Dancing in the Minefield: Scholastic in China

In What's the Buzz by Hannah Johnson

By Andrew Wilkins and Melanie Tutino

Frank Wong and Shane Armstrong, Scholastic, with Mark Dressler at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2013

Frank Wong and Shane Armstrong, Scholastic, with Mark Dressler at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2013

“Scholastic isn’t just a publisher any more—we’re moving into educational solutions,” said Shane Armstrong, President of Scholastic International yesterday during a discussion of the publisher’s adventures in China.

In addition to its trade publishing and book club businesses, Scholastic has been running an entirely new business line in China since 2005—tutorial centres catering for Chinese parents’ insatiable desire for teach their children English.
The key component to the business is an interactive whiteboard, launched last year, which allows for the systematic teaching of English to non-English speakers.

“You don’t need to have a foreign teacher to conduct an English-language lesson anymore,” noted Frank Wong, Scholastic’s President for Asia, who has been amazed at how young Chinese children start learning English. Scholastic’s Early English program starts with kids as young as two-and-a-half (“before they can even speak Chinese!”), with the bulk of children using the program between the ages of three and seven.

Such has been the success of the interactive whiteboard, Scholastic is now franchising its language education model. Kindergartens in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia are teaching English the Scholastic way.

Whiteboards aside, Wong still sees China as a “print-based market,” although the company is getting ready for what it sees as the inevitable switch to digital. Another major Asia market that has also not turned digital as fast as some thought, according to Shane Armstrong, largely due to infrastructure challenges.

Inevitably, the discussion turned to the challenges of doing business in China. Given its activities in education and publishing, the company was “always getting government interference,” according to Wong.

“You have to learn to dance around the minefield. If you follow every rule, you cannot do anything, so you have to learn to live in the grey areas.”

About the Author

Hannah Johnson

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Hannah Johnson is the Publisher of Publishing Perspectives. Before joining PP in 2009, she worked as Project Manager at the German Book Office New York.