According to a World Bank interview, low-quality education is closely linked to pervasive poverty in many low-income countries around the world. Poor quality education limits the development of workforce skills needed to compete globally and climb out of poverty. However, the interview also notes that technology can help alleviate poverty by enabling students in poor countries to access the highest quality education in the world.360Ed is an education technology company focused on doing exactly this by delivering immersive high-quality education to students everywhere using augmented reality and other new technologies. This company is now delivering its solutions in Myanmar with plans to expand to Indonesia and other places in Asia and Africa where accessible high-quality education is most needed.Hla Hla Win, a teacher from Myanmar and alumna of Harvard and the Singularity University Global Startup Program (GSP), created the 360Ed concept with co-founders Perttu Pölönen and Laurent Boinot during their time at GSP in 2016. 360Ed recently landed its first major contract to deliver its augmented reality educational application to 1.3 million students in Myanmar – kudos!
Myanmar is exactly the type of country where higher-quality education is needed to help its society prosper. In fact, Myanmar is currently ranked as having the 16th worst education system in the world by the United Nations, and the 11th poorest economy. And there are many other countries facing similar circumstances, so the need for 360Ed’s solutions is strong.Moreover, it is in places like Myanmar where smartphone usage has exploded in recent years. Worldwide there are almost 3 billion smartphone users now, and this is how almost nine out of ten people globally access the internet. No wonder the Bank predicts that “everything’s going to happen on the smartphone” as far as technology solutions in low-income countries.
In 2017, 360Ed released its first mobile application, which covered basic sciences, chemistry, and anatomy and was purchased directly by thousands of students, educators, and parents in its first month of release. Several of the company’s products work together with textbooks using augmented reality to bring concepts like chemical structures into 3-D focus, enabling better understanding and memory retention. The company is adding foreign languages in augmented reality to fulfill its new contract with the government of Myanmar. The company is also working to digitize more subjects and add artificial intelligence to further personalize their solutions.As Hla Hla Win relayed, “Myanmar’s current education curriculum is outdated, based on rote-learning, and often offered on platforms that do not work in Myanmar. Our 360Ed products solve these problems by offering student-centered, interactive, engaging, world-class quality educational lessons and making these available on smartphones, which are widely used in Myanmar. Our solutions help level the playing field for students from rural areas and in developing countries where access to high-quality education is most needed.”Hla Hla has also found the needs in Myanmar are reflected in education in many areas around the world and hopes to tap into a major potential export opportunity.
Besides creating educational applications directly for students, 360Ed is launching a new teacher training program. This product uses virtual reality to enable teachers all over the world to observe the classrooms of high-quality teachers to learn their teaching methods and to also receive coaching and expert mentoring. While it would be too expensive to fly teachers across the world to places with great educational systems—like Finland—to observe and be coached by high-quality teachers, virtual reality makes this activity affordable, realistic, and possible.
As if all this work were not enough, 360Ed is also helping support a lively technology startup culture in Myanmar by setting up a maker space and has seen its alumni go on to start other technology-for-good initiatives in Myanmar.Moreover, the company has had over 100 local young professionals working with them or serving as interns, building the pipeline of local talent.
SU played a central role in setting the stage for 360Ed to be created. Hla Hla Win—whose expertise lay in teacher education—learned about virtual reality and augmented reality during her time attending the GSP. SU also introduced Hla Hla Win to her co-founders: Perttu Pölönen, a Finnish innovator working in musical education, and Laurent Boinot, a Frenchman with previous startup success in the corporate education field. Together they created 360Ed’s first products with support from a host of advisors, experts, team members, and stakeholder representatives, some of whom came from SU’s extensive network of experts. Furthermore, 360Ed is also now collaborating with another GSP classmate, Chief Nyamweya, a Kenyan educator, animator, graphic novelist and entrepreneur exploring the future of learning (and unlearning) for his generation and future generations.In the World Bank interview, we were asked, “Will educational systems run by governments in developing countries disrupt themselves to provide high-quality education? So far, there has not been evidence of this happening. This is why technology companies are critical.”Educational technology companies like 360Ed have the potential to truly transform public education and make high-quality education affordable and available in countries and sub-regions where it is now lacking, and in doing so can enable vastly more people to climb out of poverty. More power to them!