Panel 2: China: The Epicenter of Ed Tech

Rebecca Fannin, Founder, Silicon Dragon (Moderator)

Dr Steven Gang Li, Chief Analyst and Director of Industrial Economics Research Center, Tencent, Research Institute

Julian Fisher, Co-Chair, Education Forum, British Chamber of Commerce (China)

Dr Simon Leung, Vice Chairman, NetDragon Websoft Holdings Ltd.

“Out of 14 ed tech unicorns worldwide, eight are from China!” begins Rebecca Fannin of Silicon Dragon as she introduces the panel on ed tech developments and market opportunities in China. 

Our first panelist, Dr. Steven Li Chief Analyst and Director of Industrial Economics Research Center at Tencent Research Institute gives an overview of the China market  landscape.

He says the Tencent Research Institute has constructed the digital GDP index to measure the developments of the digitalization trends in all sectors in China. The index measuring the education digitalization has grown about threefold in the past five years. And most of the developments are taking place in the ‘off-school’ edtech sector.

Dr Li explains that we can break the edtech market into the ed and the tech parts. 

“Startups often provide innovative digitized education content to be consumed in schools and off-schools. And there are bigger companies providing the technology solutions to the content providers.”



Dr Simon Leung, Vice Chairman, NetDragon Websoft Holdings Ltd. gives us a snapshot of the future of learning and the opportunities in the China market.

“Our company is very excited about technology because it can help address the education equality or inequality issue,” he says. The other thing is through big data and AI, we can learn at our own pace with personalised curriculum. The trend is towards blended learning and the Chinese government is spending a lot of money to provide the infrastructure support. 

He thinks there are tremendous opportunities for people coming in from the outside, even in the tier three, four, five cities. The people out in remote areas have increased spending power and are also a lot more knowledgeable about and will have access to technology especially with 5G.  He pinpoints that the key is to localize the offering for China. 

“It’s important to segment the China market and map it out, because each one requires a different strategy. And then you convince the right stakeholders to embrace the right kind of technology.”

Dr Leung points out that one of the few areas that is encouraged for foreign players to come in is vocational education. Increasingly Chinese parents also want their children to learn soft skills and additional languages.

Whilst incremental change is one direction, he underscores the opportunity to change fundamentally the way we learn, by bringing quality education to more people.




Julian Fisher, Co-Chair, Education Forum at British Chamber of Commerce (Beijing) shares his experience of helping small UK businesses and startups enter the China market.

He begins by introducing the market opportunities for foreign players. “Early years, zero to three is a huge space. Teacher training is probably the biggest thing that we hear on a daily basis. Homework has a lot of local players but it’s still an area of opportunity. And then also mental health.”

“But a broader trend is that of research-backed ed tech … because parents, institutions, and local governments, all want results – and to see that this is education based on research.”

Fisher stresses that foreign companies have to offer added value and like what Dr Leung says, it has to be a blended experience with both online and offline learning.  He puts forward some key questions that startups should be able to answer when entering China:

  1. Who’s your competition? 
  2. What is their pricing? 
  3. What is your actual market?
  4. How many schools can you sell to?
  5. Do you understand the procurement processes? 
  6. What resources are you going to set aside?

“I worked with a lot of SMEs. They often want to come to China, spend no money and make huge amounts of money. And the truth is, that’s never going to work.”

He echoes the importance of getting a local partner and localising the offering. “You’ve got to be super adaptable to the Chinese market … you’d need to get a foothold working with a school group or working with one university testing, iterating, getting a feedback loop.”

He highlights the need for a shift in mindset. “You’re not just changing the way that things are taught, but also the teaching approach and eventually changing pedagogy.” 

Dr Li concludes by saying that “good quality content is in short supply in China. Hong Kong has a lot of good contents to offer because of the concentration of good schools and universities,  which is enviable for most of the cities in China.”