Designed to assist education technology (EdTech) startups to develop teaching and learning solutions on the AWS cloud, EdStart is helping push boundaries and innovation in the sector.
“Technology is now so prevalent and information so accessible, that there are ways we can help improve learning and teaching in schools to create a much more efficient environment within the school system. Software companies, education technology companies are really at the forefront of that seismic shift of making things better for schools, the students, the teachers and even the parents. Technology has such a wide spread implication to have a positive impact when adopted in an appropriate way” says Vincent Quah, APAC Regional Head for Education, Research, Healthcare and Not-for-Profit, Worldwide Public Sector at Amazon Web Services.
Speaking with Kochie’s Business Builders (KBB) Quah explains that under existing circumstances there is no single vendor or software company that can provide all the solutions a school will need.
“That’s one of the reasons we developed EdStart,” he says. “It is definitely about the ecosystem. We need the participation of a large number or EdTech startups to solve these issues. It’s through this observation we decided to create this program where we bring a level of support to the EdTech startup community to help them develop these [much needed] services.”
Launched in 2018, EdStart is already progressing well and has attracted some talented startups who are connecting schools and parents in fabulous ways. Quah says he is encouraged by the number of responses the program has received. Turnaround time for the average application is less than two weeks and Quah says AWS is seeking to work with more startups to address specific pain points in the school system.
According to Quah the school system seems to face similar pain points the world over. Quah says the subject of digital wellness is becoming a major talking point within the education sector.
“As more and more students get online it is becoming very important. We are learning some of the downside of these interactions and engagements and the challenges students face.”
One founder addressing the issue of digital wellbeing is EdStart participant Greg Margossian. A father of one, Margossian is the originator of Saasyan Assure, an EdTech software company that offers a cyber welfare solution. Saasyan Assure works with existing firewalls and allows schools to detect, monitor and report unusual behaviour online. It protects students from Internet threats such as cyber-bullying, online predators and inappropriate content.
Much like Quah, Margossian believes the notion of being a ‘good digital citizen” will become imperative in years to come. He suggests that his software not only assists schools in protecting the welfare of their students but also promotes the idea of a good digital citizen. Margossian tells KBB he’s worked closely with schools to develop his platform and touts the benefits of its ‘pastoral care’.
“We introduced features that allow schools to identify students at risk – It gives the schools visibility and a more human layer.”
Margossian’s software also allows schools to block inappropriate content on demand. Remember that horrible Momo challenge? If your child’s school had Saasyan Assure installed, they’d be protected from it. Margossian is quick to point out that his program offers very specific targeted protection.
“So, you don’t miss out on good things on the internet. At the same time, you are not exposing children to bad things or things that waste time.”
The founder says schools have embraced the tech as have their students.
“It’s all about encouraging the students to be good digital citizens. If they understand why the school is doing it – it’s all about the cause and effect. Especially when you point out to them that if you have a bad digital footprint, that will remain forever.”
The Australian Government’s Office of the eSafety Commissioner reported one in five Australian children had been threatened or abused online in the 12 months to June 2017. Of that abuse, an overwhelming amount was attributed to peer-to-peer conflict.
Margossian says Saasyan Assure’s AI allows him to expose legitimate concerns for schools that will allow them to better protect their students. With its ability to raise red flags and alert schools of risky behaviour, Saasyan Assure has launched at just the right time.
Similarly, young entrepreneur Blake Garrett has set about eliminating another pain point that will be dear to the heart of many a school principal.
Garrett is the founder of School Bytes, a comprehensive cloud-based school management platform which allows a school’s front office staff to streamline their admin and operational processes.
Garrett originally developed the program whilst a student pursuing his HSC at Chatswood High School. His platform has now been adopted by 326 New South Wales government schools. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and with School Bytes, Garrett saw a need and jumped to fill it.
“I was in the school office one day and there were 1000 pieces of paper on the desk and envelops and I said to the staff ‘what are you doing?” Garrett recalls.
“They said, ‘It’s all the school’s statements. We have to stuff the envelopes and mail them out to all the parents.’ I was stunned. I said, ‘Are you the only school that does this?’ And they said, ‘No, it’s schools all over the state’.
“I couldn’t believe it. To top it off they said they had to do it once or twice a term and once they sent out the statements there was no way to receive payments. Parents were returning cash – which staff had to collate and handle. I thought surely, we can do something better. So I built something that allowed the school to send out notes to parents via email, allow them to pay immediately online through a portal and be really responsive.”
Garrett’s program proved a huge success. “Chatswood High sent it out and received a ridiculous amount of money overnight!” he laughs.
He began to think about how he could optimise his platform, developing options for split payments, flexible payment options and voluntary contributions. It wasn’t too long before a second school came calling.
“Artarmon contacted me – they’d heard about the system from the Chatswood principal. And they said ‘we’re happy to pay for it’.”
Garrett tells KBB everything snowballed from there. He ditched his prototype and developed School Bytes in its entirety. Schools began clamouring to get access.
“The system can be set up in under 30 seconds. It’s tied into the Department’s infrastructure and we are launching around two new schools a day,” he says.
Support for the program has been unanimous amongst its early adopters.
“Everyone has the same pain point. It allows office staff to reallocate their time to do work that is of more benefit,” says Garrett.
To date his smallest school numbers just 40 students, while the largest has 1000s.
“All the info is synced to AWS cloud keeping everyone’s data secure.”
He says having AWS support has been integral to the growth of School Bytes.
“One of the biggest benefits has been the ability to scale our system to a large number of schools without significant investment in our infrastructure, meaning we can focus on the solutions and our customers,” Garrett says.
As a former teacher, Quah says he appreciates the challenges schools can face.
“We tend to think of the bright shiny objects but it is simple procedural tasks, the ones that are nothing much to shout about – but are so critical in improving processes and reducing overheads and saving people stress – these are the ones that make a lot of differences to the schools.
“These EdTech startups are pushing boundaries to improve the education environment for teachers, students, and parents alike,” said Quah. “AWS EdStart helps entrepreneurs with great ideas to gain fast access to AWS services so they can build solutions quickly to solve real-world challenges. As these EdTech companies grow, they can scale their businesses seamlessly and go global by utilising 20 AWS Regions with 61 Availability Zones around the world to expand their solutions globally.”