SINGAPORE: With less than two months to the PSLE and her daughter needing a little extra help with her mathematics, parent KH Goh thought she would try something different.
On a friend's recommendation, she signed her daughter up with online tutoring platform teachnlearn. Lessons are conducted via video chat and a virtual whiteboard with file sharing functions.
“The session was targeted just at the specific questions and if she didn’t know, she’ll just ask the teacher directly,” she said. “This was a lot more helpful compared to a tuition centre where there are usually a lot more students.”
“The convenience of the platform is good, and as a parent, I like that I can replay and watch the sessions after, so if I want to be involved, I can be,” she added.
TUITION ANYTIME, ANYWHERE
The online platform was officially launched in February 2018 with about 10 tutors and 50 students. It has now chalked up more than 2,000 tutoring sessions with more than 550 students using the service.
Tutors list their services on the platform and students select one who best suits their needs. Payment for the online lesson is also made through the platform.
Students also have the option of leaving feedback or a review on their tutor’s online profile - something that teachnlearn’s community lead Wendy Chin likened to popular travel site Airbnb.
“We would love to become the Airbnb of tuition,” she said. “That’s actually our vision.”
Explaining the purpose of the platform, she noted that the tuition industry is “very fragmented”, with many people searching for tutors purely through word of mouth.
“When you have word of mouth, the reality is … how do you measure what ‘my good’ is, versus ‘your good’?” she said. “A teacher might be effective for one child, but not another.”
“So what we wanted to do is to solve some of the inefficiencies and gaps in the marketplace.”
It also addresses the issues highlighted by parents including distance and travelling time to get to and from their tuition sessions, as well as the inflexibility of having to stick to a particular time slot, she added.
Ms Chin said lessons online are also typically shorter, with each lasting between 30 minutes and an hour.
“If I go to a cafe, and my child is sitting there playing games online, can I use that 30 minutes to do some coaching instead?” she said. “You can really learn anytime and anywhere with us.”
It is a convenience noted by Andrea Seoh, a tutor with the platform. She said she was even able to conduct a lesson while she was overseas on a family trip.
“I don’t have to be physically present to conduct a lesson, which involves transport and your time and money to travel to someone’s place,” said the full-time tutor, who teaches chemistry and mathematics.
CAN THIS MODEL REPLACE FACE-TO-FACE TUITION?
While there are benefits, Ms Chin pointed out that the online tuition model is not meant to replace brick and mortar tuition centres. It should be viewed as an “additional solution” for parents and students, she said.
Ms Chin also said that it may not be for everyone, pointing out that tutors, in particular, may need to pick up new skills to move online.
"You have to be a strong communicator if you're going to teach online," she said. "They also need to be able to be comfortable with technology ... if you're a fantastic tutor with no tech knowledge, then I'm sorry, the online platform is not for you unless you're willing to learn."
Nonetheless, parents whose children use the platform told Channel NewsAsia that they did not see the online model as being a “lesser option”.
Ms Goh said she found the concept of the online platform “interesting”, and her daughter had enjoyed the experience. She added that while her daughter had previously attended lessons at a tuition centre, she is likely to switch to teachnlearn when her daughter enters secondary school.
“The fact that you can replay the lessons is really a plus point for me,” she said.
Another parent, Analiza Caspe, whose daughter Angelique used the platform to find Chinese tutors prior to her O-Level exams, said she saw an improvement in her daughter’s grades after a few months.
“It doesn’t matter whether it’s online or not, but what matters is how well my daughter absorbs … it depends on the person and how she learns,” she said.
However, Ms Chin admitted that it is challenging to get Singapore parents on board compared to those in other countries, an observation borne out at roadshows the startup held in the region as part of its expansion.
“For some reason, Singaporeans seem to have a very low appetite for new things,” she said. This was a view also echoed by tutor Ms Seoh, who still gives the bulk of her tuition offline.“Sometimes, the kids are willing to try it, but the parents are not,” she said. “So I think it’s about changing their mindset.”
Moving forward, teachnlearn hopes to raise awareness of their service,.
Content-wise, there are also big plans in the pipeline, with Ms Chin hoping to move beyond academic subjects,to teaching students soft skills.
“We’re getting parents asking us if we can teach their child communication skills, mind-mapping or preparing for job interviews when they go into the marketplace,” she said.
“When we started we focused on the syllabus, and we wanted to get it right before we move on,” she added. “But it’s always been our plan to move into more holistic learning, and the fun and learning always has to be there for the students.”
“So if in future, it means having a cooking class or yoga session online, why not?”