As the world’s most populated country, Chinese administration understands nothing is more fundamental than education for its development. In the 19th National Congress, Chinese President Xi Jinping suggests that education is crucial for spearheading China’s development especially in its international recognition and soft power. It appears China is on the right track to achieve this goal. In the past 13 years, the numbers of universities in China has increased from 1,022 to 2,824, with approximately 37 million college students forming the world’s largest student cohort.
Astonishing growth in Chinese education also occurs at the preschool level. According to a report, Chinese families are willing to invest 30% of the total family income on their children to prepare them for fierce competition in the society. They believe that best quality pre-school education leads to a spot at a prestigious university and to a bright future. An analysis conducted by Radiant Insight Inc. predicts a remarkable compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 14.01% in Chinese preschool market from 2017 to 2021. Efforts of seeking the best teaching methodology for preschool children have never stopped in China.
It is thus unsurprising that increasing attention from Chinese public has been paid to Israeli teaching methodology. Although Chinese students outperform the world on standardize tests such as mathematics and reading, they often struggle with critical thinking and communication skills. Astute Chinese business community and teaching institutes only recently noticed that Israeli culture and education complement what is lacked in Chinese education system. Israeli education systems often emphasize creativity and encourage students to challenge norms. This coincides with the fact that Israeli graduates often display exceptional innovation and problem-solving skills.
Since an agreement reached in 2015 between Chinese President Xi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on strengthening the cooperation on technology and other sectors, China have become one of the largest investors in Israel, within a year from 2015, the total investment in Israel already reached US 16 billion, largely driven by the tech industries. As a result, growing commercial and educational exchange between Israel and China has eventually taken Israeli education methodology into Chinese market for experiments.
In early March 2017, Yissum Research Development Company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced an agreement with Award Scheme Development and Accreditation Network (ASDAN) China on an Israeli-developed program named HIPPY which stands for Home Instruction for Parents and Preschool Youngsters. This program is an Israeli-developed early learning program which focuses on empowering parents to engage with their children through activities that introduce skills in a progressive manner, focusing on language development, perceptual and sensory discrimination, logical thinking and problem solving. These are exactly what Chinese preschool children needs, as Yichan Yuan, CEO of ASDAN China commented. “Although millions of Chinese preschool children are lucky to receive home education from well-educated parents, a lack of informative guidance make it extremely difficult for the parents to achieve their goals”, Yuan said. The establishment of ASDAN aspire to provide the support and resources for both parents and children in order to help them achieve their goals and eventually have a big impact in education of children in China.
Meanwhile, another Chinese-Israel preschool education collaboration is on its way to the market. LeapLearner is a hybrid platform that teaches children coding along with skills such as innovation, self-learning, problem solving, creativity and adaptability. How would LeapLearner attempt to earn its place in a market with many established players such as Khan Academy and Codeacademy? The answer is “learning engineering with Lego instead of coding with classroom-like tasks”, according to LeapLearner’s co-founder and CEO Ami Dror. The company has already attracted notable investors such as former Alibaba CTO John Wu and Zaitoun Ventures, an Israeli-Palestinian investment from that Dror co-founded, combining a total of 5 million in seed funding. LeapLearner earned an early success as they received great feedback from participants, parents and teacher. They are also planning to gain a foothold in local international school such as designing programs specifically for students with sufficient background in Mathematics and English, or even becoming a part of the IB program.
Aside from HIPPY and LeapLearners, there are plenty of Israeli preschool programs still trying to target the Chinese market. For instance, IdeaHub provides programs that aiming to enhancing students’ leadership, social and teamwork; while Webee, an Israeli educational gaming program focuses on helping parents keep track of their children’s learning progress is also operating by a Chinese company.
While this new market is getting heated, here is the question: will Israeli education methodology eventually earning a spot in Chinese education system? I argue that admittedly, Israeli teaching methodology would provide what China needs for talents development in an economy increasingly focused on innovation; however, there are a few obstacles to stop it from spreading widely.
First and foremost, the way Israelis teach preschool children might not be appealing to traditional Chinese family education value, which focuses heavily on children getting high test scores and eventually obtaining an admission to high-ranking universities through standardized test. In order to successfully establish a preschool institute utilizing Israeli methodology, one cannot shun from associating the methodology with test performances. Amongst all factors, location matters. First tier cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen would be ideal cities for trial of Israeli teaching methods as there may exist a critical mass interested in new education method lies. Parents in these cities have averagely high earnings to invest in children’s preschool education.
The second obstacle maybe recruiting and training Chinese teachers to reach certain level of understanding Israeli teaching methodology. There is so far no clear evidence that Israeli ways of teaching preschool children can be easily acquired by Chinese teachers. As Cheng DanRui, a Chinese student graduated from Tel Aviv, recalled her experience in Israel, “Israeli are known for straightforward and direct communicating style, which is often viewed as rude in China.” Thus, there is certainly a need for localization of teaching content, for instance, finding examples that can be understood by both Israeli and Chinese culture in creativity. With a relatively small to non-existent Chinese community in Israel, it may be difficult for Chinese investors to look for a right person to properly interpret Israeli teaching methodology.
To conclude, the agreement between President Xi and Prime Minster Netanyahu on strengthening the cooperation on technology opened the door for Israeli tech-industry to Chinese investors. Meantime, a door also opened for Israeli education industry as Chinese families are increasingly demanding high quality preschool education. As now China allows each family to have two children, instead of one in the past, the industry is booming with a lot of opportunities for investors in the future.