Across Asia, more than 35% of higher education students enroll in the private sector, with almost 60% of the region’s higher education institutions private according to an Asian Development Back’s report from 2012. Given the fervor for private education in Asia, EduTech startups have started supporting students’ learning not only in schools but in their daily life. Bapul, a Seoul-based startup founded in 2011, has proved its ability to bring 1:1 tutoring to the smartphone, lowering educational inequality for those who cannot expensive tuition. Bapul is a social Q&A platform that enables users to ask and answer study questions. Currently 300,000 middle school and high school students in Korea use the app to aid their studies.
The company outperformed competitors by providing the optimized UX for the users. The question and answer process is quick and easy, with the app swiftly gaining users by word of mouth. A student working through a tough question can take a picture using on their smartphone or tablet and then type up their attempts at solving the problem. With the name Bapul meaning ‘solve right away’, correct answers and explanations come within an average of 21 minutes.
Selected as a market proven startup, the company participated in the K-Tech conference held in Beijing and GSIIP (Global Startup Incubating Internship Program), a three-month acceleration program followed by a final demoday. During those programs, Bapul was highly welcomed by Chinese institutions wanting to embrace Bapul’s method of providing to students. Currently the company provides Chinese web and app version in an attempt to ease Chinese student’s learning.
The company boasts an eye-catching device, a smart pen that makes the teaching experience more prompt and convenient. Manufactured by Apple supplier PLF, once a user uses the smart pen to writes on paper, the same words will appear on their smartphone. Currently, the company is developing technology for recording and image editing to improve the teaching environment.
While a student majoring in pedology, CEO Minhee Lee tutored part time. She found it inefficient that students can only ask questions during lessons. She thought up with a platform where students and teachers can ask and answer questions.
Now that the app has a large user base, Lee says that the company’s plan is to become a customized education platform for students. For example, when a student asks a question, the service can provide prior knowledge to approach the problem and recommend customized tutors for the student. Lee said this new feature will be also combined with the company’s business model.
How Bapul changes students’ learning attitudes
Lee said 70% of the questions uploaded on the app are answered by peers while the rest is answered by university students or regular people, some of whom are housewives who had been through higher education. Motivations for answering questions are as a past-time or to obtain volunteering credits approved by the government. As the students answer questions from their peers or those in lower grades, they become more confident and feel buoyed by the appreciation. Lee said her happiest moments come when she gets message from students saying, “I used to hate studying, but now I find it so interesting.”
Lee told a story of a mother and son, who were zealous users of the app. Reading about Bapul in a magazine, the mother introduced the app to her son. Since the son had difficulties with math, he asked a lot of questions using the app. Meanwhile, the mother started answering questions as a hobby. It was only when a ‘Thank you for your 10,000 answers’ gift from Bapul arrived at their home when two found that the mother had been answering her son’s questions. Their relationship improved, and the mom sent a long letter to the company that she had found meaning in her life.
In Korea, it is widely known that only those who can afford private education can send their child to the top universities. The situation in China is not so different. The New York Times article, ‘China’s Education Gap’ demonstrates the inequality of educational opportunities between urban and rural Chinese students, with those who can afford high-level education getting into the top universities. “With the help of technology, we can popularize learning for everyone. We want to bring one-to-one tutoring to the masses, so that anyone can have their own tutor by using the app.”
Image Credit : Bapul
Editing by Mike Cormack (@bucketoftongues)