From left to right: Zheng Ailun, Zhu Danna, Keren Wong (Photo provided by the author and founders of this program)
“This is my uphill battle and my deadline: before June 30, we should attract at least 10,000 followers.”
Zhu Danna wrote on April 15, 2016, the day she became the CEO of a Beijing-registered startup company dedicated to online programs in English teaching for teachers.
Like many others, it is a small team founded by three young women in their twenties.
What connects them is a firm belief that Chinese teachers of English should be better supported and equipped as they greatly influence the students.
Harboring this belief, Zhu joined as a co-founder when she graduated from China Foreign Affairs University in 2013
“From villages to top universities, I’ve seen Chinese students struggle with English learning. It made me realize that teachers also need professional training and support, like doctors and lawyers,” she said.
While the available teachers training programs were arguably out-dated and bit too grammatically-oriented.
Zhu wanted to make teacher training fun, practical and accessible to every educator.
Her company started off as a NGO dedicated to rural teachers in 2013. Between 2013 and 2014, it trained more than 30 teachers in rural areas on projects worth less than 1,000 yuan.
In 2015, it started test online courses after its survey found that a large number of rural teachers use smartphones to access Internet.
It now runs several online chat groups, each hosting up to 300 teachers, upon whom the team charges premium service fees for programs including online courses designed by the team.
Every month, three or four courses on different themes would be uploaded for teachers of different levels.
Most of the teachers in the chat groups are from third tier cities or faraway, explained Zheng Ailun, the other co-founder.
Zheng had taught two years at a primary school at a township in Chaozhou, South China’s Guangdong Province, before joining the team in 2016.
Keren Wong, 27, a Chinese American graduate from the Cornell University and another co-founder of the organization, pointed out that it is common to see introduction of overseas curriculum into China ending with little effect.
“It is the best resources, but it can’t fit the context. If you decide to stay, hopefully at the end of the day, you are someone who doesn’t need us. You are learning how to learn,” Wong noted.
Nearly one year has passed after Zhu declared the goal of 10,000 followers, over half of which has been reached.
Zhu smiled and admitted, “It is true that we are not making profits yet, but we don’t mind paying ourselves with less salary. Also, we can borrow money from our family (for operation).”
But there is hope. The education bureaus of two counties in northwest China's Gansu Province have agreed to cooperate with the organization.
Zhu insisted that what her team has been doing could also be a commercial success and all the problems could be overcome if they work harder on a business development mode.
“I chose to take the post last March because I thought everything worth it. Even if there was one day that we failed and I was in huge debt, I believe that we would still believe that this is the right thing to do and we would continue to do it, just maybe via another organization,” Zhu said.