Learn Education’s work, growth, philosophy, and the mission that started it all.
“‘What is a social enterprise?’ I had to ask that back when we were new. We didn’t know what it was!” — an amusing revelation from Mr Tanin Timtong, co-founder of Learn Education in Thailand, the 2015 winner of the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia.
The award-winning social enterprise, which provides innovative learning platforms by leveraging technology, was founded in 2011, driven solely by a mission to provide quality education in Thailand. Fastforward to the present: Learn Education has impacted 3,000 schools and trained 12,000 teachers in the last eight years.
What makes Learn Education special is its commitment to a social cause that has not been lost despite its growth over the years. For Tanin, it goes right back to their mission. “We started the company with a mission in mind, and who we wanted to help. We didn’t think about being a social enterprise — especially since Thailand really only became aware of the concept five to six years ago.”
Tanin, who came from a humble background, recognised the value of education, along with his business partners Mr Sathorn and Mr Sutee. They started Learn Education with the aim of making high-quality education available to all, particularly the underserved through a tiered pricing model. This led them to provide their products and services for free to hilltribe schools and schools run by the Buddhist clergy.
In 2014, two years after establishing Learn Education, a friend told Tanin that he was running a social enterprise and encouraged him to take part in the Thai Social Enterprise Office’s inaugural competition.
“After winning the top prize, that’s when I thought, ‘I guess we are a social enterprise after all.’”
The win encouraged them to also join the DBS-NUS Social Venture Challenge Asia in 2015, not just for the additional funding but also for the recognition from established, regionally-recognised organisations like DBS and the National University of Singapore (NUS).
“Domestic awareness about us is one thing, but international recognition is on another level. We knew that an endorsement from a well-known organisation, especially a university like NUS, would help us expand back home,” Tanin shared.
“Universities are trusted symbols of quality education in Thailand, and Asia in general. As a social enterprise in education, without connection to wellknown universities, it is quite difficult to get buy-in from schools and have them believe in what we do,” Tanin commented about their collaborations with well-established universities. “But connection with universities are also important because they have different strengths that we can tap on, like extensive knowledge in technology and the humanities, for example.”
Learn Education also works in stride with government efforts on education. The government’s top-down approach may reach the majority of schools but resources might be too limited to enable them to reach all. The private sector can then step in to make sure no school or student gets left behind.
Hence, the government’s buy-in to innovative solutions is crucial — but can be especially challenging in a conformist society like Thailand’s. Tanin shared what has worked for them:
“Align with their policy, but use a different approach. Schools are more likely to work with you if you are aligned with policies because they will look for ways to execute them.”
Pictured above, from left to right:
Tanin Timtong, Wisarut Winyu-ekasit and Phata Techatewon
This is illustrated by their projects like TrainKru (“Train Teacher” in English), where teachers can choose the courses they want to learn and plan to apply in the classroom. The programme provides hard content training to further develop teachers to be more effective in their specialised subjects. It also offers soft skills training which includes time management, student and classroom management and coaching facilitation. Such courses are currently not part of teachers’ structured training as they are mostly trained on teaching content. With the quickly developing technology in a modern economy that students will have to navigate, what teachers have learnt during their formal training may not be applicable or enough.
For a social enterprise centred on developing people, Learn Education grew with the help of the talents it has attracted and developed. According to Tanin, at the very heart of Learn Education was its mission, which has struck a chord with many socially conscious young Thais who also believe in the impact the private sector can create. But what does Learn Education do to retain them?
“We give them space,” Tanin said. Elaborating on this are two members from his team. “I like challenges, and there are plenty to address in Thai education. Here, I’m given the space to explore and try out solutions,” said Wisarut Winyu-ekasit, Senior Business Development Associate at Learn Education.
General Manager at Learn Education, Phata Techatewon, who also works on other social enterprise ventures, said he had been looking for ways to get involved in the education sector, which drew him to Learn Education. “They also allowed me to choose my projects.”
This project includes a workshop in collaboration with a psychologist from Thammasat University, with the objective of assessing students’ learning styles and to work with school leaders to integrate these into how their classrooms are organised.
According to Phata, Thai education is set up in a way that pushes students to study what they may not be interested in. “There are currently no tools or workshops to help students discover what they like, what they can become, or whether — after choosing to study something for four to five years — the trajectory of their career will lead to something fulfilling.”
The workshop will use psychology tools to find out more about the students such as their learning styles, attitudes and current 21st-century skills. This is to know how the students learn best. “The students will also be given tools to help them understand themselves at every moment, since they are likely to change when they gain more knowledge.”
From what they have shared, a common thread running through these projects, services and internal talent management seem to emerge: providing students, teachers and their own talents the tools and space to bring out their best.
In a world that is experiencing disruptive waves of change, Learn Education still has much room to grow, and many schools to serve. However, the company’s approach of providing schools, teachers and students the tools and space to explore and learn appears to be rooted in the belief of acknowledging each individual’s strengths and evolving interests.
It is an approach that is visible in the company’s culture itself, along with its enduring spirit to serve Thai society. If it remains true to its mission as on the day it was founded, it will be very interesting to keep up with Learn Education’s story as it continues to grow in Thailand — and perhaps, to the rest of the region.
Melody Español is the Managing Editor of THink.