Riding the tailwind: How COVID-19 accelerated the growth of edutech startups in Singapore


When COVID-19 struck in early 2020, universities and schools around the world found themselves suddenly shifting to digital education, a scenario many had never conceived of before. Teachers and professors rapidly switched to Zoom with mixed results.

In this period of rapid technological adoption, the existing educational technology industry, or edutech, led the way in providing mass digital education services in Singapore.

EduSpaze, Singapore’s first edutech accelerator, quickly compiled a bank of useful edutech tools and resources for the pandemic, signalling the key role edutech was going to play during the crisis.

Tapping on the crisis to grow online users

For parents stuck at home, the period of Home-Based Learning (HBL) from April 8 to May 4 was a stressful period, as they had to explore ways to keep their children engaged without compromising their learning.

This was the time for edutech firms that had laid the key groundwork for innovative and engaging digital pedagogy to shine.

Consider the case of Tenopy, a platform for live online education that was launched in 2017. The platform uses a unique in-house algorithm, data analytics, and interactive content to make personalised education content accessible for over 2,000 Primary School students all over Singapore.

Also Read: Edutech in SEA is still “far behind compared to North America” – but there is some hope

Tenopy moved quickly to promote its products and raise awareness of its innovative pedagogy for the online space. Due to Tenopy’s active efforts to reach out to students and parents, the platform saw a 100 per cent increase in active students since March. Even as HBL drew to a close, the company saw a 95 per cent retention rate moving from Term 1 to Term 2, as a result of its engaging and affordable platform.

In the words of Tenopy founder and CEO Soh Chong Kian, on their experience during the pandemic: “The pandemic has made digitalisation a new norm and drastically accelerated the adoption of e-learning, that comes with natural merits such as efficiency, easier accessibility (to high-quality teachers), interactivity and affordability.”

VERE360 is another edutech firm that had its long-simmering efforts pay off. VERE360 aims to democratise experiential learning for schools across Southeast Asia, using virtual reality.

Before COVID-19, its efforts were primarily geared towards integrating VR content within everyday classroom settings. During the HBL period, it responded quickly and began working with teachers and schools to continue engaging students in learning through its VR content library.

VERE360’s immersive education style hence allowed teachers to close the gaps presented by not being in the same space.

Both VERE360 and Tenopy proactively marketed their unique digital pedagogy during a time of technological adoption, allowing them to offer sought-after services. Their long-standing efforts to develop pedagogy that fully engages students over the digital space paid off, giving them a leg up over traditional tuition businesses during the pandemic.

The crisis forced educators across the industry to ask difficult questions about retaining student development when education shifts online, and adroit edutech startups were able to provide the answers needed.

Also Read: Thai edutech startups Conicle, Vonder receive funding from Stormbreaker Venture

Community service in a time of need

Understanding the severity of the situation, Tenopy did its part to fulfil its mission of making high-quality education accessible to all.

In June 2020, Tenopy inked a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with AMKFSC Community Services Ltd. (AMKFSC) to provide free tutoring services to children from underprivileged backgrounds across a range of Primary 3 to Secondary 2 students. Not only does Tenopy provide regular live online classrooms to these children, but it also provides free recorded lessons and homework materials to online tutors from AMKFSC so that they can conduct professional tutoring for affected students.

Another edutech firm, Yumcha Studios, responded to the crisis by using its platform to educate children about the coronavirus through an accessible and humorous quiz. The firm used its in-house characters and stories from its bilingual book-and-app series Little Dim Sum Warriors to develop this quiz released in 8 different languages, such as Bengali, Indonesian, Chinese, and even Singlish.

During HBL, the firm also made all their Dim Sum Chums bilingual mobile app free to download on iOS and Android devices worldwide, engaging many more students in developing their language skills. Yumcha remained cognisant of the differing access challenges faced by low-income students in Singapore and ensured its outreach efforts remained accessible to these students.

Also Read: How the Coronavirus is teaching edutech startups a much-needed lesson

Yumcha Studios and Tenopy worked hard to improve their product accessibility during a challenging period for the country. By actively thinking of those in need, they reached consumers who most needed their products and forged important connections for the future.

Edutech companies quantifiably demonstrated the value of their work in reaching the most vulnerable quickly and hassle-free. They shone a light on the potential of edutech to revolutionise key problems in the education sector, both in Singapore and beyond.

Looking ahead

The edutech industry in Singapore was well-positioned to actively respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19 to traditional education models. COVID-19 may have set the stage for a digital revolution, but it was the hard work of the edutech industry during the crisis to respond to community needs and attract online users that accelerated their growth.

As we move into the post-pandemic world, it is likely that this digital revolution is here to stay, and that the edutech industry will keep booming in a newly digitised world.

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Image credit: Andy Falconer on Unsplash

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