The outbreak of novel coronavirus, now officially named Covid-19 by the World Health Organization, has thrown China completely out of gear.
Hundreds of families have been ripped apart, and the hustle-bustle daily lives of people across the country have come to a standstill. Transportation has grounded to a halt. Almost all factories and stores have been shut. Public gatherings have been banned, and schools across the country have been shut indefinitely. While the scenes continue to play out nationwide, no one knows when all these will again see the light of the day.
More than half the country’s 1.4 billion population are restricted from leaving their homes, so people are forced to stay at their homes. Well, with students and workers remain effectively captive behind closed doors; new innovation and a burgeoning demand for a new way of learning and working have emerged like never before. According to iResearch Consulting Group, the current health crisis has put the spotlight on China’s online education market, which grew 25.7% year-on-year in 2018 to 251.7 billion yuan (US$35.9 billion).
Chinese authorities have taken extreme measures to try to contain the deadly coronavirus. People have been encouraged to stay at home to help reduce the spread of the disease. Well, with schools remaining closed for an indefinite period, the country’s Ministry of Education has issued statement encouraging schools to use online platforms as an alternative way of teaching students. With no other options to teach their students who are forced to stay at home, several traditional bricks and mortar schools across China began to explore and embrace online education at a scale like never before.
Leaving no stone unturned, perhaps making good use of their services during the ‘unfortunate’ situation, Chinese software companies quickly jumped in to help meet the needs of the people, creating a boom in edtech and networking platforms. Several tech giants and online teaching companies like Alibaba, Tencent and Huawei have stepped forward to offer free online classes for students of different levels during the outbreak.
The free online learning services offered by the companies include Alibaba’s DingTalk homeschool program, Tencent Classroom, and Huawei Cloud Classroom. As of February 2, more than 220 education bureaus in 20 Chinese provinces had joined the free-of-charge DingTalk homeschool program, covering over 20,000 primary and secondary schools and 12 million students, according to state media Xinhua.
Other leading online teaching companies such as TAL Education and VIPKID also offered their services for free during the period. TAL Education is offering extensive free live-streaming courses for all grades to minimize the influence on study due to the outbreak, and VIPKID, another leading edtech company which specializes in teaching English online, is also offering 1.5 million free online courses to children aged from 4 to 12.
Most Chinese schools were supposed to resume the spring semester on Monday, February 17. However, with the authorities encouraging people to continue to stay at home to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus through human-to-human contact, schools have postponed the semester until further notice as part of the measures to combat the deadly disease. But to ensure its 180 million students still keep learning even though schools are closed, China’s Ministry of Education on February 17 launched a national online learning platform and started broadcasting primary classes on public TV.
According to a statement by the Ministry of Education, the national cloud learning platform will provide junior and senior high school students with study resources online and for primary school students, classes will be broadcast on state-broadcaster CCTV’s China Education Television Channel 4. For the first week, a total of 169 lessons were introduced on the national online learning platform, covering 12 subjects based on the national curriculum. The national broadcaster CCTV News said teachers will keep updating the platform with new materials as needed.
China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has also roped in the country’s three biggest telecom operators – China Mobile, China Unicom and China Telecom – and major tech companies, including Alibaba, Baidu and Huawei, to back up the online learning platform with 7,000 servers and 90 terabytes of bandwidth, to ensure up to 50 million students to use it at the same time, according to CCTV News. According to Alibaba, about 600,000 teachers have been using its live-streaming service DingTalk to conduct online classes since the outbreak of the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the country’s National Health Commission reported on February 20 the number of deaths from the coronavirus outbreak in Mainland China has risen to 2118, and the total number of infections across the country to 74,576.
While the health emergency in China continues and the rest of the world keep watching the developments about the deadly coronavirus eagerly longing to see the epidemic comes to an end, here’s hoping and praying that the virus will be controlled and life will return to normal soon.