Kungfu Math is challenging Singapore’s boring e-learning landscape

Mary-Anne Lee

Singapore’s “80s kids” will remember growing up with the browser-based Neopets, a virtual world inhabited by cute little pets you could train, send into battle, and pamper to your heart’s content. Now, it looks like this generation of Singaporean students will get to experience the country’s own gamified and educational version of the game.

Kungfu Math is a learning website set up by Derrick Koh, owner of an education chain in Singapore. His Kungfu Interactive brand involves running mathematics-themed motivational programs for schools as well as student care centers. It was thanks to his daily interactions with students that he realized while Singapore’s education system actively uses electronic learning or “e-learning”, these programs are not well utilized thanks to their heavy focus on content.

Koh noticed that whenever his student charges had to use their e-learning portals, they would hastily finish their assignments online so that they could go to game websites to play. “There are no features to motivate the students to want to stay on and learn,” he said.

kungfu math founder

Koh, third from left, and Foo, first from right, with students at the care center.

So together with his former colleague Foo Pau Choo, who used to be head of mathematics as well as a school leader in her previous school, Koh incorporated Kungfu Interactive in late 2012 and set up the Kungfu Math portal earlier this year.

But just what exactly is Kungfu Math? It’s an educational portal gamified with elements like virtual pets, quests, mini games, and even cosmetic items. Its math assignments and tasks are developed in accordance with present-day Singapore’s school curriculum and is constantly updated with content from participating schools. As students complete assignments, they earn points and experience for their virtual pets.

For someone who grew up with electronic learning systems in the late 90s and early 2000s which all but drove me to death by boredom, Kungfu Math is something I can imagine students having a lot of fun with. After all, the portal has been developed through direct feedback from the 50 pupils who attend Koh’s student care centers—even five of the ten initial avatars, as well as some cosmetic items, were chosen by these kids!

Both entire schools and individuals can sign up for access to Kungfu Math, though schools who register for the portal are provided teacher accounts that let them not just set curriculum, but also group their pupils together for more friendly competition. While there is no open chat function, Koh will be implementing the Pure Chat live chat software for users who need help.

Overall, feedback from students has been positive, with many surveyed saying they prefer Kungfu Math to other educational portals. Student engagement levels are also high, averaging at 26 pages per user; the kids log in to play even without being told to do so.

But of course, there are no free lunches in the world. Access to Kungfu Math is granted on a membership basis, with two tiers of membership. The free tier allows a user access to just ten percent of the portal’s content, as well as its games and challenges. The premium membership tier, which can be purchased in blocks of one, six, and 12 months, provides access to 100 percent of the content as well as all of its other functions. The cost?

kungfu-math-pricing

To date, Kungfu Interactive has 100,000 users, including students from 25 Singaporean and one Thai school. It has received $225,000 of angel investment to date, and though it is not yet financially-sustainable, Koh is confident of getting ten more schools to sign up for 2015.

Knowing how Singaporean society views gaming in general, it’s not going to be easy. As in many Asian countries, gaming is viewed badly by the city-state, and this bias carries through to many institutes and organizations. Koh agrees that some schools do share a stigma of games, but that his team has overcome this by working with their feedback. At present, access control features within Kungfu Math allow teachers to restrict specific modules from students, so as to help keep them on task with their actual work. However, Koh also said that schools do find Kungfu Math cute.

(See: Survey: 90% of Chinese college kids play mobile games in class)

For those curious about how Koh pitches to schools through the unforgiving Singaporean educational system, he shares that his sales and marketing team first connects to each institute’s Math and IT departments. From there, the team provides trial accounts to the school’s pupils for a limited period of time. Should a participating school wish, it can issue a tender (call for bids) at the end of the year, and vendors will submit their bids. Following this, the school will evaluate all learning portals who have submitted the bid before making its decision.

Electronic learning is not something new to the Singapore education system, but combining education and games in a meaningful way definitely is. We’re looking forward to see just how much further Koh and his team will be able to take Kungfu Math into Singapore, and eventually, across the region.

Update 29-09-2014: We have edited the article for minor factual inaccuracies.

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The post Kungfu Math is challenging Singapore’s boring e-learning landscape appeared first on Games in Asia.


The post Kungfu Math is challenging Singapore’s boring e-learning landscape appeared first on Games in Asia.