cheating to get ahead in recent years. In response, Chinese authorities have employed a variety of policing measures, from installing CCTV in examination halls to deploying drones that fly around testing centres. 

The drones are equipped to detect radio signals that may be transmitting answers from outside the halls to smuggled devices inside.