Physics cram school tutor Wang Yu has been the focus on online debate over his shockingly high earnings: 18,842 yuan per hour.
Wang works part time on Yuanfudao, an online education app. The high school physics class he teaches costs 9 yuan per lecture. With 2,617 students enrolled and a 20 percent deduction for the platform’s fee, his remaining pay is staggeringly high.
Teachers who cover classes relevant to the high school or college entrance exams can make considerable money thanks to national demand. Many are looking to Wang’s success as an option for teachers who hope to boost their stagnant salaries.
A New Platform
China’s online education system began to take shape in 2013, when New Oriental Education opened Koolearn and moved part of its business to the Web.
In a relatively short time, online education took off, learning from the problems encountered in earlier online-to-offline businesses. The first round of online education platforms included Crazy Teachers, Genshuixue and Changingedu.
King of Science, a separate studio from Crazy Teachers, opened in 2015. Wang Xingjun, the studio’s founder, graduated from Tongji University, one of China’s top schools. Wang began his tutoring career in college, but became disillusioned by the low salaries offered by education companies.
“They took 75 percent of the money as their agency ‘commission,’” Wang told Paper.cn.
Driven by his dissatisfaction, Wang established his own online studio to help students in their studies. Instead of taking a high commission, Wang passed all the class fees back to teachers to attract more to participate. He and his colleagues flew to different cities to attend academic seminars and meet potential tutors.
Wang’s platform also added a referral system that awarded students and teachers who brought in new users. The initial bounty for a new user was 400 yuan.
“Working for education companies left me feeling like a machine. But running your own education channel makes you feel more like a teacher. It makes you want to give students your best,” Wang says.
Wang says the lowest monthly salary for an online teacher on his platform is 50,000 yuan.
Jin, an English teacher in Nanjing who has been teaching online for two months, confirmed that she had earned 50,000 yuan in each of the last two months. She has also been a supporter of the new education pattern.
“Online education gets around the limits of location, rent and class size. The platforms take a standard commission of 20 percent, and the teachers have more free time to prepare slides and class material. All you need is a computer with camera. Class can start anywhere: in a dorm, at home or in the lab – as long as you have a good Internet connection,” Jin says.
Cram vs Public
With lecture priced 10 yuan each, online education is an attractive alternative to traditional cram schools. But critics question how well students can engage with a teacher who exists only on a webcam .
“To avoid losing the students’ attention, teachers have to offer a barrage of important learning points to make sure everyone is listening – even the students with bad scores,” says Wang Yu, in an interview with Paper.cn. Newcomers to online teaching might find it three times harder than their normal work, he warns.
“You also have to be alert to the torrent of student questions that come in through the discussion zone,” Wang says.
As for the earnings, Wang says it all depends on personal ability. While there are many reports about high-earning teachers, there are also some who earn less than 10 yuan per hour.
Popular online cram schools are also attracting unwanted attention from the Ministry of Education. Many parents with children enrolled in public school fear teachers may neglect their lessons to focus on earning money online.
“I think it’s right that public school teachers should not be teaching online cram classes. The reason is simple – teachers whose attention is outside of class will severely jeopardize public school students’ right to an education. Teachers should choose to be either a public school teacher or an online teacher,” says Yu Minhong, CEO of New Oriental Education.
But some defend online cram schools as path to more equitable education.
“I’ve had almost 100 physics classed with Wang Yu. The school I attend now doesn’t have many good teachers,” says Hu Sicheng, a 12th grade student in Chaozhou, Guangdong province.
“Online cram schools are a new technology. We don’t have any regulations as to which teachers can participate and how it may affect the normal education process,” says a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education who would not be named. “Whether or not we decide to ban it depends on further discussion.”
Cram schools are common throughout East Asia.
In Hong Kong, the top cram school teachers can earn as much as pop stars. South Korea has a similar online cram school platform called Megastudy, but it depends on pre-recorded classes.
Procuratorate Daily called the emergence of online cram schools “a wake-up call to public schools that tell their students to learn it on their own.” The newspaper advised public schools to open online classes to supplement classroom lessons and prevent students from being sucked into the world of cram school education.
In Shanghai, many public schools offer free online education to students to increase the schools’ competitive ability.
“In the near future, public schools will adopt more third-party services to send their classes to students,” says Chen Xiang Dong, CEO of online education platform Genshuixue. Several teachers said public school is unlikely to be influenced by online cramming.
“It takes a higher teaching ability to work as an online cram tutor, and not all teacher are suitable. Public schools can keep teachers more absorbed in their work,” says Wen, a public school teacher in Hebei province. He said the high profit offered by online cram classes is unlikely to woo public school teachers away from their jobs.
“There is a limit to the number of teachers who can make a fortune on this,” says Chen Xiangdong, founder of the online education platform Genshuixue. “Not everyone can be a star teacher.”