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Photo: Nancy Yuan

Photo: Nancy Yuan

How to start a revolution in education

16 January 2020

10 minute read

Since graduating, ANU College of Business and Economics (CBE) alumnus Fangzhou Jiang has made great strides with his ed-tech start-up Crimson Education. Leveraging “the inertia in the education sector”, Crimson Education is now prevalent across 20 countries and six continents.

Recently, Fangzhou was awarded the prestigious Schwarzman Scholarship, which has strengthened his resolve to make learning more flexible, personalised, and integrated.

In an interview discussing this sector, Fangzhou shares his insights on modern day learning, tips to become an entrepreneur and how his ANU experience unlocked his potential.

Q. From your experience, could you identify the most significant change to the higher education sector?

The most significant change in the higher education sector is the increase in accessibility through technology. More institutions are embracing online-enabled delivery of lectures, and students are becoming more comfortable with remote learning. With increased accessibility comes greater affordability, greater customisation, and greater adoption. 

These changes mean the opportunity to receive an excellent education is becoming less about privilege or proximity, and more about motivation. It is not a question of whether you have access to the resources, but whether you are motivated to use those resources. 

This accessibility and flexibility dawned on me when I briefly returned to my hometown Ankang in the central Province of Shaanxi in China for a family emergency while studying at ANU. Somewhat detached from public transportation, my hometown sits surrounded by mountains with the closest airport a five-hour drive away. Despite the distance from ANU, my study was not interrupted. I could visit my family and continue to access the University’s resources and world-class lecturers in another part of the world. It was incredible. 

While this is a shift in a positive direction, we can still achieve much more. It is not just about digital recording or live streaming everything, and unfortunately, education resources are constrained and distributed unequally, especially at the secondary school level. Much more needs to be done to make learning more flexible, personalised, and integrated. Everyone deserves access to a high-quality education and current progress is just an indicator of what is to come.

It is not a question of whether you have access to the resources, but whether you are motivated to use those resources.

Q. Your start-up Crimson Education has a network of over 2,300 tutors, mentors and consultants across 20 countries. What are the opportunities and challenges that you anticipate in Crimson Education’s further expansion? 

There’s a great deal of inertia in the education industry, whether that’s technology, methodology, or curriculum.  A challenge has been – and continues to be – driving the adoption of remote learning through video platforms, as many people today still prefer talking to someone in person, sitting in a classroom. 

Another challenge is to encourage participants at every level to embrace change – students, teachers, educators, and governments. This is one of the reasons I pursued the Schwarzman program, to gain an understanding of public policy and government support, which is essential in driving this change.

This is as much of an opportunity as it is a challenge. Advocating for the adoption of technology-enabled, high quality, personalised education presents a real opportunity to create a lasting impact. As we launch our online high school—the first of its kind in New Zealand—we see an opportunity to garner support from a wide group of stakeholders and bring transformative change to the education industry.

Advocating for the adoption of technology-enabled, high quality, personalised education presents a real opportunity to create a lasting impact. 

Q. What advice would you give to students who want to become entrepreneurs or start their own businesses?

I have three pieces of advice. Firstly, at the risk of sounding cliché, is find something that you truly believe in and are passionate about as it is not easy to start a business. It takes resilience, grit, and a sometimes uncomfortable willingness to embrace failure.

Secondly, you need to be aware of the role emotions play in decision making. A passionate entrepreneur can be an emotional entrepreneur, which can be a blessing and a hindrance. Take time to think rationally and analytically. Make data-driven decisions with clear logic. There is a big difference between being passionate and being rational. Don’t be a victim of the sunk-cost fallacy. 

Finally, dream big but act small. Aim high and have lofty ambitions, but appreciate that achieving big goals requires many small successes. Big-company considerations such as culture, organisational structure, and finance and accounting procedures are best developed early. Set the bar high and execute based on the details.

Aim high and have lofty ambitions, but appreciate that achieving big goals requires many small successes.

Q. You’re a recipient of the prestigious Schwarzman Scholarship. Could you share what led you to apply and what will you be studying?

There are a few reasons why I applied for the Schwarzman Scholarship. Firstly, in the world of education technology, Asia, particularly China, is a place with huge potential and amazing opportunities. Many people in the region need and deserve access to high quality personalised education, so it is a great place for my ed-tech start-up to grow.

I left my hometown in China after middle school 10 years ago to pursue education overseas, and now, as I continue to work on my start-up, the Schwarzman Scholarship will provide me with a great gateway to reintegrate back to China. It is also an opportunity to meet like-minded, diverse individuals around the globe in Tsinghua, where many brilliant ideas come from.

Secondly, there is a huge focus on leadership in the Schwarzman program. As I am managing extremely diverse teams of different ages and cultural backgrounds, it is imperative to develop my cross-border and ambi-cultural leadership.

Lastly, I want to share my first-hand entrepreneurial experience from the last few years with students from all over the world, and help and empower those who have the ambition to find their next ventures.

Aside from meeting like-minded individuals, I also want to deepen my knowledge of public policy, which is one of the three focuses offered in the Schwarzman program. I hope to leverage the public policy insights I learn from the program, as well as my prior knowledge in engineering and entrepreneurship, to revolutionise the education industry in China through personalised, technology-driven learning.

I want to share my first-hand entrepreneurial experience from the last few years with students from all over the world.

Q. In what ways do you feel your experience at ANU could be linked to your success?

Successfully operating an ed-tech start-up requires a broad skillset, including analytical skills and knowledge in finance and technology. Completing a Computer Science Degree with a minor in Applied Statistics and Mathematics, and a Commerce Degree majoring in Accounting at ANU provided the resources and environment for me to develop these skills.

ANU also gave me access to a great network of talented individuals that fuelled my development. Many of my ANU friends supported my vision in the early days and were there to bounce ideas off and share feedback with. Several ANU alumni are now involved in Crimson Education in various capacities, and I’m grateful to have met such capable individuals.

Finally, I will always be grateful to ANU for offering me the ANU International Undergraduate Scholarship, which was a full scholarship. Growing up in a middle-class Chinese family, I never imagined I’d be studying at a world-class university such as ANU. The support ANU provided was the foundation that enabled me to focus on my studies, build my company, and achieve my dreams.

The ANU College of Business and Economics offers an extensive range of specialised programs in Commerce. Click here for more details.

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Updated:   12 March 2020 / Responsible Officer:  CBE Communications and Outreach / Page Contact:  College Web Team