UPDATED 14:45 EST / OCTOBER 20 2020

teo-richard-quah-aws-public-sector-summit-online-2020 POLICY

EdTech startups are disrupting education for global good

Government bodies trying to alleviate global issues like illiteracy, disease and poverty commonly face daunting statistics, logistic challenges and funding shortages. For example, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization estimates that 617 million children today are not achieving minimum reading and math proficiency.

How can this and other such problems be addressed? Should government organizations let technology startups bring the convenience, accessibility and cost savings they’ve brought to business and consumer domains into the public sector?

Janine Teo (pictured, left), founder and chief executive officer of Solve Education!; Hugo Richard (center), co-founder and CEO of Dystech Australia Pty. Ltd.; and Vincent Quah (right), regional head of education, research, healthcare and not-for-profit, APAC public sector, at Amazon Web Services, spoke with John Furrierhost of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s livestreaming studio, during the AWS Public Sector Summit Online event. They discussed how technology can transform education for the better and the AWS EdStart startup accelerator program. (* Disclosure below.)

How tech is increasing worldwide education

Programs that fight major global problems, like poverty or hunger, commonly require careful planning and logistic coordination. However, providing basic education may actually be feasible purely through tech solutions, according to Teo.

“Perhaps I’m biased because I am a computer engineer, but I see that education is the only one that can be solved by transforming bytes,” Teo said. 

Teo and Solve Education! co-founder Peng Tsin Ong began to see smartphones as a highly accessible, affordable way to offer access to educational material. The startup delivers self-education and employment opportunities through fun, easy-to-use tools available for free, online and offline.

“Our vision is to enable people to empower themselves,” Teo said. 

Even in highly developed nations, like the U.S., the cost and availability of some educational services can be a hindrance. For example, assessment tests for dyslexia can run up to $6,000 and wait times can be up to a year, according to Richard, who co-founded Dystech Australia, an EdTech startup using smartphones and cloud-based artificial intelligence to reduce the cost and time involved in diagnosing dyslexia. The app relies on models based on recordings of dyslexic patients reading aloud. A person with no training can assess the likelihood that someone has dyslexia in 10 minutes for a cost of $20, according to Richard.

Crowdsourced mobile recordings and cloud computing are the key elements that make Dystech work. 

“If it’s on the cloud, it’s accessible for anyone with any device with an internet connection, which is covering most of the globe,” Richard said. “On the AI side, as well, there is a lot of benefit in being able to leverage the computational power of the cloud to make better algorithms and better training.” 

Technologizing the public sector

Dystech and Solve Education! are members of EdStart, which offers technical support, AWS cloud credits and membership in a community of founders and investors. AWS is seeing lots of customer activity in EdTech, especially since COVID-19 has forced many education institutions to expand digital offerings rapidly, according to Quay. This is a positive development in his view, as they and other government bodies are due to embrace technology as a better, faster means to solve big challenges. 

“I think government is beginning to recognize that they really need to change the way they approach solving social and economic problems,” Quay said.

Digital and customized education, for one, should be constantly available and of high quality, not just emergency backups. Public sector organizations should be looking at how to use technology to the fullest to achieve their goals, according to Quay.

“For those who have not embarked on a clear cloud strategy, this is the time. Don’t wait for another pandemic to happen,” he said. 

Here’s the complete video interview, part of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of the AWS Public Sector Summit Online event. (* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a paid media partner for the AWS Public Sector Summit Online event. Neither AWS, the sponsor for theCUBE’s event coverage, nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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