edutech startups Asia

It used to be that edutech was considered futuristic, but now with its real-world impact becoming more apparent, the industry has reached a pivotal point. One study published by America’s National Bureau of Economic Research found that edutech initiatives offer “evidence of positive effects in developing countries”.

Other studies have similarly found that edutech solutions resolve many other issues, including reducing the burden on teachers and helping career counsellors guide students to informed university and career decisions.

Of all the milestones achieved at Cialfo—the most meaningful ones relate to our role in improving access to quality education.

Whether it is the work we’ve done with the Windle Trust or the launch of a free plan during the pandemic to help schools get started with distance counselling, the results are all very real and impactful for anyone to overlook. 

Put simply, technology can make big improvements to education– as it has for many countries in Asia Pacific where edutech is promoting educational inclusion for those in need.

As national lockdowns and stay-at-home orders emerged, the region saw a threefold increase in downloads of virtual learning apps from six million to 20 million.

But equitable distribution remains a challenge, with one study from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) finding that learning losses in the region range from eight per cent in the Pacific to 55 per cent in South Asia. 

We cannot talk about equitable distribution of education without discussing the elephant in the room: internet access or the lack thereof. The same ADB study found that in lower-middle income economies, only 18 per cent of households on average have a computer and 41 per cent have internet access at home.

Also Read: How edutech startups can accelerate active learning

Because of this, online learning is predominantly conducted using mobile phones, which are more readily available in lower-income countries. In support of this, governments have begun implementing programs to make remote learning accessible through mobile phones and via the subsidised distribution of connectivity and devices. 

Beyond government and public sector intervention in bridging the digital divide—for edutech to be truly transformational—the industry needs to urgently address a couple of things, including:

Problems to solve

We at Cialfo recognise that in many parts of the world, people don’t have a choice over their circumstances. We do what we do because we want to enable a direct transition from school to university and allow students to decide what their future looks like.

I can tell you first-hand that even if one kid from a disadvantaged background decides to go to a college—it creates a multi-generational impact.

To other edutech players that want to contribute to improving access to information and student outcomes, I’d recommend focusing on one or two issues to solve.

An emerging area that’s seeing some success is teacher and parent support and training on the use of remote learning technologies.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, we know that simply making content available is no longer enough. Parents and teachers must be equally engaged in the learning process to ensure students’ learning and outcomes significantly increase. 

Keep it simple

Businesses are often tempted to go big, or go home. When it comes to using edutech solutions, we’ve found the simpler the offering—the better.

Do you remember when the interactive whiteboards launched, and flopped? This was essentially an internet-connected computer screen that was meant to replace classroom boards, but it simply failed to work and was often ignored by teachers. 

The need of the hour is easy-to-use and engaging solutions, such as the radio station approach used by the NGO Pratham to enable learning in poorly connected tribal villages in India’s Thane District Council.

These lessons are also recorded on mobile applications and can be accessed by students when a smartphone becomes available. The program also fields two calls per session, during which students and parents are guided through activities by the host.

Some other countries are finding success trialing Whatsapp and WeChat to assign students with specific chapters to read and questions to respond to, while students are required to send their answers back to the teachers to assess. Even as other approaches emerge, more needs to be done. 

Barclays estimates our industry will grow between 14.5 and 16.4 per cent, to a total value of US$368bn-406bn by 2025. It’s a big opportunity for edutech, but for it to be truly significant, the benefits must reach underserved communities.

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Image Credit: primagefactory

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