You may think Asian school children, especially the young ones of primary age, are all well behaved. Granted, they are by and large less troublesome; they don’t give teachers such a hard time in many respects. But even in Asia, and specifically in Korea, there are still some naughty school kids to be found!
Do you know what Koreans are fond of? Like many other Asian cultures, they love cutesy cartoons and virtual stickers, the kind that have taken Asia’s leading chat platforms such as WeChat and LINE by storm. So why not bring all that cuteness into the classroom as a sneaky behaviour management tool?
That’s what Seoul-based Class123 is doing with its fun and innovative solution that honestly seems long overdue in Asia. Already with 14,000 teachers using the online platform that can be accessed from within classrooms (on TVs, projectors, smartphones and tablets), Class123 assigns a virtual avatar to each student that they can customise in their own time (gender, face, clothing, hairstyle, expressions, etc.).
“Every student has a different avatar and they can change them freely through their account. We provide the mobile application on Google Play and iOS, as well as access through the website,” Choong Hee Lee, CEO and Co-founder, Class123, told e27.
When a student deserves praise or a reward for positive performance in class — say they have answered a question correctly, or accurately recited an English phrase — the teacher can give a point to that student’s avatar on a leaderboard system that can be displayed to the whole class. This gamifies learning and also creates friendly competition amongst peers to boost engagement.
The platform can generate report cards for teachers, which can be sent to parents as and when required. And similar to the avatars, a big emphasis is placed on cutesy animations that can be customised from the teacher’s dashboard on his/her computer, tablet or smartphone. For example, the teacher could throw together some fun animated cartoons from the platform’s selection accompanied by a custom message to students (i.e. Well done, Kiki!).
Last February, Class123 raised a US$300,000 seed round from Korean investors and government support programmes, before officially launching in March 2014 (though its total funding to date is closer to US$900,000). The startup, with five Co-founders, is now looking for a Series A round in the range of US$1 million to US$2 million. Of the 14,000 teachers using the platform, 2,000 are from outside South Korea in markets like the United States and Japan. Plans for expansion into China are also ongoing.
“We need to add some more features for communication and participation by parents and students. We want to add more features for parents to use in the home… and next year we will start to test a business model,” Choong said.
Surprisingly, Class123 still lacks a business model for generating revenue. That will be an important part of its plan for 2015, and no doubt vital to successfully raising a Series A round.
On the issue of doing a startup in South Korea, still seen as a relatively isolated market similar to Japan due to cultural and language barriers, Choong had some observations. He believes VCs from the United States and Japan are most active in the country’s startups.
“There are many government support programmes… [and] global companies are coming to Korea for investing, so it’s very good,” he said, but acknowledged there are still barriers. “The first one is language, I think. Koreans are not so fluent in other languages. That is the first [difficulty] for global startups. Then there is definitely also bureaucracy,” he added.
Challenges for Class123 have been largely in persuading teachers to adopt new technology, something echoed recently by School of Music Online’s Founder in an interview with e27. But this has been less difficult with the younger generation of teachers in South Korea.
“Teachers are very conservative for new things. They need some belief and confidence. We need some time for persuading teachers, and we have to become a credible brand in Korea and the global market. It will take some time I think,” Choong said.
“Younger teachers are much more favourable for the technology and Internet services. In Korea, the young men are most favourable,” he added.
For now, Class123 marches on bringing its cuteness-overload solution into classrooms in South Korea and beyond, and ingeniously managing school kids’ behaviour without them ever detecting the sneaky coercion. Welcome to the age of the avatar.