6 July 2016
Internet+ Kindergarten Model and Smart Toys Dominate Early Learning
- Photo: The Xiaoshuidi Classroom: Kindergarten+ internet in action.
- Photo: Xiaoshuidi’s kangaroo teaching resource.
- Photo: A helping-you-get-smart robot.
- Photo: Digitally tinkling the ivories: The One smart piano.
- Photo: Reflected glory: The Miraffe magic mirror.
- Photo: Rabbit tales: Alilo’s story machine.
- Photo: Honger’s eco-friendly ceramic tiles.
With explosive growth in the early learning sector now expected, exhibitors at the International Kids Expo were keen to promote internet-supplemented kindergarten learning systems, as well as all the latest in smart piano innovations.
This year's International Kid's Education Expo saw many manufacturers and distributors scrabbling for market position, with the pre-school education sector widely tipped to be on the verge of explosive growth. The Internet+ kindergarten model was particularly popular, with a substantial number of exhibitors having a distinct focus on enhancing connected learning for the very young.
According to research by Zhiyan, a mainland consulting group, the number of children aged 0-6 is set to reach 144 million by 2020. This will be down to the combined impact of China's 1986-1990 baby boom and the implementation of the two-child policy. As a direct consequence, the total value of the preschool education market is expected to reach Rmb373.2 billion. This represents a compound annual growth rate of 21.36%, as well as 2.2-fold increase over 2014. At present, kindergartens form the core of the preschool education industry, with overall enrolment rates rising steadily.
Internet + Kindergarten
The fusion of internet learning and the classroom experience has proved a popular model for many parents, driving a number of companies to try and stake their claim in this hugely lucrative sector. One such company is Guangdong SunVision Education and Science Technology, the business behind the Xiaoshuidi Classroom. Developed as a bespoke cloud platform for preschool education, the Xiaoshuidi Classroom extends across a kindergarten education information platform, a family education information platform and the Xiaoshuidi smartphone app.
According to SunVision's rep at this year's event, the design and operation of its software allows school education to work in partnership with family-based learning, while also helping children develop though internet interactivity. Via the Xiaoshuidi app, the kindergarten principal can remotely manage the overall educational programmes and parents can stay informed, in real-time, as to what exactly their children are learning.
Kindergarten teachers can also use their smartphones to prepare lessons via the Xiaoshuidi app. To this end, SunVision has uploaded a variety of teaching resources, all of which teachers can easily access, allowing them to prepare lessons in just 15 minutes.
This year, the company featured a simulated kindergarten classroom on its stand. Two of its teaching tools in particular – one shaped like a mummy kangaroo and the other in the shape of a calf – proved hugely popular.
According to SunVision, the calf can be used to store a range of classroom materials, with teachers able to access these resources by connecting a projector. Teachers can also control the calf remotely and, similarly, use the kangaroo as a means of interacting with their students.
SunVision currently focuses on thematic lessons for children in the 3-6 years of age category, frequently using animation to catch and hold children's attention. The Xiaoshuidi Classroom system offers both integrated courses and hobby courses, and can be customised via a selection of teaching resources and a number of different system settings. Teachers can select their optimum courses from the company's database, with the options on offer including language, health, civics, science and art.
The company has also developed a variety of different course materials as teaching aids for its hobby courses. In the teaching resources section, information relating to Chinese culture and health, as well as a number of age-appropriate stories are all available for teachers looking to develop their own courses. In the My Documents section, teachers are free to upload their own teaching notes and materials, allowing them to create their own courses.
One supposedly unique feature of the system is its facility for connecting with family members, allowing educational resources to be shared in the home environment. Parents also have the option of purchasing a family-friendly version of the app, which allows for greater parent-child interaction, acting to reinforce anything initially learned in the classroom.
Another benefit of the app is that it allows parents to monitor their children's progress, while keeping them aware of classroom teaching objectives. It also boosts their understanding of any particular interests shown by their child during the classroom learning process, allowing them to further develop these interests at home.
A number of other companies were also showing connected learning products at this year's event. Among these was Guangzhou Witroad Software Technology, which was promoting an app-based learning platform specifically developed for kindergartens. Its system included proprietary learning programmes dedicated to the needs of children, parents and teachers.
By contrast, the Zhangxin Baobei app – developed by Shenzhen Cloud Brought the World Technology – was more focussed on kindergarten management and parent-kindergarten communication. The system was said to enhance a kindergarten's 'soft power', facilitating greater interaction among teachers, parents and kindergarten principals, ensuring they can stay informed as to any child's developmental progress.
Preschool Smart Products
A considerable variety of smart preschool education products were on show at this year's expo. Intriguingly, the range extended to smart systems, smart mirrors and even smart pianos.
The latter was on show courtesy of Xiaoyezi (Beijing) Technology. Billed as The One, the company's smart piano uses keyboard lights to help children to learn how to master the instrument. A similar system is also available for adult learners.
According to Lin Shangyou, a Xiaoyezi Instructor, the company's smart piano teaches children to play through a series of different challenges. Children can practice their keyboard skills by following the 88 indicator lights, while learning musical theory by tackling the challenges in an accompanying game. The system was, apparently, one of the bestselling musical instruments on Alibaba in 2014 and 2015.
In the case of the Miraffe magic mirror – developed by Shenzhen Xiaoxi Technology – this has been designed to help children identify a variety of objects. Shaped like a cartoon giraffe, the mirror comes with a display screen and webcam at the front and a second webcam at the rear.
Explaining how the system works, Huang Jialong, Xiaoxi's Operations Manager, said: "A child can use the Miraffe to take a picture of any object. Then the 'magic' mirror can tell this child what it is, making the learning process lively and interesting".
The magic mirror comes with 100 smart cards. These can be used to generate augmented reality images, which can help to develop a child's 3D recognition skills, while also acting to spur their imagination.
Meanwhile, the Alilo smart story system – developed by the Shenzhen-based Booyue Lifestyle – comes with the facility for real-time dialogue. The machine uses a button-based menu to allow for the selection of storytelling, FM radio, children's songs or dialogue options. If parents are away, they can access the system via a smartphone app, enabling them to tell the story or play the music of their choice.
A companion piece, the Alilo reading pen comes, with recognition cards, an emotions picture book, a map and a toy car. This reading pen is shaped like a rabbit and includes a rear sensor. When the pen touches a sensor point on the map, it lights up and reads out the relevant information. The pen also comes with scent-emitting recognition cards. A card featuring a picture of a peach, for instance, will give off an appropriately sweet fruit aroma.
Quality and Safety Paramount
The quality of preschool education products remains a matter of key concern to parents and should be a major design concern for all companies looking to enter this market.
A company that has clearly taken this message on board is Honger, attending the show to promote its range of eco-friendly ceramic tiles, said to be ideal outdoor flooring material for kindergartens. According to Li Zhineng, the Company's Childhood Environment Consultant, the tiles can absorb water quickly and also suitable for being laid on top of sand or stone. They are also non-slip and will not scratch or otherwise hurt children's skin in the event of a fall.
The China Preschool Education Conference 2016 and Seventh International Kid's Education Expo took place at the Poly World Trade Center Expo in Guangzhou from 3-5 June.
Xing Bin, Special Correspondent, Guangzhou