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Rachel Chan, EdVentures GBA, Hong Kong

Rachel Chan co-founded Hong Kong based non-profit Esperanza in 2018, which is the organiser of the Edventures GBA fellowship – identifying and helping growth stage edtech ventures looking to go global. Chan also teaches innovation at the University of Hong Kong. She answered our questions about how edtech will change the way education is delivered.


"Covid-19 has changed in a matter of weeks how we have learned for decades around the world"

The PIE: What attracted you to working in the edtech scene?

Rachel Chan: I used to work in the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council. In the last 10 years, I have been heavily involved in building the startup ecosystem in Hong Kong. Two years ago, I co-founded Esperanza (an NGO meaning ‘hope’) with my former boss in the government, John Tsang (the former financial secretary of the HKSAR government).

“We need to rethink what we should learn and how technology could make learning more effective and meaningful”

We believe that there is nothing more powerful than education in giving hope to and improving the lives of individuals and societies. Education is one of the few sectors that is at a very low level of digital disruption.

The PIE: Do you believe the global pandemic will kickstart a more urgent adoption of edtech? 

RC: Absolutely. Covid-19 has changed in a matter of weeks how we have learned for decades around the world, and that goes for both children and adults alike.

The pandemic has also highlighted the imperative of equipping our future generations with essential life skills. And technology can be used to facilitate more project-based, experiential, inquiry-based and adaptive learning for students.

As schools have resumed in most parts of the world, the question in front of us is not whether or not online learning should be integrated into classroom teaching. More fundamentally, we need to rethink what we should learn and how technology could make learning more effective and meaningful.

The Edventures GBA Fellowship is, therefore, looking for solutions that can equip our next generation with 21st-century skills; motivate, inspire and empower learning; unleash the potential of people with more personalised learning; make quality learning accessible and affordable and upskill our workforce for the digital age.

The PIE: You must see a lot of innovation – what gets you most excited?

RC: There are a few developments that will have a major impact on how we can make learning fun, inclusive and accessible and effective. For example, artificial intelligence and data analytics that make personalised learning, tracking and interventions possible.

Also, immersive learning, enabled by Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality or Mixed Reality, which make the learning experience fun and engaging.

“The Edventures GBA Fellowship is looking for solutions that can equip our next generation with 21st-century skills”

Additionally, cloud and mobile technologies make quality learning affordable and accessible to different corners of the world, also meaning that students from different parts of the globe can learn together.

And finally, assistive technologies that help people with special learning needs –  the visually impaired, dyslexic, motor skills impairment or children with attention issues.

The PIE: Do you consider there to be an arms race in edtech right now? And if so, which regions or countries are leading the race – both in terms of developing solutions and adopting them?

RC: According to RS Component’s EdTech Report 2019/20, edtech start-ups are increasing around the world, with 1,385 of them – 43% of the global total – with headquarters in the US, followed by India with 327, Brazil (275), the United Kingdom (245) and China (101).

The PIE: Both China and India are important in international education..

RC: China and India are investing heavily in education, representing more than 70% of global edtech venture capital, and they also house nine out of the 10 edtech unicorns, according to a HolonIQ report.

Esperanza does not believe in zero-sum game competition. We believe startups can learn from and collaborate with one another to develop solutions with global significance.

The PIE: What are you hoping the Fellowship will help achieve and enable?

RC: The Fellowship will help 12 growth stage edtech startups to scale up, and particularly expand their reach to the fast-growing markets in Asia. It will also provide a platform for collaboration amongst different startups and create new business and investment opportunities.

Most important of all, Esperanza would like to contribute our part in catalysing the development of edtech to make learning more meaningful, effective and enjoyable.

The PIE: Is it the first time such an event and initiative has been held?

RC: It is an inaugural event – an all-expenses-paid five day program for the 12 Fellows. It provides an opportunity for the Fellows to understand the market and business opportunities of the Greater Bay Area, the Silicon Valley of China.

They will go to Hong Kong as the first stop of the program. A highlight of the Hong Kong program will be the Cyberport Venture Capital Forum, Hong Kong’s annual flagship tech venture event, on 3-4 November.

The Fellows will deliver their final pitches to the judges, showcase their innovations to investors, educators and corporate audiences, as well as network and meet with potential investors, partners and clients for collaboration and funding opportunities.

The PIE: Sounds an exciting opportunity.

RC: The second stop will be Shenzhen, the R&D and innovation hub of the Greater Bay Area. The Fellows will experience the rapid economic and technological developments in China, meet government officials and visit large tech companies that have strong edtech interests (like Tencent).

“The school as an institution will become more like an online store, where we can pick offerings from different parts of the world”

The PIE: It would be great to hear your forecast of what education delivery might look like in 10 years’ time?

RC: I don’t have a crystal ball but I guess we will become more empowered learners. We will have a greater choice on what, when, where and how we learn. The school as an institution will be more like an online store, where we can pick offerings from different parts of the world.

Startups and businesses will play a greater role, alongside governments and educators. We shall have a new generation of multinational ed-tech companies. AI and machine learning will be more developed, with each of us having a personal tutor.

Perhaps most important of all, technology will increase teachers’ productivity, allowing them more time to offer personalised support to students.

Instead of transferring knowledge, teachers will become more like personal life coaches helping students develop competencies, build character and strengthen skills that they need.

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