In recent years, the education market in Asia-Pacific countries has experienced a colossal boom. This boom is driven by an increased understanding of education as a resource in creating a competitive workforce, in turn ensuring solid economic growth. It is now an industry which is receiving over US$700 billion of investment every year.
This increased activity has bred a vast demand across the continent for resources and teachers. In the rush to fill this demand, the EdTech industry in China alone is expected to grow by 20% annually, according to South China Morning Post.
So, how does this impact education businesses in Asia-Pacific and how can strategies be implemented to complement this boom? We spoke with Duc Luu, Chief Strategy Officer at RISE Education.
Established in 2007, RISE Education is a progressive household name in the English language learning industry. Their mission is 'to cultivate the future leaders of the world, while also developing children’s English thinking patterns and leadership skills (teamwork, presentation, and project management) in a cross-cultural environment.'
What’s unique about RISE Education’s strategy?
RISE provides a highly dynamic American K-12 curriculum based on rigid guidelines while providing interactive multimedia to students both in and out of the classroom. At RISE Education, children have the opportunity to study in a fun and completely immersive non-traditional ESL learning environment, which will stimulate their interest in learning. RISE not only develops children’s language skills, but also trains them to understand the logic, cultural nuances, and thinking methods behind the language. In addition, RISE focuses on cultivating children’s leadership skills, including teamwork, presentation, projects management, problem solving, and creativity through our three learning stages of RISE Start, RISE On, and RISE Up. In all, RISE’s products cover three areas: knowledge, personal development, and social development to help students develop their language skills, subject knowledge, cooperation skills, communication skills, thinking skills, and management skills.
RISE has expanded through self-owned learning centers in the top four cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen while pursuing regional growth through franchise expansion in second and third tier Chinese cities. We combine proprietary interactive courseware with Chinese local teachers to measure student performance effectively and scale across China quickly.
What are the challenges of successful strategy execution when you’re an education company?
Firstly, an education company in the K-12 space needs to satisfy two stakeholders: the parents paying for the product or service, and the students using the product to improve themselves. Both stakeholders care about efficacy and therefore positive results must be proven and communicated effectively. It is easy to say that you care about the student, it is harder to prove that you’re providing value to the student.
Secondly, every aspect of the learning process must be considered. For offline companies, this entails school layout, facilities management, offline and online content and courseware, teacher recruitment, training, and retention, unobtrusive sales, resales, and marketing. Online companies need to disrupt or replicate the offline experience while acknowledging that the stakeholders may be reticent to adapt away from dated learning tools. Educating the parent and student through proof of efficacy and strong engagement is necessary. At RISE, we are always looking to marry the offline experience with the online experience to better our students’ learning outcomes.
Most strategies end up failing to achieve what they set out to do, what can be done to make them successful?
Validate with data. It’s silly to set a strategy without first proving its successful application through data validation. If you can’t/won’t test a hypothesis on a small scale before expanding it across all markets, you don’t really have a deep understanding of how the product works and inevitably how to deal with the inevitable adjustments that must be made to fit wide consumer preferences. Collect the data, validate the data, execute the strategy, collect the data, rinse repeat.
What are the challenges of implementing a strategy in an international organization?
RISE Education operates as a Chinese domestic company looking to license quality content from international content publishers to insert as products or services to meet the needs of our 100,000 student population across 250 learning centers. In doing so, we need to be able to vet quality content, localize such content to our regional markets, and assess their efficacy over time. Partnering with willing and able counterparties who are respectful of the unique needs presented by the China market is incredibly important. Too often foreign companies seek to freight train their will onto Chinese customers only to exit the country in failure.
Does a larger company require a different strategic approach to a smaller company?
Clearly larger companies move more like aircraft carriers than speedboats. Ideas must be validated. Consensus must be groomed. Vision and resources must be aligned, before any decisive move can be made. It’s important to incubate a lean startup mentality in the firm when innovation is constant within your industry.
Does business growth disrupt strategy? If so, how can this be navigated?
Business growth can disrupt strategy as the firm goes through the different life cycles of the industry. At different stages of that growth, its important to evaluate as a firm if we’re still implementing the correct strategy and tactics for that stage. For example, China is made up of very distinct regions with their own regionalities. A copy and paste approach to the expansion cannot work without intent to localize the product with every city and region you enter. Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Beijing each require subtleties in sales, marketing, and operations changes that would make not making changes to the business strategy be like courting death to your door step.
What kind of changes do you think needs to be made to the workforce mentality to make them more effective at embracing change and new strategies and new innovations?
I think it's important to set a vision for the company and a direction over the next five years before finally allowing for embracing of change to be a core value within the firm. Technology is fast disrupting all industries from old guard tech to seemingly low tech companies. Not embracing change while setting a vision for the company leaves the company rigid and rudderless. Employees need the opportunity for constant self improvement personally and professionally and if the company can provide that, we can retain and promote more like-minded accomplished employees.
See Duc speak at our Chief Strategy Officer summit in Singapore this July 11-12.