5 TIPS on How Learning Centres can get through a Crisis like COVID-19?

Malaysia’s Prime Minister had announced the prolonged Movement Controlled Order (MCO) for another 14 days until 14 April. At the same time, Singapore has announced additional measures to curb COVID-19 that is to ban all large gatherings and suspending all centre-based tuition and enrichment classes until 30 April. Given that having face-to-face classes is the livelihood for most of us, we definitely feel a great negative impact to our business.

Hence, a support session participated by 160+ learning centre operators across Malaysia, Singapore, Macau and Jakarta, was organised via Zoom and moderated by Dr Darren Gouk; founder of AOneSchools – learning centre software providers in Southeast Asia. The meeting focused on 5 key areas:

 

NO 1 – Online teaching and e-Learning

 

All centre operators agreed that there is a need to shift from offline to online teaching and learning. There are already many existing online platforms that provides content for students to learn from. As a result, parents may freeze or withdraw their children from your centre and substitute the classes with an online provider. Hence, in this situation, we should pivot fast and switch to online as soon as possible. Focus on those parents who are ready to engage in online learning and maximise our effort there.

From the discussion, several notable platforms that can facilitate e-learning were mentioned – Google Classroom, Zoom, Skype, AOneSchools Online Classroom. While content providers mentioned were iLearnAce, Udemy, SmartJen and 学而思. Please note that not all brands mentioned are free of charge to use while some might only incur a fee for a more premium package. AOneSchools is not in any way affiliated to the brands above besides our own AOneSchools Online Classroom.

   

In general, the adoption rate (parents who agreed to online learning) is about 60% to 85% depending on the type of lessons that is provided. It is worth noting that not all parents will agree with the idea of online learning. Experience sharing from several centre operators reveal that common friction faced are parents are not as keen to allow their younger children to use a laptop or tablet to learn and they do not believe that e-learning will as effective as offline lessons.

To tackle these issues, you need to address the initial aim of parents sending their children for lessons in the first place – that is to learn and improve on a certain subject or skill. If their children’s learning curve is suddenly disrupted, they might not be able to catch up in the future. Highlight to them the importance of continuing their education even in such difficult time. Besides that, you may suggest parents to sit with their younger children and assist them in the first few online classes and see whether they are able to cope with it. A typical big classroom setting can also be split into smaller groups with shorter sessions.

Online learning can be used beyond the typical classroom arrangement. Several music centre owners have conducted various classes through Zoom. For example, a Piano lesson provider uploads pre-recorded videos to Youtube for music instrument teaching. Students are required to watch these videos before their online class for a more engaging class. Parents are loving this initiative as they get to see first-hand what their children have been learning all this time.

 

 

Once centre operators are aware and ready to take their lessons online, there are many pre-cautions, SOP, steps to be taken care of. You may find more in depth in our separate posts – ARE YOU READY for Online Teaching? – Guideline for Learning Centre Owners

 

 “The Education Market is always there. Parents and students will still be spending in education but in different ways. We have to be agile and quick to change our model to cater their needs!”

 

NO 2 – Communication & Engagement with parents/students and teacher

   

Over-communication is always better than under-communication. As centre owner-operators, it is your responsibility to constantly engage with all stakeholder of your business i.e parents / students, teachers, franchisees, licensees etc. While you might be worried on the financial aspect of the business, parents are as worried for their children’s learning progress and teachers are worried about the future of their job and income.

When coming up with a plan for this period, whether is to have replacement classes or shift to online classes, you must include your staff members in this plan. This is because they will be the frontliners to execute whatever that is planned out and they understand better on the possible challenges that will occur. This also gives the opportunity for a transparent discussion and a clear direction for everyone in the organization to follow.

For the parents’ side, always address the situation as it is. Do not be vague by telling them everything will be fine but rather mention specifically your interim solution and how it will be carried out. Learning centres must be well prepared to inform parents even before any further announcements from the Government i.e. the Prolonged MCO until 14th April. It certainly makes a huge difference if a centre operator informs their students and parents on their interim arrangement (e.g online class, pro-rate fees, replacement class) immediately after the government’s announcement versus another centre operator that only notify parents on their centre’s arrangement five days after the announcement. The same theory applies to communication with teachers and other stakeholders, ie. Franchisees, licensees as well.

 

3. What should I do to maximise lockdown period?

   

This is the best time to promote your centre on social media. This is because everyone is scrolling through their Facebook and Instagram at home. Continue to engage with your current clients (parents) and use this opportunity to promote your centre and attract past leads and contacts. For example, some centre owners organised Facebook Live sessions to showcase their unique selling points such as how they teach their students. This is a great tool to use as parents can easily share this to their friends and family members to watch together. Not only would this further engage your current students for more stickiness towards your business, but at the same time it will also attract new students to your learning centre.

In addition to this, constantly post on your Facebook page and Instagram, whether it is sharing a funny joke or posting questions. By doing so, this sub-consciously reminds parents why they signed up for your lessons in the first place and will continue to join your centre after the lockdown period. For fitness related classes or music school operators, most commonly seen strategies are utilising hashtags (#) on Instagram and Tik-Tok to build the engagement. A simple search will show that they are many videos on these platforms from “workout from home” to “learn to play a song in 14 days”.

On the backend of the business, take this time to clear all documents and review aspects of the business that you previously did not have the time for. For example, prepare a cash-flow analysis and business performance review for the first quarter of 2020. Compare it with your targeted achievement and locate areas of the business that can be improved. Get to know the following metrics:

  • % of student withdrawal on a monthly basis
  • Student enrolment channels
  • % spending on salary
  • Life-time value of your students
  • Which programme (lesson) performs the best
  • Which teacher generates more revenue

At the same time, you may also consider to enhance your lessons plans by including more teaching tools or utilizing various platforms for a higher productive class.

As a software provider to learning centres, we observed that centre operators are taking this opportunity during this MCO period to perform data entry to the system. Similarly, new users are going through our on-boarding process where they are guided to use their system. This includes all of their team members on systemising the centre operation using our solution. By the end of this period, they will be able to restart their business stronger with more organised and automated operations.

 

4. Government incentives and opportunities for SMEs (in Malaysia only)

   

On 24th March 2020, Bank Negara Malaysia announced an automatic six-months moratorium for all loans including business loans, property mortgages and hire purchase. This gives a better cash-flow arrangement for all business owners. At the same time, if you are renting the location of your centre, you may negotiate the rental fees with the landlord. Some owners shared that their landlords were understanding enough to give 50% off their monthly rent. Click here for more info.

Bank Negara Malaysia has also allocated RM2 billion to alleviate the short-term cash flow problems. Eligible SME owners may apply for financing with a capped rate of 3.75% p.a with a tenure of up to 5.5 years. Applications are available for major banks in Malaysia. Click here for more info.

Under the 2020 Budget, the government; through Ministry of Finance (MOF) collaborated with Bank Simpanan Nasional (BSN), SME Bank, and Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC) in setting up a grant for eligible Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to adopt digitalisation in daily operations.

Launched in mid-February, this is a 50% matching grant of up to RM5,000 per company for the subscription of any digital solution such as a management system, accounting software and HR payroll solutions. This matching grant will be worth RM500 million over 5 years, limited to the first 100,000 application. Click here for more info.

   

AOneSchools has been selected as one of the Technology Solution Providers (TSP) under this initiative. Any learning centres such as tuition centres, enrichment classes providers, kindergartens, daycare centres, swim schools, music schools that meet the eligibility criteria will receive 50% subsidy (up to RM5,000 when adopting our management system.

 

5. PLAN B – What should I do if further lockdown for 3 months?

   

“Plan for the worst, do our best” was the tagline of the discussion. At this rate, no one can predict if the lockdown period will continue and if the COVID-19 situation will worsen. Hence, the only thing we can do is to plan for the worst and do our best throughout this entire period.

Firstly, you need to face the reality and estimate how long your business can sustain with zero revenue. By getting that aspect done, proceed to plan for your cash-flow management. List down all fixed cost, variable cost and operational cost. For example, loan repayment, rental fees, salaries, utility bills, printing cost, office supplies, royalty payment to HQ. Locate which cost can be lowered and what can be done to cut expenses.

Secondly, in terms of running the business, many centre owners asked how they can manage their business from home. At this crucial period, it is suggested that you include automation in any of your work procedure. This includes automated fee collection (auto-billing, in-app payment), cashless fee collection, replacement class arrangement, e-attendance and e-progress reports. By doing so, you can always be on-the-go and still manage your business while reducing your operational cost. By using AOneSchools, centre operators can basically manage the centre operations from home!

 
Features - AOneSchools
 

Finally, continue to offer e-Learning to your students. While you might experience some resistance from parents, having some students is clearly better than having no students at all. In the long run if this continues, parents will not have the luxury of choosing not to join online classes as this will be the only option for education. The education industry will continue to survive as the market is always there. It is just how agile we can be to change our business model and adapt to current time.

“We can’t change the situation, but we can change our mindset in dealing with the situation positively.”

Dr Darren Gouk, Founder of AOneSchools

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