This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly on December 28, 2020 - January 3, 2021
In January, Khairul Anwar Mohamad Zaki launched the Pandai learning app with his team, unaware of the challenges that were about to befall them. Just a few months later, the pandemic would spread throughout Malaysia and movement restrictions would be imposed on its residents.
Five days into the Movement Control Order (MCO) in March, Khairul and his team were in a meeting room, discussing what they needed to do to save their two-month-old product. Pandai is a learning mobile and web app that helps students study the national syllabus through interactive quizzes.
“Pandai is meant to complement school learning. But schools were closed due to the MCO. We thought of producing videos to teach students but it was too hard to do it in that time period,” says Khairul.
Eventually, they decided to use existing online education videos and arrange them according to the syllabus in their Pandai system. Students could watch the videos to learn for free on the website and then test their knowledge with the Pandai app.
It was a success. The videos, posted on the Pandai website, attracted 1.9 million unique visitors in a few days and increased the number of Pandai app registered users by tenfold in less than two weeks.
“Nobody had launched anything like this at that time. Students could watch the videos without logging in but after watching it, they could register for Pandai’s services,” says Khairul.
Since then, Pandai has attracted more than 100,000 paying users, he adds. When schools were closed, parents were looking for alternatives to keep their children occupied, and the app happened to fill the gap.
Pandai is aligned to the KSSM (standard curriculum for secondary schools) and KSSR (standard curriculum for primary schools) set by the Ministry of Education. It is available for students from Year 1 of primary school to Form 5 in secondary school.
The subjects covered for primary school students are mathematics, science, English and Bahasa Melayu. Form 1 to Form 3 students can use Pandai for mathematics and science, while Form 4 and Form 5 students have access to mathematics, additional mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology and science.
By paying from RM9 to RM39 per month, users can get access to daily quizzes, topical tests and term exams. They will also be able to review their results and read detailed explanations for each question.
Prior to launching Pandai, Khairul was organising educational programmes in Malaysia through Ardent Educational Sdn Bhd. The company ran the Kangaroo Math Competition, Malaysian Junior Science Olympiad and Malaysian Astronomy Olympiad, among others. Most of these activities were paper-based and in person.
“But we realised that we could reach even more students with a digital platform and technology. The impact can be continuous and we can put up new content daily. We can also add personalised elements,” says Khairul, explaining why they decided to launch Pandai.
The fact that Pandai was able to grow so quickly in 2020 is a testament to the demand from parents and students for an alternative learning platform at this time when schools are closed. It is also due to the Pandai team’s resourcefulness and agility.
Other than launching the video series early on, the team reacted quickly to introduce various programmes in response to customer demand. For instance, it created quite a stir when it launched free online tests called UPSRx and PT3x in September.
Khairul emphasises that the tests were done just to help students remember what they had learnt and are not meant to replace the actual exams, which were cancelled due to the MCO.
“We launched this because we realised that students had prepared so hard for these exams, but these were cancelled. They may forget almost everything they learn when they return to school next year, so we wanted to create a solution for these students,” he explains.
Students who took these tests, held on the original dates of UPSR and PT3, received a digital certificate, transcript and detailed analysis of their performance. This enables them to do a thorough self-assessment. Due to grading limitations, the tests only covered multiple-choice questions.
“We had thousands of participants from all over Malaysia,” says Khairul.
Other than that, the Pandai team is preparing to launch Pandai Guru soon. After launching the app, Khairul received requests from teachers who said they needed help in creating quizzes and homework during this time.
“They told us that one of the most challenging things for them is to create homework assignments and exercises. Since we have a question bank, we can give teachers access to this resource. Pandai Guru will allow teachers to choose a topic and then generate a set of random questions,” he says.
The teachers can either create a custom quiz for students to take on the Pandai app or on other digital platforms like Kahoot!. They can also print the questions and distribute them to students.
Pandai has come to market in Malaysia at a time when the education environment has been severely disrupted by the pandemic. Students were suddenly expected to learn from home, and teachers had to change their curriculum and teaching methods.
However, many reports have highlighted the challenges of learning from home. Not all students have gadgets and sufficient connectivity and it can be hard for teachers to capture their attention remotely and ensure that they complete their assignments, especially if their parents do not step in to monitor them.
“When children are at school, they have six hours of supervision by teachers. But at home, they do a one-hour class and that’s it. It’s up to the parents to supervise but parents may not understand the materials. I have three children, and even I feel like giving up after tutoring them for one hour. It’s even more challenging for parents who are working from home,” says Khairul.
A solution like Pandai can play a role in this environment by making learning fun, as students can test their knowledge on an interactive app via fun quizzes and competitions. It also does not require much bandwidth and the quizzes can be pre-loaded to be used offline.
To further test out Pandai in a school environment, Khairul enrolled the app in the government’s National Technology and Innovation Sandbox recently. This will allow him to roll out Pandai in five selected schools for six months next year.
“The students will receive devices and use the app for free. Forty primary school students from one class are to be selected in each school. They will use Pandai in class. If the pandemic persists [and schools continue to be shut], Pandai will be used as part of the students’ assignments. It’s good that this is in the national agenda now and we can test if Pandai is suitable for use in a school environment,” says Khairul.
Next year, he plans to launch Pandai Parent and Pandai School. Pandai Parent allows parents to monitor their children’s progress, results and scorecard on Pandai while Pandai School is a customised dashboard for schools.
“All countries are still finding ways to get past this stage now. I think this is not something that a single entity can resolve. But I think the silver lining in all of these is that it is expediting the digital learning process and somewhat democratising education [by allowing all students to have access to the same resources online if they have the right gadgets and connectivity],” says Khairul.
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