In recent years, a number of technology terms have emerged: Edtech (Educational Technology), Fintech (Financial Technology) and Art Tech (Art Technology). Edtech refers to technology used in education that helps improve learning efficiency. AfterSchool, an online tutoring platform that utilizes Edtech to make teaching more effective and help students excel in exams, not only uses its own homegrown video system in teaching, but also employs big data and gaming to better engage students. Founded three years ago, it has become the largest online tutoring platform in Hong Kong, with a cumulative user population of 50,000, of which more than a quarter of students are HKDSE candidates. The two inspiring and diligent co-founders, Ronald Tse and Raymond Wong, operate AfterSchool as a social enterprise to put the ideal of “equality in education” into practice.
Big data-backed analyses reflecting the true meaning of the scores
Graduating from the University of Hong Kong with a Bachelor of Science (major in Chemistry and minor in Mathematics) and a Master of Science (Information Technology Education), Ronald saw the boundless potential in integrating technology into education to enhance students’ interest and efficiency in learning, and established the tutorial platform AfterSchool when he was pursuing his Master’s degree. The year-long pandemic caused all schools in Hong Kong to implement the “suspending classes without suspending learning” policy. The popularity of learning via videos and livestreaming has increased students’ acceptance of online education. Not only can online tutoring help students catch up on their classes in the comfort of their homes, but it also helps them identify their strengths and weaknesses. Ronald explained, “Our mock papers are specially designed to cover different subsections of the subjects. When the papers are marked, our system will make big data-backed analyses that allow us to not only notify our students about the scores they get but also accurately pinpoint topics or question formats that they lose points to, hence the true meaning of the scores. Students can then focus their time and efforts on those parts that they fall short.” As a young man who is also a star chemistry tutor, Ronald understands better than anyone that candidates need encouragement and support from each other when preparing for exams, “Our online academic community can connect candidates and help them build friendships, creating a warm atmosphere for them to ‘study together’. Students can ask questions via our mobile app anonymously, and high-achievers in the community can provide answers. Candidates can thus help, support and walk with each other to overcome the pressure they are facing during exam preparation. Since fostering interest and motive to learn is essential, we have added gaming elements to this academic community. Students who ask questions will offer ‘gold coins’ to attract prompt answers, and students who answer the questions will receive them as rewards. These gold coins can be accumulated by completing daily quests or learning missions, and they can be used to redeem book coupons, online courses or other gifts. Tedious study is made fun with these incentives.”
Operating as social enterprise, offering free tutorials for underprivileged students
With a mission to provide comprehensive and efficient learning support for students, the co-founders of AfterSchool are concerned that underprivileged students are not receiving sufficient support in learning, which will in turn affect their examination results, hence the opportunity of furthering their studies. In order to support and promote equality in education, the two are devoted to providing a fair chance of learning for all by running AfterSchool as a social enterprise. Apart from offering courses at reasonable tuition fees, AfterSchool also offers free tutorials to those in need. Raymond shared, “Students from low-income families who cannot afford private tutoring are deprived of the opportunity to receive support in learning, which will impair their examination results and future study path. With supporting educational equality in mind, AfterSchool is operated as a social enterprise. We provide free tutorials for students from low-income families, in the ratio of two paid student to one complimentary student.”
The biggest challenge for a social enterprise is sustainability – a healthy and profitable business model that keeps the business running while at the same time, supports its social purpose. Raymond, who took his business administration training in one of the most renowned business schools in the United States, followed by enriching work experience in an investment bank, explained the significance of setting up a prudent business model for his social enterprise, “Unlike a charitable organization, a social enterprise does not rely on donations but on the revenue and profit from business operation, while upholding its mission in serving the society. With that in mind, detailed considerations must be taken into account when working out a business model. In nature, online tutoring itself meets the prerequisite of a social enterprise that helps the disadvantaged as online courses can be broadcast to many people at once, while there are no limitations on the venue and no additional cost incurred by rental. Naturally, tutors still have to spend time on answering questions and correcting papers from students who enjoy complimentary placements. Based on the understanding that long-term successful partnerships are all built on the fulfilment of interests of all parties involved, we make an agreement with our tutors specifying that their duty includes a commitment in providing free services for free students. In return, AfterSchool guarantees to provide a salary higher than the market level to the tutors while taking care of all administration work, marketing and promotion, and training for tutors, allowing our teaching staff to focus on helping students and improving their teaching quality. The aforementioned arrangements not only lead to advancements in students’ examination results and tutors’ quality of life, but also facilitate improvements in the course quality by attracting high-quality teachers.”
About 50 tutors are currently helping Form Three to Form Six students with more than 200 courses across 14 subjects including Chinese, English, Mathematics (including M1 and M2), Liberal Studies, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Economics, History, BAFS, ICT, and Visual Arts. With its innovative concept and business model, AfterSchool has won numerous awards, including the first runner-up and the Most Popular Project Award in Hong Kong Social Enterprise Challenge in 2017, the Experian Powering Opportunities Award in the 2018 DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia, the China College Students’ Entrepreneurship in 2018, and the YDC Dare to Change Business Pitch Competition. Ronald’s family was initially concerned about him launching a start-up as a student. However, the two young entrepreneurs have made a strong case in proving that the ever-changing world now allows multiple possibilities in terms of career development. When young minds have bold business ideas enhanced with detailed planning, why not give it a go?
Sharing the vision of “equality in education”, AfterSchool and Principal Chan Free Tutorial World have joined hands to bring new opportunities to students in need. Starting May 2021, AfterSchool will offer free online tutoring services for students of Principal Chan Free Tutorial World. At the same time, volunteer teachers of Principal Chan Free Tutorial World who are interested in developing a career in tutoring are welcome to join the professional and passionate team of AfterSchool whilst continuing to serve the students of Principal Chan Free Tutorial World. Principal Chan Hung said, “Principal Chan Free Tutorial World is devoted to supporting underprivileged students, striving to defend their rights to receive equal learning opportunities. Thanks to the support of our volunteer teachers, more than 15,000 students have received free tutorial services from us. Yet, there is an incessant demand for educational support, so I am delighted to join hands with new allies who share the same goal of serving students from low-income families. Meanwhile, volunteer teachers who have a passion for teaching could consider developing a career in tutoring while continuing to help students of Principal Chan Free Tutorial World, making the best of both worlds.”
~ Helena Hui