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iTutorGroup: How an online education company helps to keep students in class amid COVID-19

SHANGHAI, April 14, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — In the past month, the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading across the globe like wildfire. On April 1st, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that there has been an exponential growth in the number of newly confirmed cases worldwide in the past few weeks, with the total number of confirmed cases surpassing 1 million and more than 100,000 deaths expected in the coming days.

In addition to the huge impact this crisis has had on production and economic development in various countries, the education sector has also suffered, with the number of schools closed worldwide soaring. UNESCO’s data released on March 10th showed that nearly 363 million students worldwide are affected by the outbreak, 20 percent of which are pre-school, primary and secondary school students who are unable to attend school, and 25 percent of which are students in higher education whose classes have been suspended.

When the fight against coronavirus becomes global, China’s emergency education strategy may provide some inspiration for the world to reduce interruption in learning. In the face of the pandemic, major universities and educational institutions in China actively responded to the spirit of "suspending school without interrupting teaching and learning" implemented by the Ministry of Education. There is one education enterprise that applies practical actions to help educate people in pandemic prevention.

As a pioneer in the online education industry, iTutorGroup is one of the world’s first online education "unicorn" technology enterprises. It is well aware of its social responsibilities and has actively responded to the call for "suspension of classes without suspension of learning" by launching three major public welfare initiatives at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.

  1. vipJr, an online education brand for children under iTutorGroup, provided 10,000 online ESL courses, worth a total of 24 million RMB (US$3.4 million), for free to children (aged 5-16) of health care workers on the front line in the fight against the coronavirus.
  2. vipJr further provided free high-quality teaching resources for primary and secondary school students in China, including online drawing classes, "listening" audio series and livestreaming public lectures, which are taught by experienced educators and covered a range of subjects including Chinese, mathematics, English, and other fields of discipline.
  3. For the first time, iTutorGroup opened its online learning platform TutorMeet+ to the public for free, providing online classrooms for schools and offline training institutions, moving offline courses online. iTutorGroup’s GTR (Global Teaching Recourses) department also provided assistance in helping school teachers create online teaching materials and offer free online courses.

In addition to the huge impact this crisis has had on production and economic development in various countries, the education sector has also suffered, with the number of schools closed worldwide soaring. UNESCO’s data released on March 10th showed that nearly 363 million students worldwide are affected by the outbreak, 20 percent of which are pre-school, primary and secondary school students who are unable to attend school, and 25 percent of which are students in higher education whose classes have been suspended.

In the face of the pandemic, major universities and educational institutions in China actively responded to the spirit of "suspending school without interrupting teaching and learning" implemented by the Ministry of Education. iTutorGroup has applied practical actions to help educate people in pandemic prevention.

The closure of schools due to COVID-19 has since become iTutorGroup’s top concern. Various teams under its brands vipJr and TutorABC took initiatives to phone every student to understand their needs during this period in order to continue providing high-quality and diverse online learning services. At the same time, its customer protection department was in full operation, maintaining 24/7 service, despite the outbreak causing a surge in website traffic, to resolve any issues that might arise and ensure that students have the best classroom experience whilst learning from home.

With its proprietary AI-driven online recruitment system, iTutorGroup offers teaching employment prospects for workers in offline service industries to help more out-of-work employees in small and medium-sized enterprises ride out the storm.

Through its smart online video interview system, trainee guidance system, and other telecommunication tools, iTutorGroup opened two positions: course consultant and teaching assistant. Suitable candidates were then selected by its system to enter its online platform. From job interviews to training and orientation, candidates can do it all online from home, regardless of location. iTutorGroup also encouraged an online working environment for its staff. Besides existing employees, new employees could also choose to work from home during the outbreak after they have gone through the onboarding protocol. When the outbreak is eventually stabilized, these new employees could apply to stay on in a full-time capacity.

iTutorGroup’s online recruitment initiative has been met with fervent response from a wide range of job seekers, receiving 8,733 online applications as of early March, with more than 500 applicants recruited since the launch of the online video interview system in early February.

Non-stop Charity: Devoted to leveling the playing field and realizing the fundamental goal of education

A good education is essential to alleviate poverty. Dr. Eric Yang, chairman and CEO of iTutorGroup, said: "In the past, there was a big gap in the quality of teaching and teachers in compulsory education between the first-tier cities and remote areas due to the severe lack of educational resources in these regions. Through the Internet, online education can bring high-quality education resources from first- and second-tier cities to third and fourth-tier cities and remote areas to completely bridge the gap in education resources. To foster mutual growth for teachers and students, iTutorGroup has promoted public welfare projects such as Dual-teacher Classroom, Rural Teachers’ English Competency Improvement Program, and Learning through AI in 2019 to actively promote educational equality."

Since April of 2019, iTutorGroup has partnered with 21st Century English (a leading English language publication in China) to help Huichang, a remote are in Jiangxi province, in accordance with the belief that lifting poverty requires lifting of one’s mind and knowledge. The idea applies equally to hardware (school infrastructure) and software (curriculum and training of teaching staff) improvements for an all-round promotion of quality local education.

iTutorGroup has built "Dual-teacher Classroom" for students in Jiangxi Huichang Gaopai Middle School
iTutorGroup has built "Dual-teacher Classroom" for students in Jiangxi Huichang Gaopai Middle School

In the second half of 2019, iTutorGroup and Ping An co-sponsored the "Learning through AI" project. Based on the number of likes and shares from participating users, iTutorGroup donated 10,000 selected courses to teachers and students in 100 rural schools in China. At present, the first Chinese language courses have been launched on China’s Ping An Wisdom Public Welfare Education Online Platform "Three Villages," which aims to provide free education to the disadvantaged in China’s rural villages. This was followed by the introduction of English and math courses for rural teachers and students, providing richer and more comprehensive curriculum resources.

As UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay put it: "In the face of this unprecedented challenge, we are working with countries to find high-tech, low-tech, and non-technological solutions to ensure continuity of learning." Education is a silent activity that has a common understanding across languages. The experience and reflections of Chinese online education companies such as iTutorGroup will no doubt provide new models and pave new ways of thinking for international education.

iTutorGroup was founded in 1998 and today operates multiple brands including TutorABC, an adult English education platform, TutorMing, an online Chinese language education platform, and vipJr, an English education platform for children, offering interactive Chinese, mathematics, programming, and adult and children‘s English classes to meet the learning needs of all ages. In addition, iTutorGroup is the world’s first online education technology company to use artificial intelligence for personalized learning.

With over 30,000 certified ESL teachers worldwide, they collectively provide tens of millions of online education classes each year. Cumulative attendees on its self-paced learning platform has exceeded 50 million, with users in 135 countries and regions around the world.

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Written by Markus Castro

A cat person by day and a writer by night. He loves to travel to his favorite destinations in Southeast Asia.

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