Alibaba and Tencent: Gearing up for An Expansion in Education Space

GETChina Insights
7 min readApr 19, 2019


Over the past year, even though the competition of education business is not fiercely competitive among China’s Internet giants, they have undergone great changes such as sudden exit and entry decisions, some massive retreat, as well as restructuring and innovation. Compared with other fields, education business is relatively more difficult to scale and hard to directly attain expected results by “the Internet games” which those giants used to excel in.

Reviewing the education business of Chinese Internet giants BAT, Baidu has always been the pioneer. Since the launch of Baidu Library in 2009, its education career has formed a suite of products in the past 10 years. And Baidu Education has established its core mission of helping users “better themselves” through tailoring to their learning needs since 2017.

Recently, the other two leaders of BAT, Tencent and Alibaba, have undoubtedly made significant progress in their education business even if the environment is austere. This piece will show the initiatives and future strategy unfolded by Tencent and Alibaba through their first-hand interviews with JMDedu.

Tencent Smart Campus:A digital assistant for personalized K12 market

Building smart campus is an important policy laid out by government for enhancing education informatization at the current stage. Having developed many fist products such as WeChat, QQ, Tencent Cloud by harnessing Internet organic traffic, many people wonder what the key could be for Tencent to expand its education business through building smart campus?

Through a latest investigation on a key school in Longhua, Shenzhen, JMDedu found that Tencent has achieved some development of smart campuses in kindergartens, primary and middle schools. “Data Link + Personalization” is the most important feature of “Tencent Cloud + Smart Campus”.

The affiliated kindergarten of Longhua District Academy of Education Science in Shenzhen (hereinafter referred to the affiliated kindergarten) is the first kindergarten which Tencent Cloud entered. The principal Gan Lu said that precautionary action is more important than emergency measurements. Therefore, the affiliated kindergarten has introduced a face identification system to ensure campus security.

As for the curriculum provision, Gan Lu said that kindergartens are different from primary and secondary schools. Subjects are not distinct and more emphasis is placed on integrated learning and personalized teaching. Therefore, introducing Apps as an assistant while using a smart bracelet co-developed with Tencent to record the child’s learning trajectory. Through the data analysis this will allow teachers and parents to create a personalized plan for each child.

The principal also told us that they would continue to improve the function of the bracelet. By incorporating the face identification system in the bracelet, children’s height, weight and daily exercise are connected to show the child’s growth trajectory, forming a data record for the child stage.

Another demonstration of Tencent’s smart campus is the affiliated elementary school of the Longhua District Academy of Education Sciences (hereinafter referred to as the school). The school has a history of nearly a hundred years and has been the best school in the local area for a long time. However, due to the functional change of regional layout, educational resources and the status of the school has been declining. In the era of integrating AI to education, how to make the school revive? Principal Wu Shaowen and Longhua District Education Bureau believe that “humanities + technology” is the direction.

Through the shared lockers with face identification system, the distribution of educational resources and tools such as sports equipment and books can be realized, thereby building a shared campus. Moreover, students’ emotions will be captured by cameras and Tencent Cloud, generating their health record and transferring the feedback to their parents in real time.

In addition, the school has a tradition of nature education. In the construction of a smart campus, technology has given more space for traditional teaching way, enabling the students to get more authentic experience of nature and agriculture.

The implementation of the two smart campuses depicted above stems from the top-level planning from Longhua District Education Bureau. Up to now, Tencent Smart Campus has spread to 76 schools covering 270,000 teachers, students and parents in Longhua District. The average daily usage is over 60,000, with a peak reaching 100,000. The monitor of big data can reflect the change of the enrollment quota, providing direct reference to the education department. Apart from the statistics of individuals, it can also detect changes in “things”. Logistic and security work can also be ensured by monitor the data of smart equipment, air conditioning, lighting, and fire protection.

As a technology solution provider, Tencent still position themselves as an add-on digital assistant. Technology and product output is the main way for them to penetrate schools. At the moment, Tencent Smart Campus is in the process of hardware setting and data link forming. It is said that the school and the tech giant are discussing to make more customized services, and the next step of the intelligence analysis is still in iterative planning.

The Tencent Smart Campus in the overall K12 market has spread nationwide, attaining 14,000 schools with more than 19 million teachers, students and parents. Looking at the case of Longhua District, it may just be the beginning of setting up a data sharing spectrum between various products, realizing the linkage between schools and regions.

Alibaba-DingTalk future campus: Avail the education industry with its 2B gene

On March 3rd, Alibaba-DingTalk has launched its education informatization product “Future Campus”, provoking fierce debate in education space. Under the context of the capital winter and the tightening policy from the Ministry of Education on educational apps entering schools and alleviating students’ burden, the education companies in private sector involved in ToB business has been extremely cautious. Therefore, DingTalk making great strides at this time is undoubtedly a blockbuster move for the sub-sectors.

The Future Campus is a set of solutions with “digital management platform + intelligent hardware”, providing services for primary and secondary schools. In terms of the digital management platform, the Future Campus provides services in four dimensions, namely campus management, teaching and research, communication between home and school, and student growth files. Regarding the intelligent hardware, as for the cases like campus security, intelligent classrooms, and home-school construction, it offers services such as face identification, visitor management, students’ entry and departure management, cloud printing, and unlimited screen projection, etc. It is not difficult to find that based on the positioning of DingTalk itself as a “smart mobile office platform” , the Future Campus mainly features building school management platform whereas the education hardware comes second. Educational contents and resources are much less involved.

Specifically speaking, DingTalk has made in-depth illustrations of its vision. In order to ensure campus data and privacy security, the SOC2 Type1 report, ISO 27108 certificate, ISO 27001 certificate and the Ministry of Public Security information system protection certificate are provided.

“Education is more like public welfare. DingTalk’s product is worth 100,000 RMB, but we give it to customers for free and teach them how to use it.” In DingTalk’s VP-Fang Yongxin’s view, profits should be placed on the whole Alibaba Group instead of DingTalk. “We provide technology support which is always free. But the school still has to pay service providers for the subsequent personalized services.” With regard to the hardware, DingTalk puts more emphasis on security. When choosing the right partner to work with in terms of producing education contents, they are more inclined to pick those mainly targeting at ToB business.

As for the Ministry of Education’s supervision of Apps and the prohibition of charging students, Fang Yongxin told JMDedu that the policy is mainly to prevent schools from being bothered by for-profit organizations. If someone can provide in-depth services to schools efficiently, there would be room for making flexible moves.

Frankly speaking, if DingTalk only builds a professional school management platform, it is quite easy for them to leverage their strengths to do so. However, when it comes to services like hardware procurement and education content, the problems such as long education informatization chain, complex procurement forms, separation of decision makers and users cannot be overlooked. We hope DingTalk could offer a better solution to cope with those issues.

Alibaba’s previous initiatives in education

Alibaba’s expansion to education industry can be traced back to the establishment of Taobao University in 2006. When breaking down sub-sectors, it covers early childhood education, K12, higher education, vocational education, educational entrepreneurship, and educational public welfare. Looking at the investment, Alibaba group itself did not invest as an entity in the field of education but mostly initiated investment by Yunfeng Fund which mainly focuses on early childhood education and vocational education. Their portfolios include VIPKid, Babytree, Knowbox, etc. Besides the layout of traditional education industry, Alibaba is better-known for its educational public welfare.

In December 2017, the Alibaba Foundation for Poverty Alleviation was established, planning to invest 10 billion RMB in poverty alleviation in five years, in which education is an important component. According to the 2018 Alibaba Poverty Alleviation Report, 623 poverty-stricken counties have applied for the welfare project, directly affecting more than 2,000 schools, over 80,000 rural teachers and 1 million students.

With the capital and technology solutions garnered from the two Internet giants, more concentration effects could be generated regarding integrating data, intelligent hardware to drive education informatization in both public and private settings.

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