Growing up in Singapore, you would be familiar with the ever-present assessment book. Practice, after all, makes perfect. These days, assessment books are still a staple in any child's life, but the idea of lugging around heavy backpacks filled with them just doesn't make sense anymore - parents can simply download one of the many "edutainment" apps available out there to help their children revise their schoolwork.
But assessment books aren't dying out just yet. Local startup Tutate (pronounced two-tayt) are revolutionising the way Singaporean children revise their schoolwork.
Instead of going head to head with assessment book makers, they are working with them to digitise assessment books into an iPad app. It's a child's worst nightmare, and every parent's fantasy. Instead of stacks and stacks of heavy assessment books, ebooks will fill a digital library, each purchased from an integrated iTunes Store at a fraction of the price (the highest price for the current offerings stands at $6.98). Parents can even purchase individual chapters of assessment books, so that their child can get all the practice they need on topics they are weaker in.
"Most other apps focus on self-directed learning. Tutate however, was built to facilitate and empower the teacher as we strongly believe that the teacher is a critical part of the learning process, especially for primary school children, and that human element should not be replaced," says Tutate CEO, Yi Ming.
If you're expecting poor-quality PDF versions of assessment books, you'll be very much mistaken. The interface of the app is designed for quality use, so kids will be able to pick up on how to use the app quickly, and fulfil their assignments with ease.
Multiple choice questions provided by the app work like most online quizzes: kids simply tap the options they want to pick, and these are later marked by the app according to an answer sheet. Long-form questions, on the other hand, are where it gets tricky. For subjects like mathematics, the working (where students explain how they get to their final answer) does carry some weight in school examinations. In such cases, kids will be given the option to either write the working onto the iPad itself, or onto a piece of paper, taking a photo of it afterwards.
Because most long-form questions often elicit nuanced answers, they have to be manually marked. Parents who want to take charge of marking will be able to do so through their Parent account, using a stylus to mark out mistakes in their children's answers, or even give virtual stickers for good performance. The Parent account can be accessed from the Tutate website, allowing busy parents to mark on the go - whether on their lunch break or on the commute home.
If parents are too busy to mark, they can also access a database of qualified tutors that work with Tutate to take up the marking for them. Marked answers are then submitted back to parents and students for review.
To help keep parents in the loop on their child's progress, a performance report will be sent once an assignment is marked. This will indicate where a child's strengths lie, and where they require more practice. Updates for parents each time an assignment is completed also helps to keep children accountable, since they won't be able to take advantage of their parents being at work to slack off.
Malcolm, a parent of three and a regular Tutate user, shared that the app was useful when travelling: his son was able to keep up with his revision without having to lug around heavy books while on the road.
In addition to home use, the Tutate team has also shared that they are working with private tutors, who make use of their assessment ebooks to teach in private sessions.
The idea of digitising assessment books is a solution that many have been waiting for. While assessment books account for some 20 per cent of the overall education market in Singapore, it has yet to adapt to the digital age beyond e-commerce platforms for physical books. Moving into the paperless world, Tutate offers the assessment book industry a new solution on how to move into an era that every other book moved into years ago. It also helps that there is a team managing content curation, making sure that content doesn't fall out of step with the MOE curriculum - a problem that still plagues many parents.
"The demand of assessment questions is still high, supported by both local and overseas growth in the private tuition industry. However, like all print-based media, the assessment book industry is constantly looking for new ways to deliver content to their readers/consumers and exploring digital platforms is an evident approach," says Yi Ming.
The biggest limitation for Tutate, however, is that their offering is still limited, and the process of scaling up is a slow one. Convincing assessment book makers to digitise their books is difficult, and so far they only have two publishers on board. It's a brand new direction for a very traditional market, and there doesn't seem to be enough incentive for more publishers to take on this new endeavour. Once the available books have been used up, customers who choose Tutate aren't going to stay if new books aren't coming in.
The chicken-and-egg problem here is a tricky one, but hopefully it is something that Tutate can soon overcome. After all, the industry is ripe with opportunity, and this is an app that many a tech-savvy parent would actually like. Parents and tutors, best to keep an eye on this space.