A time for edtech to shine


By JOY LEE

Correspondingly, AOne founder Darren Gouk (pic) saw a marked increase in demand and awareness for its brand and services.

THE ongoing disruption to classes has put online learning in the spotlight, possibly raising interest in edtech as the sector explores opportunities in digitalisation.

Schools and educational centres such as tuition centres, music classes and swim schools had little choice but to go digital when physical lessons were stopped overnight during the movement control order (MCO). Not only did they have to adjust to online classes, they also saw an urgent need to digitise their workflow.

Correspondingly, AOne founder Darren Gouk (pic) saw a marked increase in demand and awareness for its brand and services.

“We got more inquiries and demo requests during the MCO as the awareness on digitising their educational centre management increased tremendously since they can’t work in the centres for some administrative work. Many of the SMEs are also tapping into the digital space and exploring online teaching, ” Gouk shares.

One of the main challenges faced by class providers is keeping track of fee payment by the students as most centre owners have always made do with manual processes.

“Just imagine if a tuition centre has 300 students joining 600 classes monthly. The manual tracking and follow-up would be too much of a hassle. So our solution can digitise the whole process and assist them seamlessly.”

Founded in 2015, AOne is an edtech solution that brings together a business-to-consumer (B2C) marketplace and business-to-business (B2B) backend management software for all kinds of enrichment lessons.

Its key product, AOneSchools, helps enrichment centres like tuition schools, kindergartens and enrichment academies manage their administrative workflow.

Meanwhile, its B2C marketplace connects students with nearby education providers.

Its solution was particularly useful during the MCO when education providers needed help to install cashless in-app payment, manage their operations via a cloud-based system and provide updates on their students’ progress.

But Gouk notes that transactions did not necessarily soared as most of their clients were cash-tight during this period.

Nonetheless, this is a stepping stone for a wider use of technology in the education sector, which bodes well for the company in the longer run.

AOne recently secured RM2mil in seed funding from Wavemaker Partners, a South-East Asia early-stage venture capital firm. Earlier in April, the startup also received RM200,000 funding from ScaleUp Ventures Malaysia and a RM300,000 grant from Cradle Fund.

Gouk says the company’s subscription-based revenue model has helped it maintain profitability even before closing its recent funding round.

Currently, AOne serves over 800 enrichment centres and manages more than 100,000 learners and educators across Malaysia and Singapore.

Over the next year, Gouk plans to localise and enhance its offerings in these markets and in the longer run, drive expansion across the region.

Notably, this also opens the startup to regional competition from other players in bigger markets and with stronger backing.

“There are slightly more competitors for pre-school software in the region, but the enrichment class providers segment is still an untapped market.

“Childcare software was getting more popular and raising huge funding in 2018 in the US, but there is still a big market in South-East Asia. The education market here is not only about childcare centres, there are also tuition centres, enrichment classes, music schools and sports academies offering lessons that range from babies to adults.

“Most of them are managing their business operations manually, and there is a huge opportunity for us to grow, ” he says.

He envisions AOne to be a super-app in the education space, where it can be used for everyday educational needs such as managing workloads, marketing, enrollment, tracking schedules, communication, automatic payments, online teaching and other services.

Covid-19 has certainly boosted the edtech industry going by investor interest in China.

“Before this, it seemed impossible and there was a lot of resistance from parents and educators. But now, it has become a norm, and some parents prefer online teaching due to the convenience.

“Investor interest is definitely there and they are exploring the South-East Asia markets. The main barrier in this region is that it is a fragmented market in terms of languages, local culture and syllabus.

“Nevertheless, there are many areas that can be further developed in the future, like personalised learning, big data tracking and so on, ” says Gouk.

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