It’s tough for teachers to cater to every individual student’s needs. Ask Brian Tang, he knows this all too well.
His students were two months away from their IGCSEs and he wasn’t sure what topics he should focus on. Realizing he needed additional information on his students’ performance, he took their exam papers, went through each question and keyed in how much they scored individually into an Excel spreadsheet. Two hours later, he’d generated a simple table that showed where most of them lost their marks. He then taught his remaining classes guided by this crude table.
In June 2019, he decided to take this method to the next level and developed Abelytics (Abel).
The problem statements
Abel is a system that helps teachers identify their students’ weak points in a subject so they can provide targeted tutoring.
“Is this really so important?” you may ask. According to Brian, yes, because the problem is threefold.
First, students’ needs are often overlooked. “Chiefly, this is a problem of any standardized education framework. Each students’ weakness and/or strengths are not given due weight; instead, when homework is allocated, it is done so across the board,” he said.
Secondly, teachers are overworked. “The natural question of why student needs are being overlooked can partly be placed on teacher workload. When you are pressed for time, you don’t think so much about the individual student—you can’t.”
“This leads to stunted understanding of where your students are at,” Brian explained.
Thirdly, schools lack a systematic data collection framework, so Abel has taken this into its own hands and simplified the process.
Using Abel starts with the students who input the data themselves through their Abel accounts. The process takes about five minutes. “This is an order of magnitude faster than the traditional way of teachers inputting data for the entire class, and with much higher granular control,” Brian said. By involving the students in the management process, it gives them a sense of responsibility and ownership over their own data.
Abel will then run data analyses to give teachers visualizations to identify patterns and provide recommendations like, “You should reteach Electromagnetism because X% of students scored below the minimum Y%.” Teachers get to track these recommendations, much like their own to-do list.
This entire system was developed in-house, and it took four months for the team to go from idea to the first iteration of building and testing the data collection and visualization functionalities. It took another month for the recommendation feature, and another two months to deploy the homework assignment section.
By September 2019, Abel went into private beta and was running in two schools.
Teachers deserve better
At the moment, Abel is serving private schools, though Brian said that any committed teacher, including those in tuition centers, and parents can use Abel.
For a school to get started on it, a test run is planned for a single class and teacher, who the team would register accounts for. The teacher will be shown how to use the app effectively, and then they’ll run through it on their own. Three months later, the school provides feedback on Abelytics.
For schools that have under 300 students, the pricing is MYR 8 (USD 1.90) per student each month. On the other hand, should an individual teacher opt to use Abel without directives from their school, it’s free to use forever. Brian explained, “While it is part of our user acquisition strategy, we also note the burdens teachers already have to bear. Giving Abel for free to improve education is the least we can do.”
A model that he looks up to comes from an overseas startup called Gradescope. Thus, Abel’s primary method of monetization is charging schools.
Challenging the status quo
To improve the platform, Brian wants to expand its homework bank of questions to include more subjects and cover more of previous years’ questions, school-level cohort reporting, the creation of lesson plan templates, and more. Their overall game plan is to expand further into the private education sector. With that experience, Abelytics then hopes to approach the Ministry of Education for a public sector push.
As attractive as Abel’s solution may sound, the industry it’s trying to cater to is still a tough nut to crack.
One of the main challenges the company faced was raising awareness for leveling up Malaysia’s field of education. “Educational institutions, like any monolithic structure, are usually content with the status quo. And teachers are overworked, so introducing an additional tool to have to use is an obstacle in itself.”
“But I’m convinced if Abel can deliver just 10% improvement to your students’ grades across the board, surely it is worthwhile,” Brian said.
This article was first published by Vulcan Post.