Over lunch sometime in 2015, colleagues at a small IT company in Hanoi, Vietnam were talking about missing their kindergarten-age children during the day. These dads and moms wondered: What were their kids doing in school that moment? Were they learning well? Eating enough? Playing with friends? Were they able to take a nap?
And then, a eureka moment: Binh Nguyen, father of a three-year-old girl, said: “Why don’t we create an app for teachers to send notes and pictures of our kids to us during the day? That way we would feel like we are close to our kids even while we are at work and they are at daycare!”
Binh and four of his lunch buddies eventually incorporated KidsOnline in July 2016.
A unique service
Dau Thuy Ha is one of the five co-founders of KidsOnline. “We checked around,” she says. “We asked our kids’ kindergartens, other kindergartens, some IT people we knew, and there was not really anybody providing IT service to kindergartens in Vietnam yet.”
Kindergartens in Vietnam tend to be small operations, managed by early-childhood educators who cannot afford to invest in expensive school management systems.
Clearly, there was demand. Parents of young children in Vietnam’s cities are young and tech-savvy. They have smart phones. “We are speaking of a country with a predominantly young population of over 92 million. Among these, 4.5 million are children of pre-school age…we felt emboldened with the vision of connecting parents with their children via an app,” she says.
The result was KidsOnline, something even small kindergartens can afford because it was not heavy on capital. “KidsOnline is a SAAS or software as a service business. The company has a fixed monthly fee for kindergartens that use the KidsOnline system and app – a fixed amount per child per month.”
The app, available on iOS and Android, allows parents to communicate directly with teachers, know what the kids are doing in real time, and monitor their daily learning progress. It also provides information on upcoming school activities that parents may want to join in.
And for such an amount – some schools pass this on to parents, absorb it as expenses, or embed them in class fees – parents and teachers alike appear to get what they seem to crave. “From our surveys, the most common is that parents cite peace of mind,” Ha says. Once parents know what is going on, they get to relax and can focus better on what they have to do for the day.
The app is also a boon for pre-school teachers, who must juggle the responsibilities of educating students and taking care of them at the same time. Ha Phuong, for instance, has been a teacher for five years and has been suffering from the pressures of teaching, recording class information, as well as communicating with parents through paper-based reports, email, text messages, phone calls, Facebook, and face-to-face interaction.
KidsOnline allows her to do all that in just one platform.
Nearly two years since the founders hatched the idea for an app over lunch, KidsOnline has a team of 22 full-time and part-time staff members. They also recruit international interns, especially developers. “We now serve thousands of children in over 60 kindergartens in key cities of Vietnam – and every day we get new inquiries,” Ha says.
The plan is to implement KidsOnline at a critical mass level in Vietnam, get partners onboard to improve content and marketing, and become the dominant kindergarten app in the country.
Indeed, pre-school education in today’s tech-driven world presents various opportunities that allow parents and schools to interact more effectively across non-traditional channels.
“Parents look for kindergartens with good track record and reputation. The more progressive schools adopt new education methods and technologies…as they position themselves to be the best choice,” she says.