Few industries in the Philippines are as ripe for disruption as education. Teach for the Philippines, for example, sends graduates from the top universities in the country to teach in public schools. The program was of course based on Teach for America, and the same pattern holds true for most alternative education and ed-tech initiatives in the Philippines: they come from abroad.
One of the latest and most promising companies to set up shop in the Philippines is Quipper. Headquartered in London, the ed-tech company has only been in the country since January this year yet has already got good traction. They’ve partnered with the Philippine Department of Education to provide Quipper School – their online platform full of grade-aligned curriculum from kindergarten through twelfth grade – to schools in Quezon City, one of the major cities that makes up Metro Manila.
Results show that student scores on the national achievement test (NAT) improve through use of Quipper School, the startup claims, which features content for standard subjects such as math, English, and science, along with localized content like Filipino and social studies. For both types of subjects, Quipper employs fifteen to twenty professional editors and teachers from the Philippines to make sure that the curriculum is aligned with the national standards set by the Department of Education.
Quipper shoulders the costs of implementing Quipper School, earning money only when teachers avail of premium features – in other words, they are trying to conquer the Philippine educational market on a freemium model.
Teachers can pull from the material available on Quipper School to more quickly create assignments, most of which are homework rather than class work, as well as more accurately track student progress. Students can use Quipper School through any web-connected device, login to the platform via their Facebook account, and even post their achievements, such as how many topics they’ve mastered, on their Facebook Wall.
Teacher, meet Quipper
Yet the picture is not all rosy. Compared to other Southeast Asian markets that Quipper operates in, such as Indonesia and Thailand, the Philippines lags behind in terms of infrastructure, marketing director Takuya Homma (pictured below) reveals. He says that many teachers and students do not have the best internet connectivity or devices to use Quipper School.
According to Homma, these technical roadblocks are easily overcome by cultural tendencies. “The appetite for being innovative and trying to learn new technologies is as advanced in the Philippines as in other countries and we’re very happy about it,” Homma says.
Homma cites several examples to this end. Some Filipinos may not have web access at home, so they avail of the internet shops that are a staple of Philippine neighborhoods. The teachers, too, are sometimes reluctant to adopt Quipper, at least initially. “Some teachers are hesitant to be innovative and change the traditional means of teaching,” he adds.
To overcome their resistance, Homma and his team invoke the most compelling sell points of Quipper, including the fact it will expose their students to digital technology, allow them to learn anytime and anywhere, and save the teacher’s time as it relates to sourcing, creating, and grading homework. To date, more than 10,000 teachers in the Philippines have registered with Quipper School.
Once they get on board with the idea of Quipper School, Homma says, “They get the hang of it pretty quickly.”
And in case they do not, Quipper provides them with online customer support, and these agents are all based in the Philippines as well. Ostensibly, the goal here is to communicate with the teachers to encourage adoption as well as troubleshoot any potential issues, such as lost passwords. According to Homma, however, this initiative is part of the larger goal to build a close relationship with teachers and form a community around Quipper School, similar to the one that grew around fellow ed-tech company Edmodo.
“The teachers share their know-how and even invite other teachers to start using Quipper School,” Homma says. “They are our loyal users.” To this effect, some teachers even try to get Quipper School adopted at their entire school – this is the kind of ambassadorship that most companies would dream of.
Quipper will need as many teachers doubling as evangelists as they can get: the company has big ambitions for the Philippines. “Our ultimate goal is to provide the basic functions of Quipper School to all the teachers and students in the Philippines for free,” Homma explains, adding that they will continue to only charge for access to premium content and features.
Homma says that the threat to these plans will more likely come from abroad – like Quipper itself – rather than from a homegrown ed-tech startup. He points to Khan Academy as a company that could compete with Quipper if they choose to enter into the Philippine market. Yet even if other international ed-tech companies were to try to leap into the Philippine educational system, Homma feels that Quipper has the competitive advantage of having been the first mover.
“By the time other globally successful players enter the market, we’ll have localized our content and services even more, and we’ll have a lot of dedicated and loyal teachers,” Homma says. “It’ll be hard for them to take that away.”Editing by Steven Millward