The inspiration for learning experience comes from a plethora of different places for educators. Cicy Ding heads up the teaching and research centre for WuKong Education – a self-described “online learning solution” for students aged three to 18 across the world – and as a co-founder, her inspiration came from her own next generation.
“Before I started my business, I dreamed that my naughty daughter would fall in love with learning,” she says. “My daughter was very interested in her native language – I am ethnic Chinese – but there was a lack of good [Chinese language] teachers in New Zealand, so I thought of using the internet to connect with the best teachers in China to teach my daughter.
“That was the genesis of WuKong,” she explains.
After settling in New Zealand, Ding found that it was the number one country in the Global Future Education Index – seeing it had the world’s most innovative practices, as she recalls, in basic education at the time, she was encouraged.
“Every primary and secondary school in New Zealand has its own inquiry-based learning model, which is not only a poster displayed in the classroom but also implemented in every lesson,” she explains.
“Every primary and secondary school in New Zealand has its own inquiry-based learning model”
After being exposed to the “leading education concept” New Zealand had to offer, Ding and her co-founders wanted to bring that approach to an online background – thus opening it up to students across the world.
Students at WuKong now come from 118 countries and regions around the globe.
Its inception coincided with a pain point she and many of her Chinese friends in the country have in their own families – immigrant parents having high expectations for their own children’s language skills.
“Because of the limited resources, their children’s Chinese language skills are always languishing – some of them even give up learning Chinese.”
She and her co-founders wanted to link teachers from across the world with families with learning needs through an online concept – starting with Chinese products, and then as growth catapulted and demand grew, mathematics subjects.
Not only do WuKong continue to develop their “core competence model”, integrating it and pedagogical methodologies into our curriculum framework, she says, but also using the technology to grade students scientifically through data analysis, allowing students at different stages to obtain tailored learning programs.
AI has also made its way into WuKong’s creation and development.
“Through immersive AI interaction, we inspire children’s active learning ability and mobilise their enthusiasm throughout their whole learning process – this is completely different from the traditional one-way inculcation teaching,” she explains.
After starting the company in 2016, WuKong has been on a constant upward trajectory. In 2018, it began to get press coverage, as well as winning a start-up competition, the New Kiwis Challenge of New Zealand, “ahead of 40 other start-ups”, gaining investment from the organisers Zino Ventures.
Its pinnacle moment was during the pandemic, wherein online education flourished. It began offering free online Chinese lessons when schooling was interrupted, more funding was secured from K2VC, and a teacher base was opened in the height of the first wave in Chengdu, China.
In March 2021, WuKong Math was launched globally.
“WuKong Math is based on school knowledge, comprehensively covering the focus of exams and competitions, meeting students’ needs for excellent learning and precisely reaching learning goals,” Ding elaborates.
“It perfectly integrates New Zealand’s world-leading inquiry-based learning teaching method, Singapore’s CPA teaching method and other teaching methods to create an original 6A teaching method that deeply matches children’s learning characteristics.”
While enjoying such healthy growth and constantly innovating its newest products and technologies, Ding relents that one of the biggest challenges in running an online education platform open to so many is the localisation problem.
“Students from different countries and regions have grown up with very different education concepts and backgrounds, and their language environment and learning requirements for learning Chinese are also very different,” Ding explains.
“We have invested a lot of effort in teaching and research since our inception because the content and pace of teaching are very different for children from different countries and families, so we set the goal according to their needs from the very beginning.
“Likewise, we spent a lot of time polishing the grading system in order to more precisely find the child’s niche and design their learning line for children with different backgrounds,” says Ding.
At a time when, Ding notes, the organisation is still in “rapid development”, WuKong will now need to take stock as the world begins to transition out of the pandemic, but also continue its evolution in online learning.
“Competition is getting fierce – the epidemic dividend is fading, and the level of user fission sharing is exceptionally high”
Using the opportunities created by the pandemic, WuKong’s “rapidly improving” technical capabilities and parental trust allowed for a catalyst in growth – with extremely high user referral ratings: two out of three students, Ding says, came in from such means.
“Competition is getting fierce – the epidemic dividend is fading, and the level of user fission sharing is exceptionally high.
“Referrals and renewals have greatly reduced the costs of acquiring new customers for us – this user trust not only allows us to enter new markets and develop new disciplines more easily.”
In terms of the future, the ongoing rapid development is top of the list – and WuKong wants to rely on its core to catapult its newer facets.
“We hope that on the basis of the widespread recognition and popularity of our Chinese products in the market, more users will try, and enjoy, our math products.
“We have already established a relationship with the Department of International Trade [in the UK] and will have the opportunity to collaborate on the London market development in the future.”
As for Ding’s daughter, she has almost become the fruit of WuKong’s ambitions.
“I started to develop the course for my daughter, and she is still one of the students of WuKong. I would say she is the ‘chief product experience officer’ of our course!”