Onion Math helps students learn via videos and games

August 16, 2018 12:12
Linfeng Yang, co-founder and CEO of Onion Math, is taking online lessons to remote schools across the country. Photo: HKEJ, Reuters

Chinese online education startup Onion Math, which operates under Yangcong345.com, offers interesting educational videos to explain complex textbook theories and equations, and interactive games to train students to solve problems.

At the Forbes China Innovation Summit 2018, Linfeng Yang, co-founder and CEO of Onion Math, sat down with Hong Kong Economic Journal to share his outlook on China’s huge online education market and how Onion disrupts the sector with the latest technology.

“We have now 500,000 teachers registered as users on our platform, and we have been working closely with teachers and schools,” Yang said. “But the majority of our user base are students; we have users in almost every junior secondary schools in mainland China.”

Founded in 2013, the online educational platform teaches students in primary and secondary schools textbook knowledge online through animated videos, exercises, and games.

The platform also deploys machine learning technology to monitor students’ habits as they watch the videos, in order to track their learning progress and understand which topics are of their particular interest.

Earlier this year, Onion Math completed a Series C investment round of 120 million yuan (US$17 million), led by Tencent Holdings (00700.HK) and Legend Capital under Hong Kong-listed Lenovo Holdings (00992.HK), taking the total investment value to approximately 300 million yuan (US$43 million).

Before graduating from Harvard University, Yang went back to mainland China from time to time, teaching students in rural schools.

“People think that shattered windows, broken desks and dirty walls are a common sight in rural schools in the mainland. In fact, the hardware of those schools is quite good," he said. "The bigger problem is the serious shortage of quality rural teachers. Teaching in the rural regions is unappealing."

Seeking to integrate internet technology and education, Yang started offering online lessons to remote schools across the country.

“Quality education empowered by technology should be automated, reproducible, and low-cost,” he said. “It can be brought to every student. And students’ parents don't have to worry about the quality of an individual teacher.”

Yang said AI technology can bring student-driven active learning, and the role of the teacher will be that of a coach leading students to explore knowledge and engage in discussion with others. “Teachers will not lose their jobs,” he said.

For now, Onion Math specializes in offering educational content, particularly mathematics and physics, for students from third grade primary school to second year high school.

Yang said more disciplines and subjects will be added to their offerings.

The platform relies on fees from schools and students as a major income source. While some of the content is free for students, they charge an annual fee of about 488 yuan (US$70.5) for extra content and counseling services.

Yang said he did not start the business because he was thinking of huge business opportunities. He believes the development of the market will be slow, but it is less affected by the economic cycle because the demand is stable.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 16

Translation by Ben Ng

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal