Guru-App’s plus point is that it allows students to combine the best parts of social media so that learning becomes an enjoyable experience (photo credit: Guru-App).
By Palau Shavin
People like Warren Leow are a rare breed of risk takers whose motives for giving up a high flying job with a London-based global investment firm to come home to Malaysia and “give back” to society are, at first glance, a little hard to believe.
But listening to the passionate young man talk about helping students get a “leg up”, and hearing his own reasons for doing so would help convince you that Leow, one of TalentCorp Malaysia’s Returning Expert programme participants, is driven by non-monetary considerations.
The son of a police officer, Klang-born Leow’s life changed dramatically when he won the coveted Public Services Department (or better known as JPA) scholarship to study accounting and finance in the prestigious London School of Economics.
“I was a small town boy who suddenly had this amazing opportunity to study overseas. It set the course for my life, and I am keen to find a way to help others enjoy the same opportunities,” said Leow (pic) over a cup of kopi O at a kopitiam in Petaling Jaya.
While working as a consultant at Bain & Company, where he was earning a high six-figure salary, Leow began to start dabbling in the emerging field of Ed-tech (educational technology). He had an idea of leveraging social media, and especially mobile internet, as a platform to offer supplementary education aimed at high school students, for free.
The idea germinated and took root even as Leow made the decision to return home, which he did in October 2013. He spent some time checking out publishers and content providers, as well as non-governmental organisations that are involved in the education field. A month later, Guru-App, a Malaysian founded social network for high school students focusing on crowd-sourcing, gamification and mobile first distribution, was launched.
Currently open in its beta phase, it has 1,000 registered users who downloaded the mobile app on Google Play.
“Basically, we are an aggregator of high school content across public sources to supplement revisions,” explains Leow, the Chief Owl of Guru-App. Technical development and infrastructure cost to build and grow the app is so far about RM50,000.
At present, the site offers 30,000 crowd-sourced references and 15,000 multiple choice questions for students covering the major subjects.
Helping out 15- to 17-year-olds
The benefits for students, according to Leow, are clear.
“They have access to video lectures on a variety of topics, quizzes on subjects, past year papers, slides, pdf files mapped to localised syllabus, all of which are free to use,” he explains.
Students also have the advantage of revising anytime, anywhere, via any device on a platform that is safe and secure, and which uses Facebook authentication.
For publishers, Guru-App offers an exciting platform from which to showcase their material, besides allowing them to market premium (paid) content via the site.
“Our target audience is the 15- to 17-year-olds crowd. It is a huge market – every year there are around half a million joining the system,” says Leow, who adds that parents are already spending a lot of money for supplementary education, for example via tuition classes for their children.
Guru-App’s plus point is that it allows students to combine the best parts of the social media experience such as forums and chatting, with games, quizzes, videos that are geared towards helping them understand a particular topic. Learning does not become a chore, and, hopefully, students will be encouraged to keep using the app to research subjects.
But what happens when there are changes to the curriculum? Leow says curriculums may come and go, but the topics they cover tend to remain. “So, for example, students studying chemistry will still need to learn the Periodic Table. So there are various YouTube videos that make learning about it easy.”
At present, the Chief Owl has 15 contractors (based in India and Malaysia) working for him to make it easier to ramp Guru-App up or down. Thankfully, the app has started to do well, especially in India, where it was one of the trending Google Play downloads. The site also covers the syllabus for Pakistan, United Kingdom and IGCSE.
“As a start-up, we are in the process of contacting publishers, content providers, educators, schools, NGOs and telcos to help improve the state of education in the country. We would appreciate any help from these quarters,” says Leow.
Guru-App has already gained recognition, as Leow was invited to be part of the working group supporting United Nations’-level Global Education Platform (GEP). He is the only Malaysian in the team which reports to the Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown.
Leow says, much like Guru-App, GEP is working to aggregate educational content from diverse providers and certify learning success online, but on a global scale. It too, would be free for students.
How long can Guru-App remain free? After all, with contractors to pay, and a company to run, Leow’s business plan must have some monetisation built in.
“This is a freemium model but we do plan to monetise through advertising and reselling of premium content. But rest assured that most of the content for students will remain absolutely free to use,” he says.
“This is my way of helping students who have little access to other forms of supplementary education a chance to benefit from all the experienced guides and tutorials available on the internet from one, simple and easy-to-use platform,” adds Leow.