It’s been more than a year since online classes have become the new normal for kids of all ages across Asia. Students now stare at a screen instead of a blackboard, and open their mic to talk to the class. At the same time, families everywhere got a crash course in virtual learning to help their kids study from home.
Just like more and more firms are adapting to a hybrid working model, under which employees have the option to choose whether they want to go to the office or work from home or other locations, edtech companies and investors are promoting the possibilities of hybrid learning, where students and teachers can interact and communicate with one another regardless of their physical location. Parents can also choose from different modules at different times, allowing for a more flexible schedule.
This month, Oasis sat down with Sandeep Aneja, founder and managing partner of education-focused fund management firm, Kaizenvest. He shared his vision about the present and the future of education.
Oasis (OS): What are the different types of learning modes we have right now?
Sandeep Aneja (SA): In general, there are three different education methods—homeschooling, online classes at home, and campus classes.
Homeschooling systems today are much better than they used to be five years ago. We have all sorts of tools and solutions to cater to students’ needs. Before, social skills training was clearly missing in a homeschooling environment, but today, many smart homeschooling systems also provide access to social learning. However, this is still quite limited to big cities, like in Singapore, where homeschooled kids can meet other homeschooled kids once a week, twice a week, or more frequently.
On the other hand, online classes were like a band-aid in the beginning because nobody believed that the pandemic would last this long. Everybody was looking at this as a short-term solution, expecting to be back to regular classes soon. But that didn’t happen—18 months in, and we are still doing online courses. This unexpected situation has sparked many innovations, which is pretty brilliant. Educators can share materials with children in advance over an online platform and give assignments and one-on-one assessments easily, better understanding the areas where the students are lacking.
OS: What are the pros and cons of online classrooms?
SA: One great thing about online classes that we found is that many children who are lagging behind in a classroom are learning better online.
In a typical classroom, there are a few sweet-looking, happy, positive children sitting in the front, nodding their heads and paying attention to the teacher. Yet, some children easily get distracted by other things, not following the lesson, and sometimes pretending and nodding—these are the kids who need to be pushed a little to learn. And then, there are also kids that are lagging behind. We found that the latter two kinds of children are actually learning better online because they’re studying from their own homes, in a safe environment. It is like a utopia, in which they don’t need to be “liked” by the teachers or other kids. Often, some students don’t get good grades not because they are not smart enough, but because they are demoralized as they did not receive enough attention.
Also, thanks to the one-on-one follow-up sessions provided by the online education system, teachers can give more support and personalized attention to those lagging behind. Teachers also have more time now that they don’t have to commute.
Yet, social learning is lacking in all types of online education systems. If you look back, some of the best friendships in your life were probably built from your time in school. For me, these friendships have become a tremendous emotional support system, and they are a kind of bedrock in my life. Yet, is that being made available for children who are doing home-based learning? I don’t know. That is a question I definitely have.
OS: What will happen after the pandemic? Would school at home become a more popular option for parents and kids?
SA: Smart homeschooling will increase. This is a bet I would like to make because many children and parents have realized they can learn better at home. Under this learning trend, assisted by smart teachers, we will have a hybrid education model where many schools will also support home-based learning. They would have a flexible timetable. They may say, “okay, you can do two days of home-based learning, and you can come back to school for three days,” or vice versa.
Smart homeschooling would also encourage more innovations and changes. For example, one-hour classes may be changed into 30-minute modules because a lot of the learning occurs better in 30-minute modules. They will also provide offline sessions for kids to go and practice social skills according to their timetables. I’m already seeing a lot of home-based learning companies emerging in Southeast Asia and in the US.
Also, smart homeschooling will provide classes and training that are otherwise unavailable in small local schools, for example, robotics, creative writing, etc. In summary, the entire education process in school will be rethought.
OS: Traditionally, we have in mind that homeschooling requires parents to do a lot of the teaching. How would parents’ roles change under the smart school at home model you look forward to?
SA: One of the issues with home-based learning has always been that parents have had limited time. For many parents, educating and taking care of their child in their own way is an essential part of what they stand for in life. But many parents don’t have the tenacity to do that, and in fact, may end up hurting the child because they don’t know what teaching really is all about.
What’s happening now is that we are slowly building the facilities to help out, preparing materials, and even doing training to get parents ready for homeschooling. Home-based learning led by teachers is a really good solution for many parents who want the flexibility of time, and want the autonomy for children to learn from home and at their own pace and interests.
Something we have done in some of our portfolio companies is to educate the parents themselves. Their generation grew up in an industrial age, which is totally different from what we have today. Parenting used to be: get up in the morning, work, send the children to school, then pick them up, feed them, and send them to bed. That’s still typical for many Asian parents today.
Now, parents might not grasp what they can stand for because technology has made education different. Therefore, parents need to be taught how the future is going to be vastly different. There can be a lot of innovation in this domain, in my opinion. Parents will also have to retool their house and their life order entirely, which will require better IT infrastructure at home, better access to knowledge, and a proactive search for activities for children. So, parents need to become a bit of a mentor for the child, instead of just a parent.
OS: How do parents decide whether their children are suitable for homeschooling or not?
SA: If I were a parent, I’d say the future will be very different than what it is today. Parents need to understand that the future will be different. They don’t need to fear missing out if their kids don’t sign up for classes like other kids. If I were to send one message to parents reading this article, I would say that they need to examine what their child’s future will look like, and use that to retool themselves and provide better learning opportunities for their children.
OS: What are some methods that you or your portfolio companies have been adopting to change the mindset of parents?
SA: We realized that a big part of parenting is about the parents. We introduced education classes for parents, but we call them “parent seminars” because parents don’t like to be told they need education. They need to understand how and why we are teaching differently.
We walk them through the courses, but more importantly, we let parents know that they need to be more engaged in activities outside of the classes, for example, what kind of conversations and activities they can have with children over dinners and on weekends.
Also, parents need to be able to create a good, loving family environment for their kids to learn better. When parents are tired, we would have support evenings on Saturday nights where we say, “okay, you guys maybe need to take a break, why don’t you leave your children with us, and we’ll take care of them for free this weekend.”
OS: Because education is a family effort, it’s not just about the schools, teachers, and institutes.
SA: Yes. Parent seminars are an innovation we came up with because we believe that the family has to be completely happy to support the child’s learning.
On the other scale, we have a bunch of parents who were not school graduates. But we need to let them understand that it is essential for them to be included in their child’s life. We let them know that, for example, during dinner time, what are the things they can chat with their child, and in what manner. In one of our online companies, we hired a child psychologist to figure out how much parent involvement in an online setting is needed, and we asked them to design a plan for parents to get involved.
Parents are an important factor that we have to consider when designing our hybrid or home learning system.
This story was updated on August 11, 2021 to reflect the most recent title of the interviewee.