Tutoring In China: New Regs, Pause Button?

From Rajit Malhotra at EdSurge:

But how long will the big checks keep coming? In recent months, Beijing’s increased regulation of online education platforms has made investors more cautious.

This July, the country’s Ministry of Education issued guidelines to regulate the content and duration of online education sessions, and to ensure that teachers have the right qualifications. Some of this oversight could well make investors wary.

Last month, Reuters reported that Tencent Holdings has called off plans for a new $150 million investment in VIPKid.

While the steady deal flow suggests that investors still see room for companies to gain additional market share in China, how many large ones can coexist in the space remains uncertain. The competitive landscape, paired with increasing regulatory pressures, may lead investors to consider the other billion-plus sized market: India. Some already are, with the Qatar Investment Authority and Owl Ventures having invested in Bangalore-based Byju earlier this year.

I wonder how the bloom coming off the Unicorn rose will affect these investments. The “show-profit-later” ethic of unicorns in other categories – like Uber, WeWork, Slack, etc – has not been faring well of late.

That’s the premise of this article, which says unicorn exits in India have the “exits blocked.”

I advised one investor not to put money in the latest round of Byju’s. He listened.

Byju’s is the Indian education company similar to the non-profit Khan Academy in its offerings. The plan now is international expansion, beyond India. I wish them success and hope I’m wrong, but I am skeptical of its core product offerings (after focus grouping it with my 10-year-old), and can’t get my head around its $5.75 billion valuation.

Parents Keeping Tabs On Kids

This is from the WSJ, for American families.

The settings sections of common household Apple and Amazon devices, along with those that run Google’s Android and Chromebook software, allow parents to do everything from block explicit content to set a fixed gadget bedtime—all without paying extra or ceding privacy to an outside service.

This week, with the expected rollout of Apple’s iOS 13, parents will more easily be able to set time limits on individual iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch apps. Later this fall, Apple will launch its most compelling upgrade: the ability to manage children’s contacts and control who they can communicate with.

Before you go too crazy turning on controls, proceed with a megabit of caution. Family media experts advise parents to begin with more stringent controls when children first get internet-connected devices, then relax them as kids demonstrate maturity.

“We call them digital on-ramps. When your child is really young, talk to them about everything they do with a device. When you snap a photo, talk about whether you’re sharing it with Grandma, so it becomes embedded in their everyday practice of using devices,” said Diana Graber, author of “Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology.”

It’s much harder, she said, to impose controls once kids have tasted freedom.

Researchers at the University of Central Florida last year found that too much parental control fosters distrust and encourages kids to do the very things digital controls were designed to prevent.

What these settings won’t do is tell you what your kids are seeing or posting online. That is where third-party services like Bark, which charge fees to monitor kids’ online activities, come into play.

Also, remember that tech companies tend to treat teens as adults, because of a decades-old online privacy law, so managing their activities becomes harder. And of course, teens are notorious for finding workarounds to even the most sophisticated parental controls. Just as previous generations got around curfew by sneaking out of basement windows late at night, today’s digital natives can venture out online by disabling settings, creating fake social media accounts and smuggling burner phones.

I wonder how the parental settings on devices sold in China are different.

Chinese and American Ed Tech

From Matt Sheehan’s new book The Transpacific Experiment: How China and California Collaborate and Compete for Our Future:

After the early frenzy of Chinese venture capital investment in AI faded, some sobering realities set in: many of China’s “AI startups” use hardly any AI in their products, and they have no sustainable business model beyond raising more money.

This could be said of Ed Tech.  But I’m not sure if the sobering reality has set in.

I still see many founders who have internalized this lesson: tell VCs “key words” like AI or Machine Learning or Big Data because then you can claim a large value to your company which, as yet, has zero or near zero sales.   So your company, which mostly does traditional tutoring, is really “AI-powered.”

Just like WeWork, which is mostly a real estate rental company, claims to be a technology company.   The WeWork story is unraveling.  The sobering reality is setting in.

Matt writes:

And while government subsidies and procurement can help gin up demand for the AI products of today, it remains unclear if they can plant the seeds for the AI breakthroughs of tomorrow.

China and the United States enter the age of AI like a study in contrasts. While the U.S. leads in game-changing research, China shows strength in practical applications. Where American companies draw data from diverse users around the globe, China’s AI giants have a wealth of relatively homogenous data at home. And while Silicon Valley sometimes actively rejects entanglements with the U.S. government, Chinese companies often work with local officials to bring large-scale AI projects to life.

In Ed Tech, it’s the opposite.  Both American and Chinese companies sell mostly to governments.  So that stunts the creation of Ed Tech that would actually help individual teachers (like individual consumers or small business users) solve their problems.   Neither country is making much progress there.

But Chinese Ed Tech has 2 advantages from a sales point of view.  Lower (but not zero) privacy concerns within schools.  And they can also sell directly to a large market of parents (which buy a ton of K-12 services for out-of-school-time), while the Americans cannot (American parents, on average, let their kids play Fortnite for free after school.  Although my 11-year-old tells me that Fortnite is so last year).