A Montessori movement
Vivien Wang '99 is building one of the leading early education programs in China
As managing director of Etonkids International Educational Group, a bilingual Montessori school she founded in Beijing, Vivien Wang '99 leads one of China's top early childhood educational providers.
It seems a natural evolution for Wang. As the daughter of two professors, she grew up on a Chinese university campus. She left China in 1990 to work in Singapore and then the United States, where she earned her degree from Kellogg.
After several stints at technology startups and as a Merrill Lynch investment strategist, Wang says, "I learned I wasn't passionate about technology, and I was passionate about education."
Opportunity awaited her in China, where early childhood education "was very underdeveloped" and dominated by small, family-owned preschools, she says.
In 2002, with the backing of Sequoia Capital, Wang set about establishing Etonkids, a Montessori school for children ages 18 months to 6 years old. The school focuses on The Etonkids' Three C's: creativity, character and culture. Different programs and levels of English immersion cater to expatriate families, local families and a mix of the two family types.
To assure quality, Wang refuses to franchise and established Etonkids Montessori Teacher Training Academy, the only indigenous American Montessori Society-affiliated teaching credential program.
Wang says the Montessori teaching method, which involves mixed ages learning together with an emphasis on creativity, appeals to one-child Chinese parents.
"Parents are eager to invest in their child's education," she says. "They like the Montessori concept; it helps children become independent and effective problem solvers."
Etonkids has further expansion plans, with a school set to open next year in Hong Kong. Wang is also planning to open bilingual kindergartens in the U.S. West Coast, which will double as a gateway for attracting native English-speaking teachers to the program in China.
Parents now line up to get their children into Etonkids' coveted programs. By the end of the year, 50 campuses will be open in 12 cities across China, with an enrollment of 5,000 students.
"I grew up in striking poverty," she adds. "As an entrepreneur, I'm always prepared for the worst, but while staying positive and expecting the best."