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Tencent and education startup Age of Learning bring popular English-learning app ABCmouse to China

Tencent is teaming up with Los Angeles-based education company Age of Learning to launch an English education program for kids in China. ABCmouse, Age of Learning’s flagship product, has been localized and will be available as a website and an iOS and Android app in China, with Tencent handling product development, marketing, sales and customer support.

The new partnership extends Tencent’s involvement in ed-tech, which already includes a strategic investment in VIPKID, an online video tutoring platform that connects Chinese kids with English teachers and competes with QKids and Dada ABC. ABCmouse, on the other hand, uses videos, books and online activities like games, songs and stories to help kids study English.

The Chinese version of ABCmouse includes integration with Tencent’s ubiqutioius messenger and online services platform WeChat, which now has more than one billion users, and its instant messaging service QQ, with 783 million monthly active users. This makes it easier for parents to sign up and pay for ABCmouse, because they can use their WeChat or QQ account and payment information. It also allows families to share kids’ English-learning progress on their news feeds or in chats. For example, Chen says parents can send video or audio recordings of their children practicing English to grandparents, who can then buy gift subscriptions with one click.

Though you probably haven’t heard of it unless you have young kids or work with elementary school-age children, Age of Learning has built a significant presence in online education since it was founded in 2007, thanks mainly to the popularity of ABCmouse in schools, public libraries and Head Start programs. Two years ago, Age of Learning hit unicorn status after raising $150 million at a $1 billion valuation from Iconiq Capital.

Jerry Chen, Age of Learning’s president of Greater China, says there are more than 110 million kids between the ages of three to eight in China and the online English language learning market there is “a several billion dollar market that’s growing rapidly.” He points to a recent study by Chinese research agency Yiou Intelligence that says total spending on online English learning programs for children will be 29.41 billion RMB, or about $4.67 billion, this year, and is projected to reach 79.17 billion, or $12.6 billion, by 2022.

The localization of ABCmouse will extend to the design of its eponymous cartoon rodent, who has a more stylized appearance in China. Lessons include animations featuring an English teacher and students in an international school classroom and begin with listening comprehension and speaking before moving onto phonics, reading and writing. Tencent-Age of Learning products will also include speech recognition tools to help kids hone their English pronunciation.

In an email, Jason Chen, Tencent’s general manager of online education, said that the company “reviewed several companies through an extensive research process, and it became clear that ABCmouse had the most engaging and effective online English self-learning curriculum and content for children. Age of Learning puts learning first, and that commitment to educational excellence made them a perfect fit for our online English language learning business.”

 

Amazon rolls out remote access to its FreeTime parental controls

Amazon is making it easier for parents to manage their child’s device usage from their own phone, tablet, or PC with an update to the Parent Dashboard in Amazon FreeTime. Since its launch in 2012, Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited has been one of the better implementations of combining kid-friendly content with customizable profiles and parental controls. Today, parents can monitor and manage kids’ screen time, time limits, daily educational goals, device activity, and more while allowing children to access family-friendly content like books, videos, apps and games.

Last year, Amazon introduced a Parent Dashboard as another means of helping parents monitor screen time as well as have conversations with kids about what they’re doing on their devices. For example, if the child was reading a particular book, the dashboard might prompt parents with questions they could ask about the books’ content. The dashboard also provided a summary of the child’s daily device use, including things like what books were read, videos watched, apps or games played, and websites visited, and for how long.

According to a research study Amazon commissioned with Kelton Global Research, the company found that 97 percent of parents monitor or manage their kids’ use of tablets and smartphones, but 75 percent don’t want to hover over kids when they’re using their devices.

On Thursday, Amazon addressed this problem by allowing parents to remotely configure the parental control settings from the online Parent Dashboard in order to manage the child’s device from afar from a phone, tablet or computer.

The controls are the same as those available through the child’s device itself. Parents can set a device bedtime, daily goals and time limits, adjust their smart filter, and enable the web browser remotely. They can also remotely add new books, videos, apps and games to their child’s FreeTime profile, and lock or unlock the device for a set period of time.

The addition comes following last year’s launch of FreeTime on Android, and Google’s own entry into the parental control software space with the public launch of Family Link last fall. Apple also this year made vague promises about improving its existing parental controls in the future, in response to pressure from two Apple shareholder groups, Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System.

With the increased activity in the parental control market, Amazon’s FreeTime may lose some of its competitive advantages. Amazon also needed to catch up to the remote control capabilities provided with Google’s Family Link.

There are those who argue that parental controls that do things like limit kids’ activity on apps and games or turn off access to the internet are enablers of lazy parenting, where devices instead of people are setting the rules. But few parents use parental controls in that fashion. Rather, they establish house rules then use software to remind children the rules exist and to enforce them.

The updated FreeTime Parent Dashboard is available via a mobile-optimized website at parents.amazon.com.

 

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