Private education has evolved tremendously from being a mere supplement to the public education system to be a bridge to holistic development. At the forefront of this evolution is Smarter Me, a Singaporean ed-tech company that is streamlining how learners discover ways to pursue their passion. To find out more about trends in the region, I spoke with Xin and Kelly from Smarter Me.
Singaporean parents understand that education is the passport for their children to unlock a world of opportunities and therefore spend almost $96,196 annually on their children’s education, nearly twice the global average. (TODAYonline, 2017) The private tuition industry has also been booming, with total expenditure hitting $1.1 billion in 2016, nearly twice of what was spent in 2004. (The Straits Times, 2016). This massive demand has spawned a myriad of tuition providers and while this offers learners with plenty of options, finding a tutor is becoming an increasingly complicated maze. You could search for the “top 10” on google, but which of the thousands of rankings can you trust? Perhaps you can ask your friends for their referrals but how confident can you be that their experience will be the same as what you will be provided with. As if the process of trawling through the mountains of data available on different tuition providers was not time consuming enough, learners and their parents still have to contact the tuition provider to enquire about their fees, book the courses, pay for the courses and remember when all their many courses will be held.
Recognising the aforementioned difficulties, Smarter Me has launched a one-stop platform to guide learners through the entire experience of learning from private educators. For example if a mother wants to attend a coding course during the school holidays with her son, she need only visit the Smarter Me website to choose from a list of curated coding educators. She will not need to do any research given that educators can only be listed on the website if they pass the curation process which involves the Smarter Me team
1) Obtaining referrals from parents, students and the National Registry of Coaches
2) Performing online research for reviews and feedback
3) Conducting face-to-face interviews to assess the educators’ passion, purpose, values, knowledge, curriculum structure and experience
4) Personally attending each course to gain first-hand experience and validation
5) Speaking to parents, students and other instructors
6) Working with instructors to list courses that cater to the unique needs of leaners
7) Monitoring all reviews and ratings to ensure quality of courses
With this stringent curation process, she can trust in the quality and fit of the courses regardless of the choice she makes. She can also use the Smarter Me website’s livechat function to discuss with the Smarter Me team about which course will be the most suitable based on the learning needs of herself and her son. After deciding on the course, she can then contact the educator, book the course and make payment, without leaving the website. To ensure that she does not forget about the coding course, a reminder email will be sent from the Smarter Me platform.
In addition to camps, Smarter Me lists educators for Academics, Sports & Fitness, Music & Dance, Arts & Lifestyle, Culinary, Language, Science & Technology and Others to ensure that their learners have access to a full spectrum of development opportunities from quality educators.
Trends in the region
Xin has observed that Asia is going through a digital revolution; in 2016, more than half of the world’s population were connected to the internet with 70% of growth in internet users coming from the Asia Pacific region. (Mediabuzz, 2017) Between 2017 and 2020, the population of Asian internet users is expected to grow by 15.8% to 2.2 billion (CASBAA, 2016). In addition to improved internet access, smartphone adoption in Asia has also just crossed 50% in 2016 (Mobile World Live, 2017) and has become the device of choice for Asian Internet users with 94% owning a smartphone and only 43% owning a tablet. (Internetsociety, 2016). By 2020, the number of smartphone subscriptions is expected to hit 3 billion, up from 1.7 billion in 2015. (GSMA, 2016)
As more of the Asian population is included into the digital community, Kelly believes that opportunities to integrate e-learning into traditional educational systems are growing. By 2019, almost 50% of all classes are expected to be delivered online and already in 2017, 67% of smartphone users were using their smartphones to access learning. (Small Business Trends, 2017) Live streaming of lectures in particular is becoming increasingly widespread and is accessed by students studying for online degrees and even by students studying for brick and mortar degrees but unable to attend physical lectures due to space constraints or other reasons. (Insidehighered, 2015) Moving into the future, Virtual Reality holds much promise in providing immersive educational environments without learners having to be physically there. Among other subjects, VR is being used to provide life-like experiences in history and chemistry. (digital LEARNING magazine, 2018)
Riding on the trends
Currently Smarter Me operates only in Singapore and therefore their tutors are constrained to students within physical proximity, but the digital revolution is opening up new platforms for tutors to expand their reach to overseas markets. As such, Xin and Kelly feel that the next phase of growth will be from overseas expansion through the usage of live streaming and other technological advancements that will allow their registered educators to reach students beyond our borders. However, simply using these new technologies is insufficient; instead educators taking their classes online need to adapt their teaching methods to fully utilise the online tools available so as to preserve the special teacher-student interaction from traditional classes. Attesting to the importance of maintaining this special interaction, one of the most famous live streaming educators in China is Wang Yu and he makes a whopping RMB 18,000 (SGD 2,700) per hour due to his ability to engage his online students and keep lessons interactive. (TechNode, 2017)
Challenges in expanding overseas
Due to geographical proximity, the ASEAN region is one of the easiest regions to expand into. However Kelly has identified language as one of the barriers for Singaporean educators to export their teaching overseas. Aside from Malaysia (61.07), the Philippines (60.59) and Indonesia (52.15), other ASEAN countries have a score below 50 in the EF English Proficiency Index. (EF, 2017)
Xin also highlighted that here in Singapore we are used to the British style education where students take O levels and then A levels, however aside from Malaysia, other ASEAN countries do not take the aforementioned papers and adapting to the different education systems in foreign countries will be a challenge for educators looking to expand into the region.
Strategy for expanding overseas
Given the aforementioned challenges, education companies looking to expand must conduct in-depth studies into their target markets to identify the countries that have the conditions to allow their solutions to succeed. For companies with no overseas presence yet, Malaysia would make the most sense to be the first destination to expand into given that their English proficiency is not too far behind Singapore’s and that they also have a similar education system.
When entering a new market, Singaporean companies can target the English-speakers first and then gradually hire local educators to teach the native-speakers.
For education companies looking to expand, IE Singapore stands ready to provide funding, market research, contacts and other assistance to help companies reach overseas markets. However this support is usually one-sided with our government providing most of the aid while foreign countries benefit from our companies providing enhanced capabilities to their leaners. Perhaps with time, there can be more cooperation between governments so as to offer support from both countries since the export of the Singaporean brand of education is beneficial for both sides.
Call to Singaporean companies
The public education system serves us well but every learner is unique and unlocking one’s full potential might require more bespoke learning solutions. Private education fills this gap and Smarter Me is allowing more to gain access to passionate educators who can properly equip their students with the skills and knowledge to live a full life. As more of Asia is connected to the digital realm, private educators and platforms like Smarter Me have the chance to bring this experience across our borders, if they can preserve the intimacy of a classroom when bringing their education solutions online.
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