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FEATURE STORY March 7, 2019

Thinking Equal in China: Mi Wenjuan’s Path to Children's Online Education


On International Women’s Day 2019, we are sharing stories of women doing inspiring work across China. Their diverse contributions highlight the transformative power of women in the country. Mi Wenjuan is the founder and CEO of VIPKID, which provides an online English learning service for children in China.

Tell us about yourself.   

My name is Cindy, or Mi Wenjuan, and I am an entrepreneur in the online education industry. Five years ago, to provide large-scale personalized education so children could happily learn English, I founded VIPKID, a one-on-one English teaching platform which allows children to learn English from foreign teachers via video calls on the internet. Currently, VIPKID has connected 60,000 North American teachers with 500,000 Chinese students, and helped rural children in China see the colorful outside world.

What inspires you to get up in the morning? What drives you? 

My goal is to create a "Global Classroom" where children are connected with the best teachers around the world so that they can learn English. Actually, I do not regard it as a job, but as my interest, my dream and as a way to strive for success and realize my own value. As “Ms. Rice” (Mi means rice in Chinese), I hope that children can keep their curiosity, passion and confidence in learning, which would be our biggest achievement. Therefore, every morning I open my eyes, I am motivated by how to find better teachers, textbooks and technology from around the world so that children can enjoy learning as much as they enjoy playing.

At 6:00 every morning, I’m woken up by the “Voice of the Customers.” I use my cellphone to connect to the recording clips of our customer service calls from the previous day and listen to the feedback and suggestions for the VIPKID products and services from our students and parents. Learning is such a wonderful and interesting thing. All staff at VIPKID are devoted to providing students with the best learning experience and hope that children can really feel the happiness of learning, instead of getting frustrated in face of challenges.

What set you on this path? 

On the one hand, it’s my own language learning experience that inspires me. Language learning has made a huge difference in my life and allowed me to understand the diverse cultures behind languages and see a wonderful world on the other side of the globe. I firmly believe that education can definitely change children's life.

On the other hand, there are good opportunities for entrepreneurship in this era. Access to the Internet provides more space for the education industry. Before I started my own business, I served as the head of a teaching department in a brick-and-mortar educational institution. But we were faced with many challenges. For example, it was hard to recruit good teachers; it was a waste of time and energy for parents and children to commute between school and home; and it was difficult to assess children’s learning outcomes. The internet age has offered more possibilities and solutions. We hope to recruit experienced teachers from areas with the most abundant educational resources; children are able to study at home through the Internet. AI technology can help us assess children’s learning outcomes in a more objective way and support teachers to use a more personalized teaching method for different children.

What advice do you have for young women who want to take a similar path? 

When you step out of your comfort zone, you will see more of our colorful world. When you dedicate yourself body and soul to something, the process itself is a reward.

Do you have a favorite quote or saying? 

Only the sky is the limit.

What are the biggest issues in China right now and how can they be addressed?

China has a fast-growing economy and is a champion and driving force for globalization. We have developed world-class infrastructure but still need a large number of internationalized talents to maximize the effect of infrastructure and China’s comparative advantage.  

Developing world-class talent does not happen overnight. It takes a long time and continuous investment. It should come from children, by giving the next generation access to high quality education resources from early childhood, equipping them with international vision and innovation capabilities, and enabling them to compete and work with talent from around the world.

Where do you see China in 25 years? 

Globalization is a megatrend of our times. In 25 years, the children who are learning English through VIPKID will be active in the society. They will be internationalized “world citizens” involved in global governance and people-to-people exchange. They will bring new characteristics to China and even the world with their creativity and global vision and play a more active role in promoting China’s globalization process.

What change would you like to see that could bring greater equality in China?

In the past five years, we have made constant efforts in public goods by giving students in remote rural areas access to foreign teachers’ courses, benefiting tens of thousands of rural students. In remote areas of China, more girls are receiving education and more women get paid work. We can feel that China is working towards gender equality. In China’s first-tier cities, more women are working as professionals and are successful in their career, with “equal pay for equal work.” I hope to see more women who are able to do the jobs they like and are good at and gain more value from life and their work. 

If you could use one word to describe women in East Asia Pacific what would it be? 

I would like to use a Chinese story called “Mencius's Mom moving three times." It is about a mother who moved three times to find a good environment for her son to live and study. The story is well-known in China and appreciated by many mothers. Women in East Asia Pacific invest great effort in their children’s education. They are all great women, as well as guardian angels and heroes for their children.  

*The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the World Bank Group and its employees.