Renaissance’s Chinese market entry with adequate personalized education experience
by Siyi Zhang
2019-11-15 16:26:06

With its debut in Beijing in 2015, GET (Global Education Technology) has become the biggest EdTech gathering in Asia. In the past four years, JMDedu has invited educators and innovators from more than 40 countries and regions to share their insights, experience and solutions on education, while helping Chinese and international EdTech practitioners explore potential opportunities for further business collaboration. In in the upcoming weeks leading to GET 2019 Summit, JMDedu will release our new series: Expanding Your Footprint in China, deep-diving into three different operation models from successful companies: Renaissance, Duolingo and Pearson.

In Week 1, we will start with Renaissance  (the company), the leader in K-12 EdTech. Founded 30 years ago in the US by a mother who wanted to help her children improve their reading, the company now works with over 52,500 schools across the world. Renaissance expanded its business to the UK in 1999,setting their global business headquarters in London.

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This September, Renaissance unveiled its official entrance into the Chinese market for personalized assessment and practice solutions that put learning analytics to work for educators. Setting up an office in Beijing and a data center in Shanghai to support all their products for the Chinese market, Renaissance works with training institutions and international schools.

Spending three years exploring “why China is different”

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Renaissance claims that there are currently more than 18 million students, covering one-third of the schools in the United States and nearly half of secondary schools in the UK, using their cloud tools for English reading, assessment and mathematics learning.

Erez Tocker, Renaissance’s Managing Director, told JMDedu that the international division was established in 2016, and Renaissance has now expanded overseas business to 96 countries, back by 463 independent scientific studies, and amassed more than 2.8 billion real-world data points. As part of its global strategy, Renaissance sees vast potential in the Chinese education market, although this also comes with several challenges, said Erez.

For all companies, global expansion means meeting the demands of local consumers. Fortunately, Renaissance seems to be winning over the Chinese market with ease. An effective and diverse product range, and abundant experience in localisation gathered over the last thirty years, support Renaissance to well meet the specific demands from educators in China. And when it comes to the different provincial policies in China, Renaissance has every confidence in its ability to deal with regulatory risks. “In the UK market, we have to work with different regions with different demands and priorities, so we have some experience in this area!” Erez said. 

Renaissance has sales and marketing teams consisting of Chinese speakers in the UK and even Australia to better understand the requirements from Chinese customers before its official entry into the Chinese market. Erez said, that compared to 2002 when he first came to China, there has been rapid growth of English training and “the Chinese government is ahead of many others in its desire to see innovation in K-12 education, personalised English language learning and Edtech in the classroom”. Ideas about education in Chinese society are beginning to move towards a model of a more personalised, individualised education, fitting perfectly with Renaissance’s vision to accelerate learning for all. “We believe everyone can be a successful learner, and it is our conviction that empowering teachers is integral to schools’ success”, said Erez. Now, China is one of Renaissance’s key markets, together with the US and UK.

Before officially launching their products in China, Renaissance spent three years exploring the teaching model that best meets the needs of Chinese educators and the Chinese education system. “We migrated our hosting system into China to provide fast and reliable connection to for users. We have been extensively researching how our product can fit in the market.” According to Erez, new features developed for Chinese users will be released in the coming months.

Seeking relationships with international schools and training institutions

“Chinese students have already taken more than 92,000 quizzes using Renaissance’s Accelerated Reader software over the last year, with an impressive 84% success rate,” says Erez. Currently, the company cooperates with international schools and English training institutions covering more than 400 campuses in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Tianjin, and other first-tier or new first-tier cities.

In collaborating with Chinese partners, Erez said: “Renaissance is a gold-standard company with a great reputation globally, so we seek to work with Chinese companies to build the same reputation here.” He specifically highlights the company’s cultural fit in China, and profound understanding of the K-12 education sector in China, as well as proven effectiveness in the Chinese market so far.

Currently, Renaissance is still deep-diving into evaluating the usage and impact of their solutions in order to determine how to adapt their products to accelerate learning growth for Chinese students and support educators. Looking towards further expansion, Renaissance aims to promote its products to second- and third-tier cities next year.

Waiting for the right opportunity to tap into public schools

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According to Ecns.cn, China had about 240 million students in the kindergarten through high school stage in 2018. Hou Jianbin, the CEO of Zybang, said in a speech that there are a total of 180 million Chinese students at the K-12 learning stage, which is equivalent to the total population of Brazil.

The Chinese education market is huge, but relatively scattered. The top 10 companies possess less than 10% of total market share. Seeing such a big cake, many foreign companies are eager to launch new products with localized features in the near future. There is no doubt that public schools cannot be ignored by a company who wants to make a real difference in China. “If we have a credible partner who is able to work with the public sector, as well as a viable plan to support the goals of educators, we will consider it”, said Erez.

When asked on advice for newcomers, Erez expressed that the two most important things are to be patient, and plan for the long term. “The Chinese market is complex and fast-moving. To be successful, it is imperative to spend time learning and understanding the market, students and teachers’ needs, and the layout of the educational ecosystem. Success should not be measured by quick, short term, and unsustainable gains, but by the long-term impact, improving learning outcomes, and supporting students and educators”, he says. Working closely with world-class organizations in China who are well placed to support the vision of your business is also suggested by Erez: “the synergy generated by the partnership is larger than its sum.”

Due to the deep education reforms supported by the Chinese government, and the development of science and technologies, more and more funds have been poured into the educational innovation market, especially the K12 e-learning sector. Rapidly-growing mobile internet penetration has made online education well accepted by Chinese parents and students, giving opportunities for start-ups to grow.

Amid such an environment, foreign companies’ expansion have brought new thoughts and ideas, changing the rather homogeneous K-12 learning sector in China. In the next piece, we will discuss the story of Duolingo, exploring how language learning product providers make their Chinese strategy when the sector has already become a red sea.

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