Indonesia’s largest telco Telkomsel, together with parent company Telkom, announced yesterday that it has opened wifi access to 100 higher education institutions and 1,000 secondary high schools (SMA) around Indonesia. This is in line with the company’s plan to install 100,000 wifi hotspots in Indonesian highschools by the end of this year, and even more in later years.
This is great news, as it now becomes easier and more affordable for Indonesian students to go online. The question for me is, will this help new education startups to bloom in the country?
I’ve spoken my mind before about the lack of startups in the online learning sector here, something which bugs me as a former teacher. It’s in stark contrast to numerous startups in other industries, like social media. I believe one of the biggest reasons for this situation is the lack of facilities needed for Indonesian students to get online. But with that problem finally being tackled, and students soon able to get a full day of internet access for only IDR 1,000 (10 US cents), entrepreneurs should seriously start looking at the education industry a little bit more. I have three reasons for that:
1. Lack of competition
First, there aren’t a lot of e-learning startups in Indonesia yet. In my opinion, the biggest educational website is the one made by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture, Rumah Belajar (means “home of learning”). Ranked 447th in the country according to Alexa, the website offers virtual classes where it connects teachers and students online and has studying resources (pictured below) for Indonesian school students. These resources include free e-books and an ample amount of free materials online (some of them in the form of Flash-based games) which I think are really good.
On the down side, the website isn’t properly maintained by the government, particularly the all important resources pages. Several books fail to download, quite a few pictures do not load, and I don’t think the “forgot your password?” link is even working. While the virtual class page looks nice, there aren’t any materials given by the teachers online. And I don’t think there are too many teachers using it, as the ones I can find are administrators who are acting as teachers on the platform.
And that is probably the number one online learning site in Indonesia. The site represents the scene here – interesting but patchy content with a really bad user interface. Akademi Berbagi and Indonesia Mengajar are examples of interesting educational sites with a good user interface, but those sites are only used to organize offline free teaching activities rather than being a full e-learning platform. The former site cannot be accessed at the moment for some reason.
How about educational sites from abroad? I think anything written or spoken in English won’t be easily understood by most Indonesian students, especially when learning about something new. So Khan Academy and Vuclip’s new learning channel are interesting but not localized enough for local students.
2. Connection in a conducive environment
Second, better web access in schools means a surge of potential new users for educational websites. Previously, the possible user-base was tiny for such startups, with only middle- to high-income families able to let their kids access learning material on home computers, while everyone else had to go online from internet cafes – places where kids tend to start playing online games instead. But now, more people will be connected from their schools, where their teachers can encourage greater access to educational sites and perhaps better incorporate online material into the classroom.
As for games, it’s up to individual schools to choose to prohibit access to online games on the new wifi networks.
Telkom aims to install up to 10 million wifi hotspots by 2015. So the potential market is definitely a big one. Add in the fact that smartphones are getting cheaper and more affordable here, and educational apps are now more accessible as well.
Of course, students are not the only potential market. Parents and teachers have the biggest interest in online learning and so are also valuable users/customers. Our Startup Arena winner at last year’s Singapore event was an educational discussions platform called Teamie; in China we’ve seen parent-oriented social networks like SanRenXing that aim to keep parents more in the loop on what their kids are learning.
3. Now is a good time to start
Third, the time is now if you want to prepare a kick-ass educational startup. What more can I say? A head start for any business is an advantage. And seeing as there aren’t a lot of competitors in the country at the moment (at least with a good user interface or smartphone app), it should be easier to get user visibility.
While I think 2013 will be a great year for people wanting to build their own e-commerce sites or launch some social apps, I also hope this year can be the one where we see more emerging educational startups. Solving the educational problem here would prove to be a very important way to get this nation’s economy going.