English language education, but not as you know it
Learning in a classroom is so out of date. So proclaims Hien Dao, the founder and CEO of Rockit Online, a technology startup that challenges the traditional classroom model.
Dao grew up in Hanoi but pursued her graduate education in the United States. Now back in Vietnam, she works to provide for others the guidance and education she was grateful to receive when growing up.
After successfully launching Golden Path Academics, an education company that offers college counselling and skills training to prepare Vietnamese students to study abroad, Dao turned her attention to the internet with the launch of Rockit Online in 2013. In 2014, Rockit secured US$500,000 (VND10.9 billion) in funding from Silicon Valley investors.
Rockit offers small classes taught through an online portal. The company strives to make supplemental education accessible, affordable and convenient. Courses cost less than at competitive English language centres, but are of comparable quality.
Dao compares standard Vietnamese classrooms to a closed box. The adherence to traditional teaching methods, teachers and textbooks makes it a difficult model to penetrate. “The Vietnamese education landscape wasn’t opening itself up to new ideas or new players,” she says. “Who will enter that space without that space opening itself up?”
The Path of Progress
With Rockit, Dao is disrupting Vietnam’s education system through technology. “Education technology provides atypical educators access to students because they no longer need a classroom, school or campus,” she explains.
Refuting concerns about the rising phobia of ‘screen addiction’, Dao contends that Rockit’s model is all about active learning. When you teach or learn through their platform, “you don’t look at the computer,” she says. “You look at your teacher and classmates. It’s hard to ignore that interaction.”
Classes are capped at five students, and students and teachers communicate through video, voice and chat. Video courses are increasingly included in Rockit’s course catalogue, offering a lower-cost option.
Small classes enable Rockit to emphasise discipline in language learning. Rockit’s team calls students before each class and after any sessions they may miss, a level of attention hard to manage with offline class structures. “I want to help learners stick to something they have started,” says Dao.
Rockit employs teachers from all over the world, though Vietnamese teachers who have studied (or are currently studying) abroad comprise the majority, as these teachers have a solid understanding of how Vietnamese students learn. When hiring, Rockit stresses teacher quality and engagement with students; students rate potential hires after online demos.
While Rockit primarily offers English language courses, now more than ever, the need for professional development is on the rise.
According to Dao, Vietnam’s higher education system is one of the region’s weakest, with compromised resources and outdated programming. “Career readiness is lacking,” she says. “Many graduates get out of university and don’t even know how to write a CV.” Rockit hopes to supplement Vietnamese college education and to prepare students and young professionals for the quickly globalising workforce. The startup is currently fundraising for this upcoming venture.
“My vision for long-term expansion would be an education programme that serves people in many aspects of their career and life,” explains Dao.
Millennials and Gen-Z-ers are increasingly eschewing traditional schedules in favour of flexibility and convenience. All this makes the growing shift from classroom to computer inevitable, especially for supplemental education. In Vietnam, Rockit is paving the way. — Noey Neumark