Education

VIPKid, an online tutoring giant once worth 3B dollars, will end its flagship program in China

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Online education giant VIPKid is a Beijing-based tutoring platform that has raised 1.1 billion U.S. dollars since its establishment. It was once valued at more than 3 billion U.S. dollars. It will end its flagship education project in China at the beginning of next month.

The announcement first appeared on the company’s online teacher portal on October 15, after months of turbulence and multi-billion-dollar online tutoring changes in the industry. The Chinese government’s new education regulations effectively banned Private tutoring courses with foreign countries. educator. VIPKid was founded in 2013 and mainly organizes live one-on-one language courses between native English speakers (many of whom are Americans) and Chinese children.

Since August, VIPKid has warned its teachers, who had 100,000 teachers in its heyday, that the company’s business in China will experience major turmoil. Dozens of its competitors have communicated similar messages to their mentors—in some cases, let them know that they will cease operations in the next few months, and in other cases, such as GoGoKid, suddenly notify teachers All their courses were cancelled that day, and the platform is shutting down.

Nevertheless, many VIPKid teachers who rely on the platform for some or all of their income hope that the end will not come so soon. VIPKid recently suggested that Chinese families who have purchased a large number of course packages (some of which have been booked for six months, one year or more in the future) can complete these courses with foreign educators.

However, the message sent a few days ago marked a sudden departure from the plan. The announcement stated that by November 5th, “mainland Chinese students will no longer…take classes with foreign teachers living outside of China.” The last date that parents can book on-site courses for their children with foreigners is October 19th. .

The VIPKid notice read: “We are frustrated and sorry to share this update, because we know that it will immediately affect the livelihoods of community teachers, and we know that you cherish your teaching relationship with Chinese students very much.”

‘Grateful but frustrated’

The teachers who have always insisted on using VIPKid, knowing that the end is near, expressed disappointment but were not surprised. Given that the Chinese government prohibits such arrangements, many people doubt whether they will really be allowed to teach before the student packages are used up.

Kelly Tagliaferri, who has been teaching at VIPKid since 2018 and living in Northern Virginia, said: “It will hurt financially and it’s sad because I have had some of the same students for years.” “But I still have them.” Other things.”

Tagliaferri joined Outschool, a US-based tutoring company that mainly provides services to American children, in the worst of the 2020 pandemic, just in case there is a problem with VIPKid — and because Outschool is heating up, she said. She also works part-time at a private Christian school in her area and occasionally accepts free video productions. She always tries to reserve some opportunities in case one or two fail-this method protects her from the worst effects of the collapse of online tutoring in China.

In contrast, most teachers find themselves very busy in the past few months. Some mentors have found part-time or full-time jobs elsewhere. Others joined some of the hundreds of tutoring companies that now exist outside of China, which are located in markets such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. A small but still important group has started to privately tutor their Chinese students, secretly arrange, set their own timetable and salary standards, although many people think this option is too risky for the family to consider .


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A recent episode of the EdSurge Podcast explored the impact of closing Chinese tutoring platforms on American teachers.

Tagliaferri’s hourly salary on the platform is about $20, and she plans to teach in the last class of VIPKid, which is scheduled for October 29th. She currently teaches six to eight classes every morning.

Melissa Miller, a long-time VIPKid mentor living in La Grange, Georgia, is also in the same position. She taught until the end, even opening more slots than usual, hoping to see her “frequent customers” again and tell them goodbye. VIPKid has created e-card templates so that teachers can say goodbye to students more formally, regardless of whether they see them again in class.

Goodbye e-card vipkid
VIPKid teacher’s e-card template for Chinese students’ farewell. (screenshot)

Both Tagliaferri and Miller discovered that they were not booking ordinary students towards the end, but students they had never seen before or had only taught a few lessons. They speculate that this is because the tutors of those students have left the platform to look for other opportunities, and their parents still want them to participate in live courses when they have time.

“I am grateful but depressed,” Miller said. “In the past few months, we have been trapped in this kind of tango. We are hopeful, but we always know that the ending is looming behind the scenes. I am grateful because at least I have a job, but I am frustrated because of this. Like,’I want to say goodbye to Hansen,'” Instead, she saw strange faces appear on the screen.

So-called artificial intelligence courses replace on-site tutoring

VIPKid must know-or at least suspect-that the government will not allow foreign educators to continue teaching until the last prepaid course is taught, because a few months ago, the company invited selected tutors to record their own teaching courses. Additional rewards are in the effort to establish a so-called “artificial intelligence course”.

These courses can host up to four students at a time, not one student, and are not conducted in real time. For teachers, just recording one lesson can make $20—almost twice what many people pay for every 25 minutes of live lessons (between $14 and $22 per hour). If the recording is accepted and added to VIPKid’s course library, the teacher will receive another $20.

For some people, this may seem like a good deal, but for Miller, it is impossible.

She said that the company has high standards for accepting recordings. They often ask the teacher to go back and try again, using more props, more encouragement and less personalization. Of course, teachers record themselves without an audience.

AI racing VIPKid
Some teachers record English lessons to get paid. VIPKid will use these recordings as part of its “artificial intelligence courses” for Chinese students when it is not possible to conduct live courses with foreigners. (VIPKid)

“I don’t think they paid us the value of it,” she said. “They will use it over and over again, but all we will see are these two payments.”

She added: “I don’t think I can stand myself, knowing that a year later there are still students watching my recordings, and I only got $40.”

VIPKid’s future

Although these changes will mark the end of VIPKid’s well-known coaching program, it is clear that this does not mean the end of VIPKid.

China’s new policy is called “double reduction” and prohibits foreign educators from tutoring children instead of adults. Therefore, VIPKid relies on adult English courses as part of its future income and has established a partnership with the American company BookNook, which provides English language arts tutoring for K-8 students in the United States and math tutoring for K-5 students.

Since the summer of 2020, BookNook has signed a contract with VIPKid, which allows BookNook to open up its tutoring opportunities to teachers who have already cooperated with VIPKid. Instructors with VIPKid can use BookNook to book courses when their schedule is convenient. It has always been one of BookNook’s main methods for finding mentors, except when its regional partners provide their own mentors.

“VIPKid is dealing with one of the most difficult problems in the history of educational technology,” said Michael Lombardo, founder and CEO of BookNook. “But we believe that they have a strong leadership team that can manage this moment… We look forward to [our partnership] Continue to move into the future. “

These existing arrangements — adult English courses in China and BookNook partners in the United States — are unlikely to allow VIPKid’s existing thousands of teachers to be booked and paid enough to continue the contract renewal. The company’s ability to deal with this challenge will mainly depend on the success of a new “global platform” that aims to provide English courses to children around the world, and VIPKid has not disclosed many details so far.

VIPKid declined EdSurge’s interview request and will not answer specific questions about the company’s future, but the company spokesperson did provide a short written statement.

The statement read: “Although the next chapter of VIPKid may look different, we are still confident in our future and unswervingly committed to inspiring and empowering every child with the mission of the future.” “We are more than ever before. All the time, we are more committed to creating opportunities for online educators, which is why we are accelerating our international expansion efforts and expanding the scope of teachers to teach students globally.”

According to a spokesperson, the student population outside of China has grown to include tens of thousands of children last year. In contrast, VIPKid once claimed to serve more than 800,000 children in China alone-which may not be its peak.

Many teachers, including Tagliaferri and Miller, have re-signed their VIPKid contracts and insist on at least seeing what happens on the global platform. But almost no one is optimistic about this.

“I am willing to do this. I hope they can make a difference. But I am skeptical,” Tagliaferri said. “They have tried to go to other countries before”-referring to South Korea’s mentoring program-“but they did not succeed. Other markets are not as competitive as China.”

Miller, who has been working on VIPKid for the past few years, hopes to see the global platform take off. She joined the new “Teacher Network” where VIPKid plans to keep in touch with its teacher community and learn about upcoming opportunities.

But even in the group she called “Purgatory Teachers”, she could see clues between the lines. For those who join, the company will provide free webinars on stress management, building a professional investment portfolio and “looking forward” and “adjusting goals and passions”.

For Miller, this shows that VIPKid is preparing the remaining mentors for a future that does not include itself. She hopes this is not the case, but just in case, she has heeded the warning-and is actively applying for a job.

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