Thu. May 28th, 2020

A highschool student in Hai Phong doing assignments on Onluyen.vn

Responding to Vietnam education’s wake up call7 min read

Vietnam edtech Edmicro responded quickly to provide over 200 schools and thousands of teachers and students access to their online platform to continue schooling amidst a lockdown. The founders saw this as a wake up call for education in the country

Just after Lunar New Year in late January, schools were shut down in Vietnam due to lockdown measures across the majority of cities in the country. As the closures extended beyond two weeks, students and teachers were forced to transition online. Edmicro, an edtech startup we invested in last year, saw themselves in a unique position to drive adoption of their personalised learning platform Onluyen.vn and support the learning of schools across the country.

Edmicro built Onluyen.vn to make learning strategies and assessments more data-driven. With the COVID19 pushing Vietnam’s education system online, it would be easier for schools to add Onluyen.vn to the online learning toolkit. 

To support the government’s effort to flatten the curve while keeping education running, Edmicro offered their platform for free to schools for the duration of the lockdown. Starting off with 100 schools, Edmicro now supports 250 public schools in Vietnam, with 15,000 teachers and 300,000 students onboarded. 

Lockdown measures have since been relaxed or lifted in cities. While students are returning to schools, Edmicro founders Linh Dang Bao and Que Nguyen believe this three month online learning experience has been a wake up call for Vietnam’s education system. I interviewed them to get a better sense of Edmicro’s response to lockdown, and what this means for education in Vietnam moving into a post-COVID world. 

IBR: How has the lockdown impacted the education system in Vietnam? How have schools and teachers across the country responded?

Edmicro: Similar to many other countries in the world, the Vietnamese education system was shocked by the unprecedented lockdown the government had to impose due to COVID-19. It started right after the one-week Lunar New Year holiday. No one was prepared for that. At first, everybody hoped it would last only one or two weeks. But then, as the situation worsened, school closure lasted until the end of April. 

Several actions were pursued by the Ministry of Education and Training:

  • Encouraging long-distance learning including online classrooms and educational television programs. Online learning like home-schooling was not officially recognised before. 
  • Officially recognising online formative assessment results
  • Reducing the number lesson and assessment in the curriculum

While Vietnam is a rising power in production in the region, the majority of the country’s 100 million people still work in agriculture. Internet broadband and 4G are well-covered even in rural areas, everyone has a smartphone but personal computers are less popular. Most teachers and parents are not familiar with educational apps whereas students are more tech savvy. 

To many teachers, Covid-19 was a wake-up call. On a normal day, they would have few incentives to change the traditional way of teaching with paper and blackboard. But then they caught up quickly. After modest instructions, they were able to move their classes to the cloud fairly quickly, except for the few zoom-bombing incidents. 

Teachers transitioned to using Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams as online teaching tools, Onluyen.vn for online assignments and assessments, and Zalo and Facebook for classroom communications. 

To secondary and highschool students, online learning is more natural as learning via free video lectures on social media platforms like Youtube or Facebook has been a norm in the country, even before the pandemic. It’s more difficult with elementary students since most of them need parental supervision and support. 

Thus, most elementary classes could happen only in the evening, when parents were at home. In general, online learning has been a welcome alternative in this time of crisis. The pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation process in education years ahead.

IBR: When the lockdown was set in place a few weeks ago, what was the response of Edmicro? What was the process like within the company to take up this response?

Edmicro: It took us a little time to realise this was a unique and rare opportunity for us. We had been in talks to pilot in several provinces before the crisis. The pandemic cut a lot of time in negotiation and paperwork. We got approved quickly as there was almost no other viable alternative. Then more and more schools and provinces asked to be included in the pilot. 

In just 2-3 weeks, we doubled the team. Since it was a lockdown, all interviews and onboarding for new employees were conducted online too. It was a “wartime” period for our company but the result was rewarding too. We successfully deployed in 250 schools in 11 provinces. 15,000 teachers and 300,000 students were onboarded. 

IBR: For those who aren’t familiar yet, how does Edmicro’s platform — Onluyen.vn — help students and teachers? How has the uptake/reception been like since you offered your platform for free?

Edmicro: In Vietnam and all over the world as well, people tend to focus more on the instruction side of this online learning saga. But instruction can’t go alone. Teachers need to keep track of student progress. 

That’s what we do: provide online tools and question banks so that teachers can delegate and collect assignment results automatically and then organise online assessments. Students can track their own results and practise with our question bank too. It is important not only in this period but also in the long run.

In Vietnam, teachers and schools have extremely little data to rely on to decide instruction strategy. At the same time, class size is huge, with 50 to 60 students per class in the cities. It’s almost impossible to do anything like personalised instruction. We can certainly help with that.

Screenshot from a student account on Onluyen.vn

We did a survey last month after two months of pivot. 89.5% of students found that the products improved their learning quality and 89.2% wanted to use Onluyen.vn continuously in their learning routines.

IBR: How are you leveraging on technology to be able to support these activities sustainably at scale? How will this spike in demand for online learning platforms like yours all over the world change the way these platforms operate?

Edmicro: One of the right things we did from the beginning was building the products based on microservice and cloud infrastructure. Even though the number of active users increased tenfold within a few weeks, we were able to adapt quickly without any major disruption.

I think there are a few lessons here. First, digital literacy should be a must in any national or regional curriculum. We are doing all kinds of things online now, in and out of the classroom. Thus governments and online learning platforms should discuss and implement digital literacy standards so that all students are well-prepared when coming to online learning. 

Second, mobile learning should be prioritized more. In a low-middle income country like Vietnam, personal computers are quite rare, and smartphones are more affordable. It’s a question of equal access too. What if some students have PCs while others don’t? 

Last but not least, we should care more about teachers too. What they need is not only online tools, but more guidance on how to switch to data-driven teaching and assessments.

IBR: How do you think these social adjustments will impact Vietnam’s education system even beyond this lockdown and pandemic? How will this impact Edmicro’s long-term plans?

Edmicro: COVID19 is a wake-up call to all of us. Our rigid and inflexible education system was not prepared for a crisis like this. But then the change was not as painful as we all imagined. Together we overcame the lockdown in a remarkably stress-free manner. 

For us, this crisis makes our mission clearer than ever: personalising education in Vietnam with our data-driven products. When students and teachers across the country are facing difficult times, we are here to help. Our products and tools will help them adjust to the “new normal” much sooner. 

Online education won’t replace traditional education; it will be an essential companion. It addresses the core weakness of the current system: one-size-fit-all learning path. Schools and teachers are more ready than ever to adopt these online learning platforms. It is a question now of how quickly we can deploy and build up new ways of teaching and learning.

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