“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,” said former Harvard University President Derek Bok. While many states espouse the value of education — to the extent of offering supposedly free access — not everyone has adequate access to learning facilities and content. In the Philippines, for instance, it is within the frameworks of the UN’s Millenium Development Goals to achieve universal primary education by 2015.
There are gaps, however, in terms of the adequacy of educational programmes, both in the primary and higher levels. A 2011 World Bank study has found that across Southeast Asia, there are significant gaps between the labour requirements of companies and the quality of graduates produced by local colleges and universities.
If the lack of educational materials was to blame, programmes that provide access to devices like inexpensive tablets could be one way of addressing this gap. Private schools and universities are already piloting programmes that substitute tablet computers for students’ books. But it’s not just the devices, argued Gian Scottie Javelona, Co-founder and CEO, Orange Apps. Content should be an integral part of whether these efforts will succeed.
“The educational curriculum does not change quickly enough to match the skills needed in the industry,” said Javelona.
This is one reason Javelona’s education-oriented startup, Orange Apps, has recently pivoted. The startup previously focused on building portals and networks targeted at schools and educational institutions. e27 earlier featured Javelona as a young founder who was, back then, starting the company while still an undergraduate at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila. Two years after, Orange Apps is changing priorities, this time focusing on the bigger world outside of school.
Khawna, the online learning platform, aims to focus on practical skills needed to succeed in an industrial setting. “The platform bridges the gap of industry learning and makes education available to everyone around the world,” Javelona told e27.
The product name is actually a play on the Filipino phrase “ikaw na”, which loosely translates to “you’re the one”. Javelona explained that this focuses on the positive impact of learning. “It means you have already achieved something, because I believe that with the right opportunity, and with the right learning experience, each and every person has a vital role to make this country successful.”
Make everyone employable
The bigger goal is to make everyone employable. “There are 7.93 million underemployed Filipinos and 6.24 million out-of-school young Filipinos,” cited Javelona. He added that the platform can ideally “make every Filipino employable”.
And just how will this be done? Orange Apps will be offering courseware delivered through both web and mobile platforms. “Khawna is going to be available on any kind of device,” said Javelona.
Currently, the platform has 16 courses, which include mobile app development, personal finance, business and artistic endeavours. Classes are currently free, with a standard target of 500 students per class. Javelona noted that the Android app development is currently the most popular, with 423 users signifying interest — 85 per cent of the target.
The platform also gives educators and experts an opportunity to earn. However, the system is not limited to the academic setting. Javelona shared that Khawna should also be ideal for enterprise learning. “Currently, we are getting the content from industry experts from certain fields, like mobile development, e-commerce, finance, arts and sciences. Our next plan is to open the platform to the content providers such as companies and training providers.”
In terms of payments, Orange Apps plans to make the system affordable and accessible. “For now, we are offering classes for free,” said Javelona, “But once we finish integrating SMS payments, people will be able to pay for classes using their prepaid load,” he added, noting that prepaid accounts are the predominant account type among Philippine mobile users.
With support from local incubator Ideaspace Foundation, Orange Apps has applied best practices from its initial product. The team is currently exploring talks with educational and governmental institutions, including the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the Philippine government body that regulates and runs technical and vocational programmes. The company is also seeking partnerships with review centres and training providers.
Accessible via www.khawna.com, the online learning platform will start running courses in April 2014.