An English-language course is recorded by a teacher in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
DingTalk, the remote office tool developed by Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, was among the first batch of 60 distance learning solutions recommended by the United Nations as the international community turns to technologies to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 contagion.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has published a list of educational applications and platforms in six categories on its website as ways to "facilitate student learning and provide social caring and interaction during periods of school closure".
DingTalk was included in the category of "collaboration platforms that support live-video communication". Other providers include Zoom, Lark, and Microsoft Corp's Teams.
DingTalk hopes to become the infrastructure of a digital society. We are not building for games, but for the healthy development of the society
Chen Hang, CEO, DingTalk
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The Hangzhou-based company said DingTalk has been facilitating online courses in 140,000 schools and 2.9 million classes in China, covering 120 million students in more than 30 regions in the country. Some 3.5 million teachers have become anchors via the app.
"DingTalk hopes to become the infrastructure of a digital society. We are not building for games, but for the healthy development of the society," said CEO Chen Hang.
Two other Chinese companies, Mosoteach and iCourse, also made it to the list.
UNESCO said these solutions do not carry the organization's explicit endorsement, but emphasized that they tend to have a wide reach, a strong user-base and evidence of impact.
According to the organization's monitoring, 85 countries have closed schools, impacting over 776.7 million children and youth so far across the globe.
To stay prepared for the explosive growth, DingTalk has just unveiled its latest 5.0 version to include new functions like office tools that can be edited by multiple users simultaneously as well as tiered virtual community groups.
Other Chinese companies are also riding the boom. Tencent Meeting, a remote learning and conferencing tool developed by Tencent Holdings Ltd, said it has been expanding capacity to provide smooth video conferencing services for organizations in civic services, financial, education, and the medical sector since the end of January.
In the education realm, Tencent Meeting has been supporting online lectures for leading institutions like Tsinghua University and Wuhan University. It has also extended services to seven countries and regions outside of the Chinese mainland, offering users free online meetings for up to 300 participants, said Zhao Jiannan, general manager for Tencent Meeting Northeast Asia.
"We have provided digital conferencing solutions to some Japanese companies, including those in the education sector, helping them weather the current storm," Zhao said, adding the localized version has made the software easy to use.
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The remote work tool business has been catapulted to the forefront and has much room for growth, said Raymond Wang, global partner at consultancy Roland Berger.
"Roughly 20 percent of the office workers in developed economies in Europe and the US are used to distance conferencing, whereas penetration rate is between 1 percent and 2 percent in China," he said. "The epidemic has unexpectedly expanded the user base as well as application scenarios."
To witness a genuine takeoff, Wang believes the market requires technologies to be coupled with tailored software, hardware and even content modules that pair perfectly with distance communication.
"And for Chinese technology providers to excel in overseas markets, it's imperative to understand cultural nuances regarding local needs, habits, and conduct targeted marketing," he said.
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