WSL Future of Health Event

The Coronavirus and Education in China

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Part 3 in a series on COVID-19's Impact in China

Editor’s note: In the third part in their continuing series, Alice Wang and Ed Rowland examine the coronavirus’ impact on China’s educational system and the 100 million Chinese students from pre-school through university now exclusively attending online classes. They examine how all the stakeholders– teachers, students, teaching Apps (DingTalk, the government-chosen teaching App provided by Alibaba) have adjusted.

Part one is available here. Part two is available here


 Chinese Lunar New Year is huge for all, Ms. Zhang included, of course.  

 But this year it got complicated. The Zhangs enjoy the holiday as their 8-year-old son is home from school but this year he was home longer. You might wonder what 8-year-child will do stuck at home. Well, he does nothing and causes you to do nothing too.  

 Initially the Chinese government extended all student holidays from 1 and then 2 weeks due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Then, it was announced that online classes would begin on February Ms. Zhang’s extended holiday hell ended; she was saved, not by God, but by online classes 

 On February 6 China’sMinistryof Education (MOE) announced postponement of the 2020 spring semester for schools at all levels and suggested online education to avoid large-scale Coronavirus outbreak. According to Chinese government statistics, there are more than 100 million students from primary school to college. This governmental policy launched the largestever remote classroom experiment in history. It challenged studentsteachers, and the viability of educational and communications apps.  

 As one teacher put it, “I have never thought of being a livestream show hostess. It is very challenging in all aspects.  

 A review of learnings from teachers on the frontlines reveals: 

  • Extra slide work is requiredPreparing Presentation slides with beautiful pictures and even animation is a must, which is extra work from blackboard-writing. 
  • Personal appearanceYou must look more attractive to minimize students looking at other distractions. This changes a daily routineget up earlier to carefully prepare dress and makeupOne teacher quipped, “I look in the mirror and wonder who is this appealing hostess, and where is the mistress?  
  • More things to do. After class, teachers are recalibrating their efforts incorporating daily feedbackTeachers are challenged by a whole new set of student tricks. 
  • Learning new technology is not easy, especially for more senior teachersIt’s not always clear how to turn on the microphone especially when there’s no guidance. 

 It has not been easy for students either. The Chinese government has selected DingTalk as the official teaching APP. Ding provides a platform for communication, but it garners low ratings for many other features. As one person put it, Ding is a great APP deserving 5 stars remarks, well, I will give it one star for 5 times.”  The surprising comments from students fall into several categories:  

  • Too many distractions. Whispering like “Hey, Ms. Wang did not change her clothes today”is possible and not traceable. Those who are concentrating on the lesson sometimes can’t. 
  • Panicky feeling/Put on the spot. DingTalk enables the teacher to specifically call on a particular student and turn on that students mobile phone camea as he or she answers. No hand raising and no sly hints from a nearby desk mateare possible. It’s not “normal” supervision and everyone needs to concentrate every minute. 

 But there are undeniable benefits: 

  • Improved Efficiency leveraging AI. AI can automatically provide data bank questions and immediately determine/report the accuracy of student answers. This data analysis would contribute to education efficiency. 
  • Individualized education. AI and cloud computing enable the overall education process optimization on a student by student basis from preview, class, exam and feedback loops. 

 In this huge remote education campaignthe Apps producers are the most challenged:  

  • Continuous Improvement. DingTalk has been continuously improving all filters and functions on the fly. Fixes are provided daily. 
  • Reputational Hit. DingTalk is suffering poor comments and low ratings (1out of 5 stars) remarks in App stores. There has been a negative reputation hit. It remains to be seen if this is permanent. 

 Meanwhile Ms. Zhang is relieved by her son’s full scheduled timetable from 8:00 to 17:00. Poor boyoverwhelmed by classes even on holiday, no chance to argue with mom about the GamepadsMs. Zhang can barely hide her pleasure. 

Alice Wang is a consumer healthcare professional with deep knowledge of the Chinese e-commerce, the world’s largest internet market. Her team provide clients up-to-the-minute information on the Chinese E-commerce market, and customized service to the world’s largest market.  

Ed Rowland is the principal of Rowland Global LLC ( and believes in the promise of global business and supports companies in their strategy, tactics and execution of international growth initiatives. 


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