COVID-19 spurs growth of online learning sector
With the pandemic accelerating industries’ adoption of digital technology, improving Filipinos’ digital literacy should be the key focus of educational institutions across the country, say the heads of supplemental learning centers that are now taking advantage of edtech (educational technology) to continue providing their services to the country’s youth.
“This interesting time has taught all of us that there are ways to circumvent certain crises, no matter how big and scary they are,” says Rossana Llenado, president of Ahead Tutorial and Review Center. “Technology has always been at the core of Ahead, and we’ve leveraged this powerful tool now more than ever. This is the smartest time to pivot into online-based approaches, simply because it provides a lot of flexibility.”
Llenado says Ahead was able to migrate all of its services online because for the past decade, the center had already been offering online classes. On March 24, a week after the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was implemented, the center was already able to offer free daily warmup classes in math, science and English.
“We [also] had ready contingency protocols in place should a lockdown be implemented, which included system and process training for our staff and teachers on different educational applications that would allow us to conduct classes online, as we do in a face-to-face setting,“ Llenado says.
The free classes were meant to increase awareness about Ahead’s services. So far, these sessions have accommodated around 1,000 Grade 12 students, says Llenado. When the ECQ was extended, Ahead expanded their free services to include their review sampler, a weeklong reviews for college entrance exams, mock UPCAT exam, and supplementary classes, which cover topics like language proficiency.
“[These free classes] also gave students something meaningful to do at home, instead of just watching TV or movies, or playing video games,” Llenado says.
Another supplemental learning center that was quick to respond to the need for educational platforms amid the pandemic-caused lockdown was Galileo Enrichment Learning Program. On April 3, they launched the Galileo Online (GO) Learning program, which features curated lessons (math and English, for 3- to 12-year-old students; and Singapore math for 6- to 12-year-olds) conducted in an online classroom setup. The program was established with the help of the center’s technology partners from the Google Educators Group.
Rowena Juan Matti, Galileo CEO, says they had to fast-track their plans of creating the GO Learning program precisely because of the pandemic. “[There were] initial plans to roll it out in the next few years—which have evidently been changed. But there was always that question about consumers being ready for a digital classroom,” Matti says. “At first, there was hesitation from those who were not adept at using the internet beyond social media. We had to guide our parents in shifting with us. But once we launched the program, we were pleasantly surprised by the positive response. We had new enrollees even during the Holy Week.”
As for Singapore-based edtech startup KooBits (pronounced “coolbits”), their latest offerings of two new programs for the Philippine market purely coincided with the lockdown, says founder and CEO Stanley Han. The company had already been working with over 130 schools in the country, through their school-based e-learning products.
The new programs, Home-based Learning and Live Tutoring, were launched in 2019 with aim of reaching more consumers who wanted to undergo e-learning in their homes.
The Home-Based Learning module, Han explains, gives children access to unlimited worksheets with full solutions, and comprehensive video tutorials that are “based on the tried and tested concrete-pictorial-abstract approach, the model used by the acclaimed Singapore maths pedagogy, that ensures children do not simply rote-memorize the steps to solving a problem, but are able to visualize and understand the underlying concepts.”
As for Live Tutoring, Han says the program “provides an affordable home learning alternative compared to the industry average.” A short preclass assignment is part of every session, as it helps the platform automatically identify each child’s weaknesses and gaps in learning. It also automatically groups them, so tutors can personalize their lesson and address relevant issues for the students during each class.
As KooBits is an edtech company, their programs rely heavily on digital tech such as artificial intelligence and Big Data, says Han.
“Every day, we have more than three million data points deposited by our users, and we now have Big Data from over five years of gathering such information. As a result, we can do pretty accurate predictions of a student’s potential misconception simply by comparing the student’s input against the large sample size of inputs on the same content, or along the same learning pathway. From there, we develop smart algorithms to determine a user’s proficiency level, and feed the user with relevant content,” Han adds.
With no forecast yet on when the pandemic will be resolved and lockdown measures eased, Llenado says the supplemental education sector now has a bigger role to play in ensuring that the country’s students’ learning doesn’t stop amid this crisis. And there is room for this sector to grow; according to Llenado, educators estimate this segment to be at less than P200 million, or $3.8 million—far from those of Singapore (worth $1 billion), South Korea ($2 billion) and Japan ($8.7 billion).
She emphasizes, however, that such learning cannot be facilitated effectively by just anyone.
“The difference offered by a center such as [Ahead] is our 25 years of experience, which guide our present crop of teachers who are mostly millennials but are already experts in their fields. We produce and pretest our own materials, each of which takes the combined effort of at least 30 people to create. We carefully screen and train our teachers,” Llenado says.
“One quality resonates while everyone adjusts to the online learning setting: resilience. Online learning can be just as helpful as face-to-face interactions, but this is a crucial time where we can still achieve the semblance of personal interaction through video calls, for instance. Kids these days, no matter what age, are resilient enough to adjust to what’s happening; and one factor that allowed them to be this way is technology,” she adds.
The shift to online learning, however, doesn’t mean discarding the importance of face-to-face interaction between teachers and students, Han says.
“I believe online learning won’t replace traditional learning, especially the human touch. I believe online learning, or edtech, serves a different purpose and offers a unique set of values beyond what traditional education programs can do,” he says. “In my view, what this pandemic has done is more like force people to give online learning and edtech a try. Just like any product, some may like it, some don’t. However, I believe this ‘forced exposure’ will help many people experience the value of education technology and accelerate the adoption of [such] solutions in learning.”
And on a more broader aspect, the pandemic could, finally, accelerate the government’s plans of making internet access available to more, if not all, Filipinos, Matti says.
“This [crisis] hopefully jump-starts the development of more affordable and accessible internet services across socioeconomic classes—and everything, including the education system, will follow. Digital literacy is one of the key skills that every child should have to be a lifelong learner and online learning is the best vehicle to equip the child and guide him in this ever-changing world,” she says. —Annelle Tayao-Juego
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