My mother has been a school teacher all her life. She teaches in a small school in a rural town in Kedah. When I spoke to her recently, it’s encouraging to know that the education ministry is pushing hard for students and teachers to adopt online learning.
Every day, students and teachers use platforms like Google Classroom to go online to catch up on their syllabus so that they don’t get disrupted despite the current lockdown.
As a Southeast Asian citizen, I’ve written how optimistic I am on how this region will be leading technology adoption rate especially among new milennials and consumer groups.
Here’s where education technology (edtech) startups can come in.
The Economist highlighted how closing schools due to Covid-19 directly affect students’ future prospects especially among the poor students. To be fair, globally, education inequity is a major issue across both developing and developed nations.
However, elite and private schools seem to have full attendance despite the lockdown (and thanks to the increase of social mobility among middle and upper-class families). This is not the case when it comes to public school. Apparently, three out of ten students in a public school may not get access to online learning.
A friend of mine, Danial Rahman shared a similar sentiment in his recent column in The Star. Danial has been in the education space ever since he graduated. He used to be the press secretary to the minister of higher education under Idris Jusoh, and now works for a private education group.
In his column, Danial highlighted that online learning is the way to go for Malaysia. Examples of online courses offered WHO and LinkedIn Learning are some use cases that that online courses can indeed be used to learn crucial skills and other ways of personal development and upskilling.
So how can edtech startups play a role in boosting online learning in Malaysia, and across the region?
1. Improving the existing technological limitations
First, to get into online learning, you need to have a stable internet connection. Let’s be honest about this. Although Malaysian internet pentration is close to 90% now, there are still many households that do not have access to high-speed fibre broadband (yes, they are still people using Streamyx as they don’t have fibre laid out in their coverage area).
If you’re a student in a rural village, more often than not you’d be relying on a smartphone as opposed to a laptop to get connected. Naturally, the connection may get patchy as well due to the limited coverage. Since you may not have broadband, more often than not you may need to upgrade or buy more data package to stay connected to take up online learning.
Smart and innovative contents delivery may be an interesting angle for edtech to explore. Instead of relying on streaming online lectures that may take up a lot of bandwidth. We can explore sending small bit size package or lessons that may not take up so much data to the poor students.
I recall an event hosted by Google Malaysia last year. BBC Indonesia would make contents to be responsible and mobile friendly as most of their audience will use mobile phones to access and consume news.
Why won’t it be the same for online learning?
Since not everybody has access to fast broadband for streaming, delivering contents in a small packet size may be worthwhile exploring.
2. Streamlining partnership and collaboration between corporates and nonprofits
Education is a big agenda for many nonprofits in Malaysia. Local foundations like YTL Foundation (a foundation under the YTL Group, a Malaysian conglomerate) has come out to offer free smartphones and data packages to help B40 students.
Another more “grassroots” type (for which I’m lucky to be part of as one of their mentors) is Closing The Gap (a nonprofit seeking to tackle education inequity by pairing underserved students with a professional mentor to help the student apply for tertiary education).
In my short chat with the Closing The Gap team, they’ve crowdfunded funds to help students to purchase data package for those who cannot afford so that they won’t get left behind on the online learning bandwagon.
I do think there’s an edtech angle where B2B solutions may be offered to nonprofits and other ecosystem enablers where they can work together to offer a more streamlined approach to online learning. Something like SumoApp but for online learning.
3. Edtech as a passion economy
If you’re someone who truly loves teaching, online learning is a greenfield opportunity. In other major economies, online learning is a big thing especially for personal and online tutors. I am confident that it is an untapped and underserved industry in Malaysia and other developing economies as we see parents are willing to fork out more monies for their childrens’ education.
Interestingly, local donation crowdfunding sites like The 100% Project and The Incitement may also offer alternative fundraising platforms from the general public like you and me who believes in the education causes.
Ok, some caveat here. I do think that an edtech startup may have some challenges in getting the revenue model right. But that’s where visionary founders come in to do their usual MVP and testing and figure out what works and whatnots.