Learning without borders; “If you spend your life working on something, it has to be worthwhile and scale beyond Singapore”

Learning without borders

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SINGAPORE — Sitting on a sofa in the middle of an office, Ms Sun Ho surveys a large computer screen with a map of Singapore, which tells her in real time exactly how many of the 35,000 children attending the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) chain of kindergartens turned up for school that day.

BY FRANCIS KAN –

6 HOURS 38 MIN AGO

SINGAPORE — Sitting on a sofa in the middle of an office, Ms Sun Ho surveys a large computer screen with a map of Singapore, which tells her in real time exactly how many of the 35,000 children attending the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) chain of kindergartens turned up for school that day.

This application is part of a suite of tools produced by Ms Ho’s company, LittleLives, that aims to help pre-school teachers spend more time doing what they do best — teach.

“Teachers have to do a lot of paperwork because of reporting requirements, so by automating some of these tasks, such as taking attendance, it frees them up to focus on teaching,” said Ms Ho, 34, who started LittleLives in 2008 as a technology start-up focused on education.The company started providing its services to PCF — the largest chain of pre-schools in Singapore — two years ago after being approached by the Ministry of Education (MOE).

The success of the project has since attracted private pre-school operators, and Ms Ho is on the verge of sealing a deal that will see another 5,000 students from private chains added to the firm’s customer base.

While its pre-school offerings have helped the company expand — the team has grown to 12, up from only two when she started — the entrepreneur has a far bigger mission in mind for her business.

After a career as a programmer in Singapore and the United States, she conceived the idea for LittleLives while working for a local technology firm. She envisioned a platform that would connect students and teachers from around the world, sharing ideas and stories to enrich the learning experience, as well as help those from poorer countries.

“Education makes a big difference to people’s lives, but I realised education has not changed much in the past few decades. The technology used in schools is still very limited,” she said.

“So I thought of how technology can help make a difference to students who come from poor countries.”

What she came up with was effectively a social network for primary school students that allowed children to interact with each other online in a safe environment that is monitored by teachers.

With the help of partners like the MOE and the National Library Board, the network has grown to around 100,000 users from over 150 primary schools in Singapore.

The children post on a wide variety of subjects, from thoughts on the food served at the National Day Parade to what they want to be when they grow up. One child is even using the platform to release chapters of a book he is writing.

Now that the company is stable and has a growing revenue, Ms Ho is executing the most ambitious part of her grand plan: To not just scale the business globally to fuel further growth, but, more importantly, to realise her dream of connecting with students in parts of the world that would most benefit from it.

“In Africa, around 50 per cent of the primary schools don’t even have training. With this connection they can hopefully learn from other parts of the world,” she said.

She received further inspiration to pursue her dreams during a 2010 trip to the Silicon Valley organised by Singapore’s Infocomm Development Authority (IDA). The programme was meant to expose local technopreneurs to their counterparts in the world’s tech capital.

“It was very dynamic, people moved very fast there and everybody was in a start-up. The way they pitched to VCs (venture capitalists) was also very polished,” she said.

“In just two to three weeks there, I grew so much.”

And that experience appears to have paid off — her company secured venture capitalist funding for the first time a few weeks ago.

To accelerate its global plans, Ms Ho recently hired a global communities manager to visit schools around the world and recruit “angels” to help spread the word about LittleLives. The effort is already paying dividends.

After posting about a visit to a school in Sri Lanka that was lacking in resources, a Singapore-based school decided to donate its used toys to the institution.

Looking ahead, Ms Ho hopes that schools will start sharing their class lessons.

“If you spend your life working on something, it has to be worthwhile and scale beyond Singapore,” she said.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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