Krating Poolpon, Thailand's start-up pioneer, believes the kingdom's education system can be reinvented. And he's calling on all entrepreneurs to lend a hand
Sad but true, more than 50% of Thai students fail in maths and 47% in science. Students also fail at reading comprehension. Only 6% of Thai teachers can pass a basic English examination. The Thai education system is failing students.
The country's scores have plunged to an overall ranking of 54 out of 70 assessed countries, with scores dropping in all subjects since the 2012 assessment by the Programme for International Students Assessment (Pisa). Moreover, one-third of Thailand's 15-year-olds are "functionally illiterate".
But the education system's problems will not be solved through simple reforms because that transformation would be too slow, said Krating Poolpon, managing partner of 500 TukTuks.
Citing Michael Staton, partner at Learn Capital, the world's leading edtech (education technology) venture capital fund, Krating said instead of transforming the existing education system, Thailand should disrupt it by creating an education innovation ecosystem pushed by technology created by edtech start-ups.
"We can create a new model that makes existing models obsolete," Staton said recently at the Thailand at Education Disruption Conference.
Everyone is in a key turning point where education is pushed by technological disruption that is very much changing the market demand of skilled labours.
The education system must be developed from simple note-taking to active learning; homework should be prework; courses should provide pathways to careers; teachers should be facilitators; schools must be learning environments; workers should be "tradentrepreneurs", and employees should be agile professionals.
In Thailand, an open education innovation ecosystem is being created through the Thailand Education Partnership (TEP), chaired by former prime minister Anand Panyarachun. Krating is a board committee member.
Finalist teams from the Education Disruption Hackathon 2018.
"The big issue of education disruption for the future is the building of an open education innovation ecosystem that encourages edtech innovations and start-ups," said Krating, founder of Disrupt University, the No.1 start-up incubator programme in Thailand.
The education innovation ecosystem reached an initial stage of development, as the First Education Disruption conference attracted 1,500 people interested in reinventing the kingdom's education system. Hackathon saw 114 teams of start-ups develop innovative education solutions.
"At least, there will be some 30-100 teams of start-ups in edtech and we hope to create an education innovation ecosystem within two-to-three years," said Krating.
Through the TEP network, there are now "education sandboxes" in three provinces, Chon Buri, Kalasin, and Satun -- three areas with different approaches. If one works and can be replicated in another province, the innovation can be tested in about 2,000 partner schools.
An education sandbox is a special school district that allows innovative approaches to improve student performance.
First on the horizon are start-ups in edtech who improve English proficiency. English seems to be a very simple subject but clearly that's not the case in Thailand.
"If we promote English for all, it can be used by hundreds of thousands of students. We have a target that within two years, there will be products and innovations for Thais in edtech that will serve a million people," said Krating.
He noted that in Africa, there are five countries that have implemented education disruption systems that have made great improvements. Africa has rapidly advanced in edtech, "leapfrogging over" old technology, and embracing cloud-powered networks that allowed schools to modernise an inadequate traditional education system.
"If Africa can leapfrog, why can't Thailand? We need a new mindset, the courage to challenge traditional assumptions," he said.
In the meantime, Krating's Disrupt Technology Venture launched the edtech accelerator programme, "StormBreaker Venture", with investors that include Line Thailand, Learn Capital, 500 TukTuks II, Beacon Venture, Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) and other well-known partners, with the goal of transforming the Thai education system by 2020.
StormBreaker Venture is an ongoing project from the Education Disruption Conference and Hackathon, which was set up at the beginning of this year.
Thailand has fallen behind other countries in education efficiency. For example, most Thais study English for many years but still can't speak English properly. Thailand's English proficiency was ranked among the lowest in non-native English speaking countries.
Moreover, Thais need an effective learning platform that can be easily implemented around the country, such as the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and Coding for All programmes.
Thailand's education system still falls short of being a modern, efficient operating system that minimises the workload handled by teachers from the unnecessary non-teaching tasks. With this concern, a "Cloud-Powered School" has been created to help Thai teachers focus more on teaching process, Krating said.
But all schools should prepare for the instant transformation in the digital disruption era, Krating said.
Start-ups that have strong passion to transform education for more than a million people and are interested in joining the project are encouraged to send an application by Aug 24 at disruptignite.com/accelerator/edtech-accelerator.
Qualified start-ups will be granted with the following: Funding from 500,000 to 1.5 million baht per start-up connecting the companies to top regional and global edtech venture capital firms. The project will offer access to mentors and advisers like Michael Staton and Luis Pinto of Learn Capital, both former education executives at Microsoft, as well as participation in an intensive and exclusive boot camp for eight weeks.
Start-ups will have connection to Thailand Education Partners in order to experiment their prototypes in education sandboxes set up in three provinces. A fast track to support from Line SCALE UP and Line Thailand will help their businesses thrive. Moreover, start-ups might have an opportunity to become one of the official Line services funded by Line Venture.
The project also will provide connections to top Thai corporations that are looking to synergise with start-ups that have expertise in skills building and retraining employees.
The qualified team will be announced on Aug 31.
Workshop participants discussing education technology.