Why Covid-19 has proven tech’s ability to accelerate
The coronavirus pandemic has thrown the education system into disarray. UNESCO reports that over 1.1 billion learners have been affected globally. Major exam boards, including those for IGCSEs, A-Levels, and the IBDP, have canceled their annual end-of-year assessments.
The rushed implementation of distance learning has thrown the difficulties that low-income families face into sharp relief. Widespread mobile Internet penetration in Southeast Asia may have increased steadily since the early 2010s, but is forecast to reach just 62% by 2025, which doesn’t yet account for students who cannot afford a laptop or stable, unlimited broadband. Cramped apartments, a lack of childcare facilities, and the absence of remedial classes or after-school support are also vital factors predicted to cause a widening educational gap between students from different socioeconomic strata.
However, amidst the difficulties of the lockdown, there is a silver lining: the edtech industry has been given a rare chance to flourish. We spoke to Chief Development Officer Franco Lam and Chief Designer Hilary Lok from Hong Kong-based edtech startup Dot Dot Fire. They offer a first-hand account of the biggest barriers to adoption, the shifts in government attitude, and the emerging potential in personalized learning, gamification, and social interaction that edtech has for future students.
EdTech firm Dot Dot Fire discusses the industry’s burgeoning potential.
Educational institutions are resistant to change
Traditionally, education has always been a very rigid space when it comes to technology. Often being caught between the impending deadline of public exams and the stress of unruly students, teachers are often unwilling to accept new, often unfamiliar, technologically-driven modes of teaching, with barely enough time to push through the curriculum content as things stand.
“Educational technology has a lot of potential to offer something that has been viable for a long time, and Covid-19 is really highlighting what tech can do in what has traditionally been a really rigid space,” Lok explains, drawing parallels to how the pandemic has set the largest remote working experiment into motion. Educational software can enrich classroom experiences, making learning almost effortless by using such techniques as gamification, immersion learning, and personalization
Current edtech products fail to enhance learning
Compounding these barriers to adoption, existing edtech products, like e-quizzes, often only go as far as digitizing existing modes of learning, but fall short of genuinely augmenting the learning experience.
“Gamification has been a huge buzzword for at least the last three to five years, and we’ve seen a lot of people convert paper-bound materials into an online-based format,” Lam says. “But, what we really don’t see is people starting with the technological framework and seeing how education can fit into there.”
Covid-19: Black swan or edtech’s savior?
With the rapid onset of Covid-19, many schools have struggled to cope with the unexpected transition to online learning. E-learning online portals have existed for decades, yet less tech-savvy teachers, unfamiliar with the technology, have been slow to adapt.
However, in the longer term, investor sentiment regarding edtech remains overwhelmingly positive. Hong Kong edtech startup Snapask closed US$35 million in funding in February; Chinese tutoring service Zuoyebang is gearing up to raise $600 to 800 million in funding, and another Chinese tutoring platform Yuanfudao has secured a whopping $1 billion in Series G financing led by Tencent in April.
What the future of edtech holds
As edtech becomes increasingly sophisticated, AI-driven personalized learning will become the norm, accelerating the rate at which students can learn.
For example, Dot Dot Fire has developed a proprietary AI software as part of an upcoming mathematics mobile game, which tracks a student’s progress by identifying areas of improvement and then providing supplementary teaching.
“We have different levels of progression, so questions get harder and harder. But, instead of forcing students to answer three easy questions, three medium questions and three hard questions, we’re able to see if they get the answer right, and allow them to progress when they’ve confidently answered a certain number of questions,” Lok explains.
The integration of technology into education allows students to have a much more personalized learning journey where the software continually adapts to their needs. This synergy opens up more significant opportunities to individualize the content, the teaching approach, and the delivery rate to continuously optimize the learning process.
Immersion learning is a mode of learning that creates an engaging, immersive environment, such as virtual reality or a three-dimensional game on an iPad, where students can’t help but be drawn into learning.
Dot Dot Fire has developed multiple mobile-based games in math, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and financial literacy that incorporate learning into a fun, gamified framework.
“You’ve got the graphics. You’ve got the immersion. You’ve got the storyline. To the kids, it’s an actual game,” Lok elaborates. “If you’re able to highlight particular concepts within that experience, for example, say you need to know about energy conversion to continue in the game, the kids will quite naturally learn those concepts because they’re being asked to apply these concepts again and again within the game to progress.”
When transformed into this gamified experience, learning thus becomes second-nature, merging education with entertainment, and effectively captivating children’s short attention spans.
With the rise of big data comes an increased propensity to collect data, which has spread to edtech. As students progress through a course, technology becomes an important enabler for teachers to acquire a high-level understanding of their students’ progress, mapping out areas in which students excel or fall behind.
Equipped with this knowledge, teachers can increase their responsiveness to their class’s needs, adjusting teaching rapidly to ensure quality learning.
Contrary to popular sentiment, edtech has a massive potential to promote, rather than hinder, social learning in the classroom. It just requires the right applications and environment to do so.
For example, augmented reality (AR) might be better suited to education than virtual reality (VR). “A lot of people have asked us, ‘Why aren’t your games in VR?’ And the reason for that is VR puts you in a completely different environment where you don’t necessarily have to interact with other humans,” Lam explains.
In contrast, augmented reality facilitates more interpersonal engagement, allowing students to interact with each other more. “We found that with augmented reality, we actually gave students a new talking point–something new for them to be discussing and be excited over. And it was also something for them that they could connect with teachers over as well,” Lam continues.
So, will edtech replace teachers? It’s one of the biggest questions posed by technologists and Luddites alike. However, despite what futurists have claimed, edtech works best when paired in tandem with traditional, human-based teaching, at least according to Dot Dot Fire.
“At the end of the day, social learning and that human-to-human connection isn’t something that we want to replace, nor is it something we can necessarily replace,” Lok says.
Instead of working against the current system, edtech will hopefully continue to establish greater acceptance in the education industry, operating alongside teachers to make learning more efficient. By freeing teachers to develop stronger one-on-one personal relationships with their students and making learning an engaging, enjoyable, and entertaining, technology can pave the way to an increasingly individualized and diversified future of learning.
About the Author
Jenora Vaswani is a News Editor and Digital Strategist at Hive Life and a Digital Marketing Consultant at Dot Dot Fire. Specializing in SEO strategy, she reports on business news in the Asia Pacific and has covered global conferences, including RISE 2019 and Alibaba’s Jumpstarter.
Top: The Dot Dot Fire Team. From left to right: Edison Chan, Franco Lam, Francis Lo, Hilary Lok, Cyrus Tang. Photo courtesy of Dot Dot Fire.