Edtech’s Race Beyond Chalk and Blackboards

Asia’s (somewhat healthy) obsession with education has been depicted and portrayed in a satirical fashion for the longest time. Parents often part with their hard-earned money to fuel their kids primary, secondary, tertiary as well as post-graduate pursuits at almost any cost, seen as a means of obtaining social mobility and/or maintaining the status quo through a bright and stable future for future generations.  

Asia’s enrolment in K–12 (pre-university) education surpasses the United States by 10 times, its sheer population creating a huge market for the entrepreneurial world to continue creating innovative advancements across the future. It therefore makes perfect sense that projections show the Asia-pacific to represent 54 percent of the global edtech market by 2020 – a sign that they need to get the integration of technology with education right.

Statistics aside, we dive a bit deeper into how the edtech industry needs to prepare for the future and overcome the several hurdles that it has been experiencing globally in the recent past:

The issues lie beyond access

The advent of online courses and e-learning institutes have paved the way for unrivalled access to education beyond the geographical constraints seen in the past. Companies like Coursera and Udacity somewhat revolutionised the whole learning process about half a decade ago with their Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) — self-paced and open to everyone. They have since pivoted their respective business models for monetisation purposes. While Udacity provides tuition-based curriculum from brand-name companies like Google and Apple, Coursera provides curriculum from high profile universities like Yale and Stanford.

Trophy names from notable universities and corporate giants aside, the platforms have faced considerable obstacles since their inceptions. While the novelty of obtaining albeit limited accreditation from these institutions garners favour from a broad range of subscribers, employers have seemed to be cautious in their approach of hiring those who have completed these courses.


Although Udacity has offered a money-back guarantee for those who do not find employment after graduation, issues still lie in the fact that these platforms lack the intensity of formal education models – users can experience a reduction in attention gaps and eventually drop out – aptly represented by the not so stellar completion rates of these courses.


According to SPECTRUM member Gabrielle Loh from Jobbatical, a platform that helps find, hire and relocate top, hard-to-find candidates from around the world, “We are seeing the emergence of companies that have begun to offer a hybrid of online, part-time and full-time immersive courses to better suit the learning needs of their students. This goes down better with hirers and it’s all about finding the right balance if the online sphere hopes to disrupt the traditional sector of education”.

Localisation is key

One factor that edtech startups fail to understand is that what works in one country may not work in another due to extremely different educational structures. Platforms need to be not only translated but syllabus needs to be tweaked according to both the curriculum requirements of the said country as well as the educational model it adopts. E.g British VS U.S. models across different regions in the world. Video learning may have promise in certain countries but may be counter-productive in those that have weaker broadband connections. The list of issues to consider go on and on when creating an education platform for cross-border adoption.

Time – consuming industry

It is of point to note that entrepreneurs in the industry also face the issue of research and proof-of-concepts taking considerable lengths of time to exhibit their effectiveness. Subscribers and entrepreneurs generally don’t have the patience nor the resources to track success levels in the long-run. Edtech businesses also lack funds to scale their businesses as the market often falls short of the projections investors are looking for. Unlike the finance industry, where technology that reduces spending is an obvious winner, in edtech, a solution that promises to disrupt the industry does not have the same guarantees – the field is not quantified by the same metrics.

At the end of the day, it is undeniable that the education industry is one that will be disrupted heavily, particularly in the Asian context; if for no other reason than due to the fact that expenditure towards education has been on an upward trajectory throughout the region, with families spending seven times as much as Americans to give their kids an edge in the field. Although localisation has to be taken into account in the particular market one is entering, the sheer amount of money poured into each country across the region will justify the efforts of entrepreneurs, eager to get into an arena that has been relatively untouched so far. These entrepreneurs will in-turn require a healthy longer-term perspective on the part of capital providers and policymakers, an investment that will pay unparallel dividends to the entire ecosystem in the medium to long run.