Getting Schooled in the Future Business of Education

SMEs from the education sector were given a lesson about their changing industry at DBS BusinessClass Education Disrupt 2019.

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From robot teachers to digital classrooms, business owners from the education sector were offered insights into the latest trends impacting the industry and strategies to cope with them. The Education Disrupt event held at the DBS Auditorium on May 16 was attended by over 350 delegates, and graced by Guest-of-Honour, Singapore’s Minister for Education, Mr Ong Ye Kung, as well we members of the bank’s senior management.

DBS Group Head of Institutional Banking Tan Su Shan kicked off the proceedings with her opening address to reinforce the support the bank can avail to this sector, before welcoming the Minister on stage. In his remarks, Mr Ong stressed the increasing importance of technology in shaping the way students learn.

However, he was quick to note that digital solutions such as artificial intelligence would only supplement, and not replace, human teachers. “I do not think that educators will be replaced by robots… Technology will augment the way we teach, that’s why the private sector will play a big part,” said Mr Ong. In particular, he noted that private companies will always have a place in the preschool segment of the market.

Following the minister’s welcome remarks, an industry-first partnership between DBS and Ed Tech (education technology) company LittleLives that aims to bring cashless payment solutions to preschools in Singapore was unveiled. DBS has enhanced LittleLives’s app-based preschool management system with real-time payment features. This will allow over 160,000 parents who use the app to purchase uniforms, pay for field trips and sign up for extra-curricular activities through this mobile platform. The new payment functions could also potentially save pre-school operators up to 40 manhours per month on administrative tasks such as payments reconciliation.

The enhanced app was launched on stage by Joyce Tee, DBS Bank’s Group Head of SME Banking and LittleLives Founder & CEO Sun Ho.

Strategies for Ed Tech
In the keynote address, Duc Luu, the founder of test preparation company Edge Prep, gave an overview of the Ed Tech scene in the fast-growing Chinese market. In 2017, he sold his business to Chinese education group RISE, a leading player in the market with some 310 centres across the country.

Duc said that adaptive and personalised learning driven by AI and machine learning solutions would be key for the industry’s future. He also highlighted several key things that Ed Tech players would need to thrive. This included having a scalable business model, knowing their financial numbers and “elevator pitch”, as well as being able to “think strategically, act tactically, and pivot necessarily.”

“You should iterate and not incubate. If you iterate and get it wrong, you can fix it right away. You will be able to grow faster this way,” he said.

Challenges and Opportunities
Duc’s address was followed by a panel session that brought together established and start-up industry players to discuss the challenges and opportunities for education players in the digital age.

LittleLives Founder & CEO Sun Ho said that preschools can leverage technology to run their operations more efficiently, and free up teachers to perform more value-added activities. For instance, large preschool chains can use the LittleLives platform to obtain a bird’s eye view of every school in areas such as healthcare, security and safety.

“When concerns from parents come through our Family Room platform, it is not only fed to the school but also to HQ which will have oversight and see which centres has the most complaints,” she explained.

The panel also discussed how much technology young children should be exposed to. Janine Teo, CEO of Solve Education!, argued that with the world becoming more digital in nature, kids who are not tech-savvy would lose out in the future. However, she noted that a balance must be struck. “I take the middle ground. An iPad should not replace the role of the parents. But if you cut tech out from their children’s lives, they will be disadvantaged as technology is an integral part of society.”

On the critical issue of manpower shortages in the preschool sector, Victor Bay, CEO of leading preschool chain PCF Sparkletots, said that while technology can help in this area, it has to be doled out in the right doses as human interaction was still key in the learning process.

Meanwhile, DBS SME Banking Executive Director Toh Su Mei touched on the financial assistance schemes available to education businesses. She said that the bank offers various funding schemes to support SMEs’ transformation journey. Furthermore, Enterprise Singapore also offers subsidies and grants to help SMEs with technology implementation and internationalisation, among other areas.

Robots in Education
The event rounded off with a fascinating encounter with a social robot known as Nadine from the Institute of Media Innovation, Nanyang Technological University (NTU). Social robots come in humanoid form and can respond to human speech.

Nadine was made in the form of her creator, NTU’s Professor Nadia Thalman. The audience was told of Nadine’s experiences working as a customer service officer at insurance company AIA, where she guided customers in performing simple tasks such as changing addresses. Professor Thalman said that social robots would have applications working in education as well as with the elderly.

In a video skype call, Prof. Thalman held a conversation with Nadine, who replied various questions about her job at NTU (a receptionist) and the role of robots in education. For her final question, Prof. Thalman asked who Nadine’s favourite bank was, to which she replied: “DBS of course!”

The presentation was designed to inspire the audience to be open to the potential of technology to radically transform their businesses for the digital age by showcasing a real-world use case.

Fostering Collaborations
Following the end of the insightful and entertaining sharing sessions, delegates were invited to view an exhibition that showcased the latest trends and solutions in the Ed Tech space. Curated with Enterprise Singapore, the Tech Showcase featured leading trends such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, Internet of Things, big data, and adaptive learning solutions.

Ed Tech players such ACKTEC, Joni.AI, LitteLives, MIAO, MXRi, NeuroLAT, Solve Education!, as well as NTU’s Institute of Media Innovation, were also on hand to demonstrate their solutions to interested delegates.

SMEs could also take advantage of the event-only deals and network with like-minded partners, with the hope that they can forge best-in-class collaborations similar to DBS’s innovative tie-up with LittleLives.

To find out more about what happened at Education Disrupt 2019, check our post-event highlights video and our Education Disrupt Guide


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