Head to Head Comparison of Major Online Mathematics Classes taught in Mandarin
This review compares our experience with six online Math classes taught in Chinese:
I bet you’re thinking, are we nuts? Possibly. When my eldest insisted she wanted to try out math class taught in Mandarin, I thought, “Follow the child. Let’s give it a shot“.
It was near to impossible to find anything written in English about most of these mathematics classes originating from Mainland China, but thankfully they offered free trials and we learnt through trial and error. We went down a few rabbit holes, but ultimately found one particular class we loved so much that we bought a 6 month package in a heartbeat. Probably we will buy a second package soon, as daughter #2 is also getting interested. The classes are THAT fun!
Here is a quick comparison are the six online classes we considered.
All these Mandarin Math classes mentioned have a one teacher to many kids approach, which is different from the online Chinese language classes we have trialled (apparently there used to be a company called Xuebajun which did offer 1:1 classes, but it was costly and difficult to scale, and recently became insolvent; I can see the appeal of having other children in the class).
Online classes in China have seen exponential growth in recent years, and math classes have been a key area of this. It could be a Jack Ma effect. Although a failure in maths himself, he set up the Alibaba Global Mathematics Award and said that “The future of cannot do without mathematics. Mathematics is a universal language and the future of mathematics is becoming more and more important”. I think our goals as a family are very different to many Chinese families, but we were still able to find joy in their online Math classes.
Here’s our detailed experience of each service.
HouHua Siwei 火花思维
Also known as Spark Thinking
Who: Huohua Siwei is the leading online mathematics platform in China, for children aged about 3 to 10 years. It focuses on core math skills (although they may need to say they don’t, in order to avoid a recent ban in China on academic tutoring for profit), logic and problem solving. It’s gamified, interactive learning. They also have offline classes in person in several cities in China. They current have ~400,000 students enrolled.
Houhua Siwei is backed by Tencent and short video app company Kuaishou, and more recently US Private Equity giant KKR, and Sequoia Capital.
Trial Class Experience: Good, easy to set up, and an enjoyable class. It was a fun, interactive and engaging experience, and 1:1 (although for the real course, it will be up to 8 children in the class). The session comprised of a warm-up activities, main learning topic, practice questions and then a short discussion. There is tonnes of animation and an ongoing story throughout (eg to help three animals crack a password to open a treasure chest). This creates great opportunities for speaking Mandarin as well as practicing Math, and makes it feel like an extended game. The teacher said that usual classes are also run in this same format.
Had we signed up for the real classes, there would have been exercises and activities to complete online as homework too. Students also can participate in “Carnivals,” where they answer practice questions and games to compete for virtual awards.
The teacher was engaging and smiled throughout. Perhaps this reflects the company’s proprietary SparkleMe teacher training system which is said to train and nurture standardised, effective teaching with emphasis on practical professional skills, such as classroom management and student engagement, as well as theoretical knowledge.
Additionally, we’re told that had we signed up for the course, we would also have been sent a comprehensive physical learning kit (including learning mat, flashcards, exercise book, tangram, origami paper, manipulative blocks), which are used during each course session to facilitate learning.
Class Length and Schedule: Course are structured with two x 35 – 40 minute classes each week, in a fixed schedule. This means 96 course sessions per year on fixed schedule with the same teacher and same group of classmates. Classes are offered in either small class with a live teacher.
- Age 3 to 5: Levels 1 to 3 are 35 minutes, with six children
- Age 6 to 12: Levels 4 to 9 are 40 minutes with up to 8 children.
Note they also offer AI-enhanced formats (ie no live teacher, essentially a prerecorded class of 15 minutes with activities throughout, making it up to 30 minutes in total) which can be viewed on demand and are significantly cheaper.
Teachers: Full time staff in mainland China. Requirement for bachelor degree, and 7 rounds of interviews/assessments.
Booking Process: Trial class can be booked directly online, and a course consultant will contact you. After that, the family will be paired with their own Learning Consultant who can answer questions and assist in arranging classes. After completing an initial assessment to place the child in the correct class level, the family essentially needs to choose two fixed times for the weekly classes. HouHua say that they will respond to individual requests from students and parents about class time and teacher selection – we didn’t try this as we didn’t progress past the trial lesson. They use a model of having full time permanent teaching staff, and had 3,803 full-time teachers as of March 31, 2021, so they have many classes timeslots throughout the day to choose from.
Software: Classes use their proprietary Spark Classroom system (an app) with standardised courseware. It can be used on iPad or PC. Whilst it’s a group class, each of the students work on their own exercise questions, and the teacher will be able to see each student’s screen laid out on the teacher’s screen. Teachers can the to talk directly and privately with any individual student and provide one-on-one assistance and guidance as needed.
The software includes > 44,000 minutes of animated course content and > 450,000 gamified and interactive puzzles and exercises.
Pricing: As at mid 2021, official price for an online small-class course package ranges RMB699 ~ RMB5,980 depending on the number of course units. It works out US18 per class. Payment is supported through PayPal. Perhaps because it’s the most popular online Maths programme in mainland China, this can explain why it’s one of the most expensive of all the courses we trialled.
There is no expiry date on the classes/packages, but there is a limit on the number of suspensions and leave, which ultimately is the same thing as an expiry date as all the classes will be used up!
Customer Service: All conducted in Mandarin. Fast to respond. Easy to followup with to answer questions and seek more information.
Content: Maths is the core competency of HouHua. They started their flagship mathematical thinking course (the one we trialled) in 2018, and this account for the majority of their revenue, despite also having Chinese language and English language courses introduced in 2019 & 2020. The syllabus is designed around 20 core thinking methods (eg categorization, induction, graphical representation, substitution, etc) and 12 core thinking skills (eg spatial imagination skills, logical skills and arithmetic skills). The course is broadly also based around three characters who go on missions throughout the course, called Abby, Benny and Casey. These mascots are seen in every class.
Final Thoughts: HouHua claim to be a service which teaches critical thinking, problem solving and creativity. I would believe this from our trial class, but I think they also need to say this now (or adapt to it) to avoid being ‘banned’ by the Chinese state ban on core mathematical tuition. They say they regularly and constantly update existing offerings and develop new courses, in different delivery formats and for different ages. So please note that this review is written from experience in mid 2021, and there may be many changes since it occurred.
VIP Think (Pea Thinking) 豌豆思维
Also known as: Happy Seeds, 广州豌豆思维科技有限公司, Wandou Siwei, or Pea Math
Who: Pea Thinking is the Math component of VIP Think, who are also an edutech company in China, offering a variety of online programmes including Maths (taught in Mandarin). They claim to have over a quarter of a million current students enrolled in Math programmes, targeting children aged 3 to 10
Trial Class Experience: The trial class was literally a guided game of minesweeper! What more can I say! Yes this is a mathematics class, but it’s more focused on problem solving logic than fundamental maths. I actually asked the consultant afterwards if all the classes were games, and she assured me that whilst it’s all gamified learning, the curriculum covers core skills of multiplication, division, fractions, time telling, etc. So far, it’s been exactly as she shared.
For the real classes which we have since signed up for, they consist of:
- Before class: 10 minute Preclass video and activity (eg short video, short introduction to the theme of the class)
- 40 minute class: Teach gives and live introduction and a video cartoon to set up the challenge, then jumps into problem solving. The problems are solved individually, and the students cannot see or hear the other students, only the teach can. During this time, the teacher checks in on what each student is doing. The teacher can spotlight a student to everyone to have them explain their logic.
- After class: there is brief homework (3 – 4 online questions/games to reinforce the learning from class. It’s also possible to rewatch the class and redo the exercise from the class itself. The actual teacher also sends us a short summary of what the child has done during the lesson, and is approachable to discuss on WeChat.
There was less animation/video/gameplay than in the HouHua class, and more discrete problem solving. I like it that they actually really set out the equations (eg multiplication) on the screen, and let the child fill out the numbers, and the carrying factors, etc to make it really clear how to approach these mathematical concepts. The animation is based around Super Wing (Super Fei Xia) which is also a hit for our family.
Class Length and Schedule: Course are structured with two x 30 – 40 minute classes each week, in a fixed schedule, with same teacher, and same classmates. Class times are hourly from 8:00-20:30 Beijing time, so it may not be a good match with US geographies. We were able to get the timeslot exactly as we wanted them.
Class size and length differs slightly by child age.
- 3 to 4 year olds: 4 students in class, 30 minutes
- 4-8 years olds: 6 students in class, 40 minutes
- 8-10 years old: 8 students in class, 40 minutes
You can also change the schedule if you something changes, or would like to swap teachers, although this isn’t encouraged to do regularly, as part of the concept is the teamwork and familiarity with others in the class.
Pricing: As at mid 2021, official price for an online small-class course package ranges RMB800 ~ RMB5,500 depending on the number of course units. It works out ~US12 per class. Payment is supported through PayPal and international credit card options. They will give makeup classes for missed lessons, and also (apparently) a refund if you pull out from the programme.
Pea Thinking package has a validity period (ours was 14 months for 54 classes, which is more than enough to get through them), and it will start counting after the start of the class. However, classes can be suspended or there are replacement classes offered.
Teachers: Full time staff in mainland China. Requirement for bachelor degree, and 8 rounds of interview/assessment. You can check the teacher’s teaching experience, teacher qualifications and other information on their website.
Booking Process: Trial class can be booked directly online, and a course consultant will contact you. After that, the family will be paired with their own Learning Consultant who can answer questions and assist in arranging classes. After completing an initial assessment to place the child in the correct class level, the family essentially needs to choose two fixed times for the weekly classes. It is essentially exactly the same as HouHua approach.
Software: It’s done through the PeaThnking app (either tablet or PC), all in Chinese. It’s fairly well laid out, and the Learning Partner sent me screenshots on how to navigate it, since I cannot read any Chinese. After the first class, my daughter was able to set it all up by herself, and it pretty adapt at managing it all herself.
Customer Service: We’re very happy with our Learning Consultant and her responsiveness. We were able to use the recommendation of a friend to get paired with an excellent Learning Consultant who has a good understanding of English, and also understands the needs for international families.
Content: The classes are primarily aimed at mainland Chinese students, to improve on logic-based assessments. The syllabus broadly covers topics aligned to the elementary school subjects, and we found it also closely follows the Singapore Math topics too, although with a lot more variation, and emphasis on the logic/problem solving aspects. They do incorporate core math skills like multiplication, long division, fractions, weight, time, etc. They also have occasional additional free topical classes like Rubik’s Cube and Sudoko lessons.
Final Thoughts: I have sat with my daughter through several of these classes now, although I really don’t need to. I’m just curious about how it works and I love to watch my kids in their online classes! The key challenge she has is sometimes with word problems, they’re written down in Chinese characters and she doesn’t quite get the meaning. When she screenshots it with Google Translate, it also doesn’t quite work, as the order of activities make a big difference in deciphering the word activities. Overall she’s getting much better at understanding the written phrases. Initially when I signed up, I thought the primary intention of the course would assist with speaking /listening skills in Mandarin (which is does) but the reading is a real bonus.
Also called Wukong Academy or Wukong Education
Who: I really have no idea still who runs this company. They claim to be “a fast growing online education institution, which started out in New Zealand and now serves students in >65 countries.”
Trial Class Experience: This was a bit of a mess. The first trial class we tried to join at the scheduled time, and then realised that because we already had a Classin account from a Chinese chess and callipgrahy course we’d done through Bilin Academy, we then couldn’t use our same phone number to login to Wukong class. The consultant was very helpful (albeit in Chinse over whatsapp) and helped to troubleshoot for us, but by then it was too late to join and we needed to reschedule to one week later. The trial class was a whopping 1.5 hours, with at least ten other children we could see online; the children came from Australia, Singapore, and China, all speaking in English (there was time before class for them to chat). When the class started we were greeted by a English speaking teacher with an Aussie accent. It ran like a typical school math class teaching us about ABA patterns and basic addition. Within 10 minutes my daughter was bored, since her grade level was well ahead of this.
Class Length and Schedule: 1.5 hours, once a week. Seemingly not too much flexibility on days/availability. The free trial was also a very generous 1.5 hours…..but for us, that was a little too long on screen.
Booking Process: Through website, and then WeChat with course advisor (in Chinese).
Teachers: No information provided on their backgrounds, but they’re not from mainland China.
Software: Classin App
Customer Service: No English was spoken at all. the discussion with the course consultant were in Chinese via wechat, although their contact address and phone number is in New Zealand.
Content: There were no fancy animations or videos, simply a well-spoken teacher with a virtual whiteboard. Their programme is said to be built on and beyond the Singapore school curriculum, with key areas are number facility, geometric reasoning, statistical skills, and problem solving. The intention is for “a child to be well prepared to excel in Math competition in the near future”.
Final Thoughts: We signed up for the trial because these online ads were flooding my social media streams. The advertisement and website were in Chinese, so we had inadvertently assumed it was math class taught in Chinese. It was the wrong fit for us language wise, as key intention was to target more speaking in Chinese. I think for a family who might be looking simply for online tutoring for core mathematics, it could be a cost effective option (although we never even discussed pricing with them).
Also known as Master Children
Who: Zhangmen Education is a company largely focusing on providing online 1-on-1 tutoring services, but they recently released online small-classes for maths and literacy. Zhangmen as a tutoring agency claim to have 40 million registered users within Mainland China, of which 1 million users have done their Math Thinking course. Of all the companies, this is the main one which mentions their courses are suitable for children outside of China, and they claim to have students in more than 50 countries taking their math course. It says it’s aimed for children 4 to 12, which is slightly beyond the other classes.
The company is backed by numerous recognised names like Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, International Finance Corporation (IFC), Genesis Capital, and CMC Capital. It’s founder, Ben Zhang, left his job at McKinsey to found the company in 2014. One would guess he’s earned a lot more this way!
Trial Class Experience: We trialled this because another mother told us this is her child’s favourite class! It’s much the same process to sign up as VIP Think and HouHua. The class consists of cartoons to introduce the concept/preview prior to class (very mathematically driven, in our case it was about symmetrical and non-symmetrical shapes, not a fictional story), then a dive into the mathematical theory. The exercises are interactive games which integrate classroom knowledge. There is homework after class, which is actually in the form of what they called an “effectiveness test” or an assessment. All in all, very similar to VIP Think and Houhua, but I would say targeted at a child who really LOVES math. Our daughter found this one the hardest from a mathematical theory perspective – the level of multiplication needed was far beyond her ability.
Class Length and Schedule: Classes are 45 minutes and can be taken on an adhoc schedule, and don’t require fixed time slots. There are 4 -6 kids per class.
Booking Process: Through website, and then WeChat with course advisor (in Chinese).
Teachers: Full time staff in mainland China, with undergraduate diploma and a teaching qualification certificate. There are five assessment round, and a pass rate of 1% (…. Must mean there are a lot of hopeful math teachers in China!). The teacher for our course seemed less interactive than the other courses.
Cost: Average cost about US18 (42 classes is 3999 RMB and 60 classes 5199). One unique aspect of this class is that the company also offers online Chinese classes too, and the credits can be used between Maths and Chinese classes. They offer a full refund within 31 days if no more than three classes have been taken.
Software: Classes are conducted over their own app (called Palm Core), which appears more in mathematics content, and less gamified than HouHua and Pea Thinking.
Customer Service: All conducted in Mandarin. Fast to respond. Easy to followup with to answer questions and seek more information.
Content: Their curriculum is based on the American National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) syllabus, using Jean Piaget Constructivism, IBL Inquiry Learning Theory and other diversified teaching methods. There are five key areas of competency being Numbers, Algebra, Geometry, Measurement, and Probability. Numeracy is the main focus for children aged 4 to 7, and algebra is the main focus for children 7+. For primary school students, the exercises are supplementary related to Mathematical Olympiad.
The biggest difference between this course and VIP Think and HouHoa is the goal. The latter two state logical thinking or reasoning ability as the key outcome, but Zhangman Kid clearly states the purpose is “subject ability training”.
Final Thoughts: I can see why this provider is highly recommended by mothers in Singapore. It’s a very academic approach to maths, and trains a child for mathematics Olympiads. It wasn’t for us, but it was interesting to try.
Mentorhood Math 中文数学游戏
Who: A small business founded in 2009, with locations in Canada and Hong Kong, running both physical and virtual classes focussing on Singapore mathematics for pre primary and primary school age students. They have classes conducted in both English and Chinese. .
Trial Class Experience: We didn’t actually trial this class, because the timings didn’t fit our geography (it’s designed mainly for North America). I want to highlight it here though, because we’ve heard great reviews of these classes, and it’s designed to follow Singapore Math syllabus, but taught in Mandarin. I talked online to their founder, and thought it was a great concept! If they offer a class in a timing which suits us, we’d give it a go.
Class Length and Schedule: 45 minutes, twice per week, with fixed schedule and fixed teacher. Classes are offered from Grade 1 to Grade 6 (although currently only Grade 1 to 3 is offered in Chinese), covering full Singapore syllabus. Available timeslots are three days a week, and not suitable for our timezone.
Pricing: US$17 per class (US 34 per week). There is also a Mandarin Math Game Club which is 30 minutes, and USD 10 per class.
Teachers: Based Canada, Hong Kong and Singapore. Bachelor and Masters degrees in education.
Booking Process: through Outschool portal (all in English)
Software: Outschool web portal. If you haven’t used Outschool before, see this referral link to get credit for a free trial class of anything on Outschool, including Mentorhood Math.
Customer Service: Great! Fully in English.
Content: Singapore Math Style. Singapore Mathematics is a very visual method of solving problems, and begins with a concrete/pictorial stage, and then expands to more abstract examples, for each theme. The class flow is:
- Concept and strategies of the topic
- Interactive Math games
- Bilingual Worksheets (parents print the worksheets before hand, and work through them in class).
Topics cover full Singapore syllabus, eg addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc. Contents is written by Math Educators and Play Therapists who have been teaching Singapore Math over 15 years.
Final Thoughts: Singapore Math syllabus is a strong, stand alone, and world renowned curriculum. This would be great reinforcement for a family following this curriculum or wanting to homeschool. Worth noting though that in terms of opportunities for speaking/using Mandarin, I think the context means it’s more limited in this style of classes, because the questions are by nature less broad than something like VIP Think. Singapore Math will contain many more standard model answers. Therefore, I am guessing that the vocabulary encountered will be more repetitive, and less expansive. But overall, I imagine this course would be excellent, had we given it a go.
Zebra Thinking class 斑马
Also known as Yuandao or Yuanjiao
What: This is another massive Mainland Chinese edutech brand, under Yuanjiao. Zebra AI has become the second largest income segment of Yuanjiao, which piqued my interest to try it out. It’s backed by Tencent, and more recently Warburg Pincus, among others.
Trial Class Experience: It’s a pre-recorded class with an AI module (ie no real in-person teacher). They call it a ‘pseudo live broadcast’. Through some clever technology – such as the screen looking like a Zoom chat, with the teacher in the right hand corner, alongside a live video of your child also in the corner, it feels like there is a real person talking to them.
The class is essentially a video cleverly recorded in advance. Through some technical means, people watching the video feel as if there is a real person talking to themselves. This type of AI broadcast class seems to be the most popular form of classes offered in China, which is perhaps driven by a mixture of price point and discipline of the students there.
Class Length and Schedule: 15 – 25 minute modules. Class time is flexible and abundant.
Booking Process: Flexible on-demand.
Teachers: An AI smartbot.
Software: Custom app. You will also need a +86 China number to use it.
One selling point of this programme is that the class comes with a free app Xiaoyuan Kousuan, which somehow checks school homework. It claims to have checked an average of 70 million arithmetic problems per day!! That’s a lot of users, or a lot of math homework.
Customer Service: Non existent.
Content: Content seemed good and well designed set of animated stories and learning materials.
Pricing: Much cheaper, about US$2 per class, and can be bought in packages as small at 10 lessons. There is a package of RMB2800 for one full year, with unlimited access.
Final Thoughts: Without a real teacher in class, the child may as well be spending time using any of the Chinese math apps we already have at home like iHuman Math app and 2Kids Math app. I feel the class is *almost* like a live version of playing the app, with a need to actually voice out and speak about what one is up to. It might work well as a supplement to a teacher-guided homeschool curriculum.
Other online Math classes
I’m sure there are many classes our there. One other large online math class I read about it Xueersi, which operated under the famed TAL group. We didn’t try it out – their website states the objective of the class is achieving better school scores (primarily in the American AMC8). You also need a +86 China number for Xuuersi (same as Zebra AI).
There is also a great FB group called Classes for Children in Chinese and Spanish where we regularly draw inspiration from regarding classes in Chinese for our family. There have been good discussion on there about several of the classes listed in this post too, along with other classes, if you’re looking for perspective of other families.
Some watch outs with any online classes for children
Language of communications: It’s likely that all the consultants who call will try to speak Mandarin, and the text messages / emails / We Chat/ class schedules etc will also be in Mandarin. This can be a bit confusing; quite an upfront effort to get up to speed, but then at least with VIP Think we found the platform is simple to use and we did eventually get an English speaking Learning Partner, recommended by a friend.
Privacy Laws and Domicile of the businesses: Privacy laws and Child Protection regulations clearly differ by jurisdiction, as does the enforcement of such rules. It’s worth noting you wouldn’t EVER want to agree to T&Cs which you cannot personally read yourself, so be wary if you’re clicking a check box about disclosures and acceptances when you cannot read the accompanying policies. Remember these classes will collect a lot of information about your child (audio, visual, demographic, learning patterns etc) which can all be very valuable in the wrong hands. Ideally choose a company which at least has a sub office or presence in your own country (or state), so they should be more aware with the local requirements.
Platform Used: By nature of these classes being over video, there could be recordings of your child being retained by the company, and it’s worthwhile to think where these might be stored or what they could be used for. Over Zoom or Classin, it’s unlikely to go far and you’ll know whether the class has been recorded. But if it’s on a private app or platform, you cannot be so certain. If in doubt, ask the company about their policies, and perhaps you make a decision not to use them, or keep the camera off. For us, we do not use the real names of our children on online platforms, since even if the teacher isn’t recording it, what if another excited parent on the class takes a screen shot and shares it elsewhere. Always be mindful of who else might be accessing your personal data, including videos.
Computer vs iPad: some of the classes have a much better experience over computer than iPad, so be sure you’re using the medium which works best for that vendor. For VIP Think, it has a phone app and a computer app. We’ve favoured the computer app for the classes.
The outcome of our online Chinese math trial classes
Our experience showed that it can be engaging and fun to learn in a group Math class online, and that there many highly immersive and well-structured curriculum available.
Please note this is simply our experience based on trial classes; some is luck of the draw in terms of which teachers and salespeople one encounters along the way. Please do share in the comments if you have other observations of this math classes in Chinese. As we’ve learnt with different online classes over the years, so much of the user experience is driven by how the company communicates with you and how simple the platform is to navigate.
Ultimately, we ended up signing up for six months of classes with VIP Think Pea Thinking, and are enjoying the experience. We liked this because it’s more logic and problem solving, than textbook math.
HouHua is really hard to distinguish for Pea Thinking and was very similar in all respects – but with a higher price tag and larger class size, and potentially more intense with the required homework afterwards. Zhangman Kid would be a similar option too, but better catered for a child who is strongly in maths and looking for extra challenges. The other classes we tried were either in the wrong timezone (Mentorhood Maths), or taught in the wrong language (Wukong Maths), or not taught at all (Zebra AI).
If you would like to sign up for VIP Think, below is my referral code which will get you a free trial and an additional 6 classes if you sign up (full disclosure: if you do sign up, it will also credit six classes to my daughter too). The key reason for sharing this is that our Learning Partner is EXCELLENT and can communicate well in English, so it’s better to WeChat using the code below if you want someone to reply in English!.
If you got to the end and found this helpful, maybe there are some other posts on my blog you might also enjoy. As a parent who doesn’t speak any Chinese, we’ve relied heavily on online tools, clever robots and recommendations of others in our Chinese learning journey. Some of my earlier posts are:
- Comparison of Chinese language classes online
- Comparison of art, drama and music classes taught online in Chinese
- Comparison of Chinese dictionary pens for children
- Comparison of reading pens and robots for children learning Chinese
- Best Youtube series for children learning Chinese – non animated & educational
- Great bridging books to read when a child knows >1000 characters
[Disclaimer: We have no affiliation with any of the companies above. We did all the classes as free trials initially – you can do this too! It’s not a privilege reserved for bloggers. Most online large online Chinese tutoring services will offer a free class ….. they’re backed by millions of investment dollars, and trying to grow rapidly!. Try to use someone else’s referral code too, to get the most benefit. If you want to use my referral code for VIP Think and Outschool, they’re included above]