Sustainability and Scaling Up
Partnerships help sustainability
The project helps teachers better manage their workload by providing much-needed teacher training. For example, in Wei County, approximately 400 teachers were trained by the platform, learning online teaching methods and teaching skills in general. The project enlisted the help of teachers located in more developed cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, to share their talents with community members. Public school teachers are essential community partner within the First Mate team. Their feedback drives the service to improve.
Besides creating local community partnerships, First Mate also has strong organizational and institutional support. It has established partnerships with public schools and local education ministries from less developed areas in over 50 counties. Currently, it is working with the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation to ensure the work with all resource-lacking partners stays sustainable.
Smartphones are prevalent even among rural students. Due to COVID-19, the central government and local governments issued policies to consolidate resources and support online teaching/learning, even after COVID-19 passes. In general, online teaching is also supported by the state, investing in local infrastructure. Teachers and students don’t have to commit a lot of time and money to be able to obtain a quality education.
The project also has good financial backing and institutional support. TAL and TAL Charity Foundation fund the project. Created in the face of COVID-19, First Mate will continue to serve disadvantaged applicants after COVID has passed.
In the future, First Mate hopes to continue collaborating with institutions that share its vision of serving disadvantaged teachers and students globally.
Ready to go bigger
COVID-19 has put First Mate’s technology to the test and has proven it can be scaled further should the need emerges. First Mate’s live streaming component, WeClassroom, has seen exponential growth since COVID started. Data shows that the platform was regularly serving close to one million users per hour in February. At its peak, the platform served over 8 million users an hour per day throughout March and April. The total of these metrics only measure large classes of more than 16 students; this data does not include private tutoring and small classes.
Financially speaking, the operating cost is low for an online-platform. The majority of the budget is committed to developing the technology, which means the more users there are, the less average cost there is. Being powered by AI means its features are fully automated, so its services are not only scalable but also benefit from having more data to train its models.
The need for online teaching in China has decreased significantly compared to the peak of the country’s COVID lockdown. However, COVID is still affecting public services globally, and a “second wave” is still an ever-present threat. The function of this platform has already been intensively tested, and we aim to apply and adapt it to other countries. These efforts will focus primarily on economically disadvantaged countries.
Projects like UNESCO’s 1 million USD contract will focus on: Initiatives that support the development of merging online-offline schools globally. Advancing the production and sharing of data with UNESCO, in the field of technology and AI in education, including sponsoring international conferences organized by UNESCO.Promote inclusive access to open-source learning platforms, curriculum-aligned digital learning resources, and the use of an online-offline merging model to ensure the continuity and quality of learning. The project aims to support building crisis-resilient schools, with open education systems empowered by technology. Sub-Saharan African countries will take priority, along with other developing countries. The right to education will not be disrupted.