The rising Indonesian edtech star wants to help high-school dropouts earn their diploma and learn the relevant skills to find a job – with an innovative solution lauded at this year’s MIT Solve Challenge
By Putu Agung Wija Putera
It first came to the world’s attention disrupting Indonesia’s education sector with its online tutor marketplace. A slew of products and three years later, Ruangguru has now set itself possibly its biggest challenge yet: Help high-school dropouts gain better job opportunities through education.
The Jakarta-based startup recently pitched such a solution at Solve, an offshoot of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) that provides innovators with resources to execute their ideas to solve real-life problems. It emerged as a big winner, clinching the Solver of MIT award and two others: the Atlassian Prize from the Atlassian Foundation; and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Indo-Pacific Development Prize.
According to Ruangguru, some 7 million youths in Indonesia aren’t receiving any formal education at all. At the same time, 30% of high-school-aged youth aren’t enrolled in high school or equivalent institutions, the Indonesian Central Bureau of Statistics says.
Hence Ruangguru proposes using online chat groups accessible by mobile phones and USB On-the-Go (OTG) devices to deliver lessons and guidance to these youths, so they gain basic skills and earn a high-school diploma – the minimum requirement for almost any job in Indonesia.
“In the future we plan to commercialize this project (with sensible pricing) and to partner with the private sector and government (for providing subsidies),” it said.
Over 3 million users
Ruangguru was founded in 2014 by Iman Usman and Belva Devara, who hit upon the idea of creating an online tutor marketplace after they had difficulty finding inexpensive tutors to help them prepare for graduate school in the US.
Today, their mobile app has more than 3 million users attracted by its multiple products. Students can get homework help by sending the questions to teachers (much like the popular Snapask app), as well as test themselves in online mock exams. The company also runs a learning management system that has been implemented in state schools countrywide.
Expanding on the app, Ruangguru’s new Digital Bootcamp program aims to connect students from across Indonesia in a chatroom. Each chatroom functions as a classroom, where dedicated tutors teach and interact with their students online.
The program covers sixth grade to high school, and there are special classes for those preparing for the national university entrance exams. Students pay as little as IDR 350,000 (about US$26) for study materials (roughly one academic year’s worth), and can use instalments.
The Digital Bootcamp has already “provided benefits for thousands of students”, said Usman, who is also the company’s Chief of Product and Partnership. “But we think that a solution like this can be used by students in the informal education sector to help them pass the ‘paket’ exam,” he said, referring to the Paket C high-school equivalency exam.
To pass the national high-school exams, many Indonesians turn to prep schools for help but those can be expensive or hard to find. For high-school dropouts from lower-income households, the challenge is doubled as many of them tend to be already working in casual jobs in the informal sectors.
Its chat group format, Ruangguru says, can help working students who don’t have the time to go to prep schools. It also lets participants, who could find it awkward to study alongside younger peers, learn in a comfortable setting, while allowing the program to reach youths nationwide, creating a diverse environment.
The other half of its innovation is lesson content delivery. Ruangguru’s model leverages the high smartphone ownership among Indonesians, who are used to interacting over social media apps like Facebook and WhatsApp. However, data connections can be spotty, especially in the outlying regions, and delivering materials like video and worksheets online can be difficult and costly.
To solve this, Ruangguru uses USB OTG devices that would contain the study materials students can access offline, before they log into the chat groups to interact with their tutor and their peers. It also provides smartphones for rent so their program remains accessible to those without phones.
To test the product, Ruangguru will open the Digital Bootcamp to 500 high-school dropouts studying for high-school equivalency exams in prep schools. It will track their progress using the chatrooms and mini-tests throughout the year, and hopes to see 400 of the students finish with successfully obtaining their high-school diploma.
And its work doesn’t end there. Not only will participants receive career guidance from a consultant to chart their learning path and gain workplace-ready skills, Ruangguru will also track the number of them who manage to secure a job within three months of receiving their diploma.
While the company is absorbing the US$600,000 cost of running the program in the first year, the Digital Bootcamp is for profit. If the project continues past its pilot, Ruangguru plans to charge a “sensible” fee to make the program more sustainable, yet keeping it accessible to poor and underserved youths. There are also plans to partner with private players and government bodies to keep the program affordable, such as by providing free mobile data subscriptions.
Ruangguru last raised its Series B funding in a round led by UOB Venture Management in July 2017, shortly after receiving a grant from international mobile operator trade body GSMA.