If you were born in the 90s, you would have probably played Neopets. The online world built on flash-player clickables was insanely popular, and all because you had a Neopet – an avatar that you could dress, feed, train, and battle with.
Image Credit: lingualgamers.com
Well, prepare for a flashback, as there is a new ‘Neopets’ in town. Kungfumath is an online portal created by a Singapore-based company that allows children to keep an avatar pet, dress, feed, train, and battle them. Only difference is, you earn your ability to do all that through solving math problems. KungfuMath founder Derrick Koh created the portal after he realised that children weren’t interested in the e-learning portals he engaged during his work with Achievia Education Hub, a chain of student care and tuition centers he founded as well.
“I realise that our students were not interested in the e-learning portals and are very keen to quickly finish their assigned online homework hastily so that they have extra time to play games on their computers,” said Koh. “Also, having been signed up with their learning portals by their teachers, they hardly have the initiative to log on to revise their work. They only visited the portals when their teachers assigned work to them online.”
This inspired the game-based structure of KungfuMath. While it provides all the educational learning materials a student would need based on the Ministry of Education’s Mathematics Syllabus, it also encourages them to play games with the new math theories they’ve learnt. The game-based learning not only inspires children to see math as something fun, but embeds the challenge of math into something they will feel inspired to return to on their own initiative.
Many parents have had positive things to say about Kungfumath, mostly about how engaged their children were to Kungfumath. “My son is always pestering me to allow him to log onto Kungfumath. I have never seen him so eager to practice on his Mathematical Skills,” said Angeline Lee, whose son Jovan is 10 years old.
Another parent, Jacqueline, says that her daughter Francine has always disliked Mathematics. “After being introduced to Kungfumath,” says Jacqueline. “The first thing she wants to do when she gets home from school is to do Math questions on Kungfumath.”
Student and Teacher Reunite in Business
Derrick Koh in the green polo shirt, Foo P.C. at the extreme right.
When founder Derrick Koh first thought up of the concept behind Kungfumath, he discussed it with a primary school teacher, whom he had maintained contact with. His teacher then mentioned that his Primary 6 math teacher had recently left the public education sector to join the private sector. This teacher, Foo Pau Choo, was well known then for being a teacher capable of inspiring students to learn, Koh realised that he wanted Foo to be on board for Kungfumath.
“I thought that if I was able to convince Ms Foo to join me, it will be a very interesting venture. (My teacher) passed me Ms Foo’s contact and I approached Ms Foo right away.”
Foo is now co-founder and Curriculum Director of Kungfumath, providing the expertise for the portal. During her 16 years with MOE, she has been a Head of Department of Mathematics and School Leader, presented in many educational conferences and conducted many Mathematics workshops for both experienced and beginning teachers – sharing with them on effective pedagogical strategies for helping underachievers.
This way, Kungfumath is able to promise MOE-standard curriculum in the portal, making sure that even while having fun on the portal, children are able to use the knowledge learnt to pass their school exams. They currently have 100,000 users, including users from 26 participating local schools and 1 Thai school.
While inspiring children to grow in their mathematics skills, Kungfumath is also growing in their own ways. As the portal is currently able to auto-generate an endless stream of questions, it will soon be able to customise and automatically assign the right questions to specific users through applying big data analytics, ensuring that practice can be made perfect. They will also be moving their success from their web-based portal onto a new Kungfumath app that will be launched in October – in time for children to prepare for their end-of-year examinations.
The Price of Great Education
Singapore has been considered one of the top education systems in the world according to the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), an international education ranking. In their 2012 assessment, Singapore was one of the top three in all three categories of Maths, Science, and Reading, and earlier this year was said to have topped the first PISA problem-solving test alongside South Korea.
But with these achievements come a whole new set of problems – a stressful and merciless education system that often pushes young children to their limits. Singapore’s competitive nature has ingrained their ‘never lose’ culture into the way young children learn with weekly tuition classes and extra-curricular homework on top of their own schoolwork. This has made children dread, or even hate, learning.
“I think Singapore’s education system is known globally with our students topping the rankings in international studies like PISA,” says Koh. “Recently, there is a lot of commotion on scrapping the PSLE as people find the system increasing stressful for their children to undertake. That is also why Kungfumath.sg is relevant, adding the fun element in learning.”
Perhaps it is time that children learn not only how to pass exams, but also how to have fun while learning. Kungfumath shows that it doesn’t always have to be about doing assessment books at a desk, and takes the challenge of math and puts it where children love it most – in their games.