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The recent COVID-19 outbreak has exposed one of the most integral elements of modern society – the schooling system. UNESCO reports that at least 290.5 million students’ educations have been thrown into disarray due to the outbreak. Parties most vulnerable to this shock would be those suffering from inadequate schooling systems in the first place – a segment that much of Southeast Asia unmistakably belongs to. As students are forced to stay home, schools have started to experiment with alternative education delivery methods, largely spearheaded by the region’s startups.

We must first address the elephant in the room: the poor quality of education in Southeast Asia. Take the Indonesian government, which has made education central to its agenda. Indonesia boasts an impressive 93% net enrolment rate for schooling, yet 55% of Indonesians who complete school are functionally illiterate. This can be attributed to factors including overcrowded schools, inefficient teaching methods, and the mismanagement of public schools. The COVID-19 outbreak did not induce any new failures in the education system – it simply provided the trigger for other parties to step in and provide meaningful and innovative alternatives for learning.

Education Technology (EdTech) startups are not new, nor are they few and far between; in Vietnam alone there are at least 87 different EdTech startups. Indonesia’s Zenius and Vietnam’s Topica Group are among the older EdTech startups, being founded in 2007 and 2008 respectively. However, the two received large funding rounds only very recently, with Zenius raising USD 20M in 2019 and Topica Group raising USD 50M in 2018, largely fundraising on the back of improving digital infrastructure and high internet and smartphone penetration rates.

On the policy front, Indonesia has started to forge ahead in terms of devising new policies to address these developments, as evident by the founder and CEO of Indonesian EdTech behemoth, Ruangguru, being recruited by the President of Indonesia to serve as one of his Special Staff. In an attempt to leverage technology to better collate student data, the Ministry of Education has introduced the e-rapor, a system of collecting and disbursing end-of-semester report cards digitally instead of printing out hard copies.

The concept of livestreaming a class is by no means a new concept. However, the outbreak has turned distance learning into a popular topic of discourse, as students are forced to attend classes online from their homes. Teachers thusly turn to startups such as Malaysia’s FrogAsia, which takes the classroom to the cloud, bringing online distance learning into reality.  A convenient side effect of this is that teachers are now free to teach without the constraint of a packed classroom, giving them the ability to reach larger cohorts. This unique advantage addresses issues that are fundamental to the region’s education system –  the glaring shortage of teachers and classrooms. Given a generation that is increasingly digital-savvy and willing to adopt new technologies, entrepreneurs are progressively identifying addressable pain points and developing new and creative methods for students to receive their education.

With the closing down of schools, a centuries-old education system has been thrust into what could be a new normal – the mandate of social distancing forces teachers to be creative with how they deliver their lessons, whilst making sure the experience seamless and efficient. The environment surrounding the education system in Southeast Asia has been long overdue for disruption, and with governments largely being inactive, we believe it is up to entrepreneurs to step in and pick up the slack. The Southeast Asian EdTech scene is largely at its early stages, so expect the COVID-19 outbreak to be the tipping point of the industry’s break out.


                This article was originally published on e27

RHL Ventures

Author RHL Ventures

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