“Our strategy hasn’t changed,” says Duolingo founder in response to China’s ed tech crackdown
“Our strategy hasn’t changed,” said Ahn, adding, “China’s a very interesting market; of course, it’s the largest language learning market in the world. We’re going to continue investing in it.”
How’s China cracking down on ed tech?
- In late July, the Chinese government announced that they would be taking steps to reform private education companies.
- According to Beijing, the out-of-school education industry has been “severely hijacked by capital,” according to an article posted by the Chinese Ministry of Education.
- It said it was looking to make changes in the industry to help parents with the rising costs of parenting and help overworked students.
- These sorts of crackdowns primarily took the form of making it illegal for teachers outside of China to provide for-profit tutoring in core subjects.
- But in August, it became clear that other education sources might be the target when ed tech apps like Duolingo Inc., a Pittsburgh-based language learning app, disappeared from some app stores.
- “We are working to address the issue and are hopeful that the app will be reinstated in the near term,” the company said in an emailed statement. “In the meanwhile, existing users in China can continue to use the app as they always do,” wrote the company in early August.
What does this mean for Duolingo?
- Duolingo’s app removal came after the government had already started a regulatory crackdown on tech giants like Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd.
- At TechCrunch Disrupt, in response to a question from TMS, Duolingo’s CEO and co-founder Luis von Ahn confirmed that the app isn’t available in app stores anymore and discussed what this kind of change would mean for Duolingo’s presence in the country.
- “Our strategy hasn’t changed,” said Ahn, adding, “China’s a very interesting market; of course, it’s the largest language learning market in the world. We’re going to continue investing in it.”
- But he also said that Duolingo has tried to stay away from being reliant on China as its primary audience, saying, “it would be foolish for us to bet the company on China, given that it’s been hard for Western companies to operate in China.”
- Ahn didn’t comment on the question of why China would have taken the app off of stores, but he did seem hopeful for a Duolingo future in China.
- “We believe that we’re going to be reinstated soon-ish. It’s impossible to tell exactly when, but we think we’re going to be reinstated.”
What does this mean for Chinese students?
- For many Duolingo users, according to Ahn, the point isn’t necessarily to supplement courses for students but rather to help adults climb the social ladder.
- “Most people who are learning a language in the world are learning English, and the reason they’re learning English is to basically get into the middle class.”
- So for Chinese adults looking to use Duolingo for that reason, the challenge might be just a little bit greater without the language-learning tool.
- But for Chinese students, English is a compulsory subject.
- Well, for Duolingo, the hope certainly seems to be that China reinstates the app into app stores in the country.
- But, one of the broader questions is if this ed tech education industry regulatory crackdown will slow down class mobility in China, making it harder for, like Ahn said, “get into the middle class.”
- The Brookings Institution estimates that China will have 1.2 billion people in the middle class by 2027. Still, it isn’t clear if that number could be lower if China’s crackdown on privatized education tools continues.
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