Students in Vietnam wearing face masks & observing social distancing.

Students in Vietnam wearing face masks & observing social distancing. Source: AFP

Edtech startups help fill learning void in Southeast Asia

  • Schools and higher learning institutes have been closed across Southeast Asia
  • Edtech companies have helped to plug the gap, offering virtual learning solutions and services
  • A raft of local edtech startups are being highlighted across the region

The coronavirus pandemic has caused severe disruptions to life as we know it in Southeast Asia, with the majority of businesses and organizations forced to resort to social distancing, instead turning to remote working and virtual solutions to bridge the gap.

Similarly, schools and other educational institutions in the region also were forced to shut their gates for prolonged periods – some with no end yet in sight. Schools in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and more are all delaying the re-opening of education centers until the second half of the year.

In Vietnam, which has just 271 confirmed cases, schools and universities start to reopen in early May, but only after the country had recorded no new cases for at least three weeks. The school’s staff and students must observe the now-familiar measures including wearing masks, scanning and recording temperatures, sanitizing hands regularly, and tracking movements in and out of school.

Such measures are necessary but harsh for the learning-deprived in Southeast Asia, where the population of nearly 700 million people has at least 25.7 percent of that number within the five-to-19-year-old school-going age bracket.

Literacy rates in Laos (58.3 percent), Cambodia (73.9 percent), and Myanmar (75.6 percent) still trail behind their neighbors, but even countries with higher literacy rates in the region are being adversely affected by the constraints currently facing the education sector in Southeast Asia.

While still a relatively new concept in the area, education technology (edtech) startups have been making their online learning experiences available, seeking to introduce new ways of learning and disrupt tried and tested methods. These edtech firms have been crucial in filling the learning gap that many students are experiencing right now.

In Indonesia for example, Ruangguru is the largest virtual tutoring platform with over 7 million users, and had been offering tutoring videos, tests, and homework assistance via its website and mobile to students all over the country. Founded in 2014, Ruangguru has over 80,000 registered qualified teachers to consult with students over voice calls and chat boxes when the need arises.

Thailand’s Taamkru, on the other hand, teaches preschoolers in Thailand, Singapore, and Vietnam – offering gamified lesson plans for English, math, and science on its app-based learning platform. The company says students who use the app over a 15-day period see an average improvement of 26.8 percent in their app test scores.

There has also been an upshot of adults in Southeast Asia seeking higher qualifications to find better employment in their home countries or abroad. Offering online degree programs and a variety of short courses is Vietnam’s Topica Edtech Group. The Group’s Topica Native is the world’s first online English speech tutoring course that uses augmented reality (AR) to enhance its lessons.

HarukaEdu is also an online learning portal from Indonesia, offering free online classes for adults, with flexible class schedules that students can adapt to accommodate their working hours. In Malaysia, EduAdvisor is an informative website that also works as a central index providing information on courses, test quizzes, and even scholarships for prospective students looking to further their learning.

One of the most significant edtech firms in the region is Yola, a Vietnamese startup with a novel online-to-offline educational model: it’s app supplies instruction in basic English skills, intending to attract students to one of the company’s training centers in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Yola provides the social element that other edtech offerings might be lacking, but as for now with the need for social distancing measures, the remote accessibility of virtual edtech lessons is a valuable learning lifeline for students in Southeast Asia.