Hacking education the quick way out

Tech May 13, 2018 08:13

By Ruangroj “Krating” Poonpol
Special to The Nation

3,376 Viewed

It’s not the teachers’ fault.

Most governments promise education reform, take a year to define the policy, a couple more years to start rolling it out, and then it’s time for a new government. Education is the largest ministry in terms of budget and employs 100,000 teachers. Despite its best efforts and good intentions, it’s become a very bureaucratic system. If we don’t change that system, nothing will change.

In 2012, I helped create a Thai start-up ecosystem from scratch with dtac Accelerate and Disrupt Technology Venture. And today, Thailand can effectively incubate and accelerate innovative digital ideas. In the next two to three years, I want to do the same thing for education.

Last March, Bangkok’s Education Disruption Conference attracted 1,500 people to hear from globally recognised EdTech investors, innovators, entrepreneurs – and leading local innovators. The idea for this conference began because, to be honest, I’m very frustrated with the Thai 

education system. Fifty per cent of Thai 

students fail in reading, 53 per cent in math, and 47 per cent in science. It’s very alarming. 

One of the speakers at Education Disruption, Michael Staton, was named in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Top 100 Innovators list and is a partner in Learn Capital, which is the world’s number one EdTech venture capital fund. He pointed out that waiting on the system to evolve takes much too long. Instead, it’s better to disrupt. The solution for 21st-century education is to build an innovation ecosystem that includes capital for creative solutions but also events that involve the teachers, parents and 


EdTech start-ups such as BridgeU (Kenya) and Andela (US and Nigeria) are great examples of what’s possible. China also has spawned 

unicorns like iTutor and VIPKids. EdTech is undergoing a boom driven by emerging markets. In contrast, major US universities are actually struggling to reinvent themselves. They are being disrupted by cheaper, faster, EdTech 

start-ups including General Assembly, Product University, and Coursera which developed a course with Google enabling students to become a data scientist in three months and has achieved a placement rate of over 90 per cent.

The first Education Disruption conference attracted 1,500 people interested in reinventing Thailand’s education system. The companion hackathon held at DTAC House saw 114 teams develop innovative solutions in the realm of education. We hope to create an Education Innovation Ecosystem within two to three years. 

In the end, this isn’t about replacing schools, teachers and parents. It’s about allowing them to focus on what matters most, which is to make kids feel confident, to discover their passions and strengths, to make them want to learn and to be the best version of themselves. Tech is just a tool. I come from a remote province, Kamphaengphet, where I studied in a temple school. I made it this far because my first teacher gave me love, made me confident, inspired me to never give up and helped me to discover my love for science and technology.

If teachers are bogged down grading tests from 53 kids per class, it’s hard for them to focus on the students themselves. And that’s where technology can help. AI-powered visual recognition, for example, can automate grading papers, saving 12 workdays a year for teachers.

Now, we are pushing towards an education sandbox in Thailand so we can test new ideas. Today, for example, if you have a kid who is smart, she needs to stay in class with kids her age. But what if classes could be more project-based, rather than age-based? And play-based, instead of just based on grading. We might even try to avoid exams entirely.

On the teachers’ side, we need to try different pay structures. Currently, Thai teachers are evaluated on these papers they need to turn in. What if we evaluated teachers based on teaching alone? And what if we separated research, administrative and teaching jobs with different career paths, pay structures and performance measurements? Also, we need to help teachers to re-skill and get ready to be the teachers of the future. 

This is a deep social challenge and an uphill battle. But I’m amazed by the amount of energy and interest Education Disruption has 

generated. I’m now more optimistic than ever about our education future.

Ruangroj “Krating” Poonpol graduated from Stanford University before working at McKinsey and Google. He is now managing 

partner of 500 Tuk Tuks.