Solution Overview

Solution Name

STEAM for Vietnam

One-line solution summary

Free world-class STEAM education for Vietnamese children through online-merge-offline model (OMO) powered by cutting-edge technology and original content.

Pitch your solution

Lack of access to high-quality STEAM education may hinder children in Vietnam from reaching their full potential and becoming globally competitive in the future.

We solve this challenge at scale by pioneering the OMO model enabled by cutting-edge technology, original content, field-experienced instructors, and operational excellence.

The OMO concept allows one exceptional instructor to educate and engage with thousands of students on a real-time basis, minimizing the requirement for certified local STEAM teachers. Students can be located anywhere and receive additional assistance from local teachers or remote teaching assistants. 

Our technology ecosystem consists of four components: (1) an LMS, (2) a live app that allows students to interact with content, classmates, teaching assistants, and instructors during live lectures, (3) a social network for students to connect and share their work (STEAMESE Profile), and (4) an analytics platform for learning recommendation and product improvement. This ecosystem is fueled by gamified, engaging content; each course is similar to a TV show, and each lecture is similar to an episode with a defined goal.

The curriculum is created by industry experts and adapted from global leading institutions. We have reduced the financial hurdles for students, particularly those in remote areas, by making the curriculum free and available online.

In addition to providing foundational STEAM knowledge, equal access to STEAM education nurtures crucial competencies for children's future success, particularly problem solving and creative thinking. These skills promote individual improvement and enhance the quality of the Vietnamese workforce, benefiting economic growth and welfare.

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Increase equitable access to quality learning opportunities through open sourced, offline, or virtual models, especially for underserved learners in low connectivity environments

Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Hanoi, Hoàn Kiếm, Hanoi, Vietnam

Is your solution working in Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and/or Malaysia?

  • Vietnam

What specific problem are you solving in Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, and/or Malaysia?

The problem that we are aiming to solve is students in Vietnam do not have equal access to high-quality and up-to-date STEAM education. This issue is caused by (1) outdated curriculums (2) a shortage of qualified STEAM teachers and (3) a financial divide between rural and urban areas. 

First, Vietnam's existing STEAM curriculum is out of date because we are using resources that were designed years ago (many schools are still teaching Pascal). It could take months, if not years, to update the curriculum in the educational system. Furthermore, the majority of high-quality learning materials are written in English. Only a small number of Vietnamese students can learn in English, making it even more difficult for policymakers, educators, and even self-learners to gain access to a curriculum specifically catered to Vietnamese.

Second, qualified STEAM teachers are in short supply in Vietnam. The shortage is considerably more severe in rural areas. In fact, the teachers who can supply the highest-quality materials are either international or Vietnamese experts who work for large corporations, teach at top universities, and live abroad. Students in Vietnam, whether in the city or in the countryside, have few opportunities to learn directly from these experts.

Third, even if these experts are available in Vietnam, the cost of learning from them or studying overseas is prohibitively expensive. Even the expense of learning (laptop, internet access, energy, etc.) can be a financial burden for some students.

As of 2020, there are approximately 17 million Vietnamese in the school-attending (6-18) age group. These numbers will increase to 24 million students in the next three years. This issue impacts students in 63 cities and provinces across the country.

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

We focus on Vietnamese children aged 8-16. As of 2020, there are approximately 17 million children in this age group. They live in all 63 cities/provinces of Vietnam. Nearly 50% of these cities have an average personal income of less than $2000/year (appx. $170/month).  We ran three pilot semesters (Summer 2020, Spring 2021, Summer 2021) before bringing our program into school in Fall 2021.  To better understand student’s needs, we take actions that fall into one of the three categories:

(1) Immediate feedback from students during live class allows teachers to adjust each lesson’s speed and flow immediately during each lesson.

  • In-class surveys to get students’ direct feedback

  • In-class quizzes to measure student’s understanding of learning materials

  • In-class feedback from TAs who are answering questions from students live.

(2) Semester overall feedback from students and parents points out overall problems so we can better design the course’s structure, content, and timeline.

  • 1:1 interviews with students and parents, involving all team members from Education, Operations to Engineering before, during and after each semester.

  • Open discussion meeting with all parents and students  

  • Mid-term and end-of-semester survey for each course

(3) Feedback from educators allows us to intervene when onsite teachers struggle and improve our training program for them to make sure they can support students more effectively.

  • Weekly meeting with all partner schools to detect problems students encountering and listen to proposed solutions from teachers


How does the problem you are addressing, the solution you have designed, and the population you are serving align with the Challenge?

Our mission is to provide equal access to STEAM learning opportunities to children in Vietnam regardless of their backgrounds. SFV accomplishes this by providing students with the greatest possible learning experiences at no cost. We bring the best Vietnamese STEAM professionals from all over the world to Vietnamese students. With our network of world-class caliber Vietnamese-speaking technology experts, professionals, and educators on our platform, we are able to provide access and connection between the best instructors with students in Vietnam. Our platform now has 20 teachers from four countries (US, Canada, Singapore, and Vietnam) and eight tech companies (namely Microsoft, Google, etc.). The curriculum is created by industry experts and adapted from leading institutions in developed countries. Because the program is free and online, we have lowered the financial barriers for students, especially for those in rural areas. We worked hard with partners to give students fully free robotic kits, even in robotics classes that required advanced gear. Furthermore, while our program is free and just requires students to have access to the internet and low-end laptops, we recognize that not all students in remote areas have access to these necessities. In a future campaign, we'll be collaborating with UNICEF and other partners to provide free laptops and internet access to students in need.

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Pilot: A project, initiative, venture, or organization applying its research, product, service, or business model in at least one context or community

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Hung Tran, PhD, Co-founder & CEO, is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is dedicated to assisting younger Vietnamese generations through a variety of community programs.

More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful

What makes your solution innovative?

SFV transforms tech education into a unique experience using the project-based approach. Unlike traditional heavy curriculum teachings with a teacher-centered approach, we encourage our students to actively study and interact with one another. Our courses are well-written and structured similar to a TV show. Our students learn as they complete the tasks (in the form of minigames) with guidance from the “hosts”, which are our highly skilled lecturers. Each fraction of knowledge that our students gain during class will build on the valuable skill set to carry out the final course project. With this approach, STEAM for Vietnam strives for the following impacts: (1) our students to naturally acquire one of the most complicated knowledge, (2) the fun and excitement in our course to spark a desire to learn within our students, (3) the effectiveness of our solution will positively impact Vietnam’s K-12 curriculums for the greater good of Vietnamese children. 

In order to implement the model, we’ve built an ecosystem including (1) a Learning Management System (LMS) to manage students, courses, tests, and student support, (2) a Live app, a web application that allows students to participate in live lectures and interact with contents, classmates, teaching assistants, and instructors in real-time, (3) STEAM Profile, a social network for students to connect and share their works and experience learning STEAM with others, similar to “LinkedIn for children”, and (4) an analytics platform to capture and analyze student’s studying activities for recommendation and prediction as well as product and content improvement. 

Have you tested your solution’s approach? If so, how?

We are experimenting with our approach at a small scale starting with teaching computer science subjects to children from 8 years old and up. There are four computer science courses so far: (1) CS001 Introduction to Computational Thinking & Scratch Programing for students 8+ years old who study computer science for the first time; (2) CS101 Introduction to Computer Science with Python for students 12+ years old and up; (3) CS102 Building Modern Web Applications with Python and JavaScript for students 12+ years old who want to learn the real-world knowledge and skills; and (4) CS201 Introduction to Robotics Programming with VEX IQ for students 12+ years old who want to learn both software and hardware. Over 30K students have signed up for the first two courses which have been delivered following our OMO model backed by our technology ecosystem and innovative content taught by field experienced experts. 

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

All of the classes are operated online, using the technology ecosystem. Our software and its foundational infrastructure have been crucial to the success of our students during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they will continue to be crucial for our mission of providing accessible education to students in Vietnam. The entire infrastructure is hosted on Cloud Services Providers, primarily DigitalOcean, and on Google Cloud Platform (GCP) for some specialized services.

Using Dockerized containers and Kubernetes, all of our platforms, including Open EdX Learning Management System, STEAMESE Profile Social Learning Network, Live App, Analytics Platform, and others, are structured as linked micro-services. We currently run 10 Kubernetes clusters, 70 computing machines, and 15 managed databases, among other things. With our rising user base, these numbers are projected to skyrocket in the near future (7.5X active user growth last year). We'll also have more complicated requirements, requiring more specialized micro-services (e.g., identification, alerts, and search) that are critical to our offerings.

Our cloud infrastructure also enables us to operate with a data-driven culture. We built an Analytics Platform using ElasticSearch to collect data across all our platforms, set up Airflow pipelines to orchestrate data transfer from different sources, and leveraged GCP’s BigQuery and Data Studio to power data visualization and machine learning development.

What is your theory of change?

Through providing equal access to high-quality STEAM education, we aim to equip Vietnamese children with the necessary skills to compete globally in the future. The goal is that after students finish our program, they are fully prepared to either enter the workforce or to continue further education in technology. If they choose not to follow a tech career, STEAM learning nurtures the skills that are critical for future success, especially problem solving and creative thinking. In an era driven by technological advancement,  rapid change makes knowledge quickly obsolete. However, the ability to think logically and to create innovative solutions will help students solve complex problems throughout their lifetime. These skills foster the advancement of each individual, improve the quality of the Vietnamese workforce, thus boosting Vietnam’s economic growth and welfare.

Our course roadmap includes a three-year computer science curriculum along with critical yet practical Science, Engineering, Math, and Art. Each semester, we introduce a new course; we currently offer four courses including Computational Thinking; Python; Robotics; and Web development. 

In addition to programming skills, we encourage students to gain other analytical skills such as critical thinking, cooperation through team projects, and presenting skills through final projects. As teachers, our software engineers and tech professionals not only provide academic information, but also practical and standard working methods.

To be able to support students across the country, we not only deliver lessons to students but also provide professional development training to local teachers, whom we refer to as  “forward deployment teaching assistants” (FDTA). So far, we have trained more than 200 local teachers in Computational Thinking, Programming with Python, and Introduction to Robotics. We conduct system training to ensure that teachers are familiar with our ecosystem and academic training. As a result, FDTAs can support students in person efficiently besides the instruction of main teachers who are software engineers and can teach from anywhere in the world. 

Which target population(s) does your solution address?

  • Learners to use in classroom
  • Learners to use at home
  • Parents to use with children
  • Teachers to use with learners
  • Used in public schools
  • Used in private schools
  • Used in ‘out-of-school’ centers
  • Other education system actors
  • Society in general

What are the key characteristics of your target population?

  • Women & Girls
  • Children & Adolescents
  • Rural
  • Peri-Urban
  • Urban
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Middle-Income
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
  • Persons with Disabilities

Which categories best describe your main EdTech product or service?

  • Personalized and adaptive learning
  • Platform / content / tools for learners

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Vietnam

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

We seek to make an impact in a few key areas: (1) increase education access for children to overcome geographical and socioeconomic barriers, (2) inspire students to seek STEM careers hence closing the long-standing gender gap, and uplevel the next generation of Vietnamese workforce (on par with Silicon Valley). With these goals in mind, we measure our impact with a few indicators. Firstly, as our course offerings grow, the number of students increases from 3,000 to 30,000 students within a year. SFV recognizes that financial constraints are a significant barrier, so we continue to look for ways to lower related educational costs, such as working with partners to sponsor free Robotics VEX hardware for all students. Second, we aim for greater geographic reach: at least one school in each of Vietnam's 63 provinces participates in the Robotics program. We also sponsored seminars across the country to educate and train teachers so that they could share what they learned with other teachers in their province. Finally, it is critical to set an example for students and eliminate gender bias, especially at a young age. Our instructors and TAs are likewise 50/50 female:male, providing role models for the kids. To combat gender prejudice, we included more gender-agnostic learning characters in the curriculum development process. We also ensure that female students are aware of STEAM education through strategic partnerships such as techtalks and sponsorships for women-related NGOs.

What are your impact goals for the next year, the next three years, and the next five years? How will you achieve them?

Our goal is to serve one million students in the next three years and 20 million students in the next five years. If even a small percentage of this group becomes software engineers, product managers, or data scientists; and the remaining students pursue other fields with high productivity and can compete globally, the new generation of the workforce will transform the entire economy and welfare. 

Partnering with UNICEF, we are committed to (1) ensuring that children and adolescents are provided with online (and offline toward online) learning opportunities that are of quality to help enable them to reach their potential; (2) evaluating and institutionalizing technology-based approaches at all levels of education to empower and support teachers with new personalized and adaptive learning techniques, and 3) developing a tool to measure the impact on learning outcomes, particularly for vulnerable children, such as ethnic minority girls.


In terms of technology, our goal is to create a personalized learning path that will present each current and new student with a customized course recommendation. With the existing event tracking system in place, we can apply NLP or other machine learning models to discussion questions, live chat activities, assignment submissions, and other learning milestones to understand where the learning gaps are, what the strengths and weaknesses are across the courses, and then recommend the next learning goals.

What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your impact goals?

  • Financing
More About Your Team

Please provide a brief history of your organization. What was the motivation behind starting your organization and/or the development of your solution?

STEAM for Vietnam was founded by Hung Tran Ph.D, founder and President of Got It, a Silicon Valley-based Conversational AI platform. In 2019, a 13-year-old student in Hanoi came and asked for an opportunity to intern at Hung’s company. Within three months, the student completed a training course using a computer science curriculum designed for American college students. The student also studied AI and was able to turn his electric car toy into a self-propelled machine. Hung realized that if more Vietnamese students received training and became familiar with technology at an early age like his intern, they would become a powerful workforce that can change Vietnam’s economy. This realization motivated him to teach coding for free to children. He started doing research, selecting different curriculum, and teaching programming to secondary school students. Additionally, Covid-19 has forced many people to work from home and offered an opportunity to teach programming online. When he presented his STEAM project, Hung received strong support from young people studying and working in the US, including his co-founder, Ms. Thuy Nguyen, a data engineer, and active community service leader. Along with the support of many talented Vietnamese professionals around the world, they built a team of more than 140 volunteers who share the same willingness to help create opportunities for Vietnamese children to access world-class STEAM education. 

How many people work on your solution team?

We have a team of more than 140 volunteers, including one full-time Operations employee currently based in Vietnam. We plan to hire at least three more full-time employees in 2022.

How long have you been working on your solution?

STEAM for Vietnam was established in May 2020 and have been working on our solution since then.

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Our team members come from all walks of life and live in more than ten different time zones. Our executive team is 50 percent female. Female teachers and TAs make up over half of our faculty.  Some of the volunteers have won International Math Olympiads and founded businesses. Others are engineers, marketing/sales leaders from tech giants (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Airbnb), and graduates from prestigious universities (Harvard, Stanford, University of Cambridge). On the other hand, some are college students or professionals at small businesses in Vietnam. With their passion and deep understanding of Vietnam, they sympathize with the struggles that teachers and students in our country face and offer solutions that truly help students grow faster.

Resume screening, a take-home assignment, a technical interview, a cultural fit interview, and (optional) a management interview are all part of our rigorous recruitment process. Our selection procedure guarantees that we select not only applicants with great technical backgrounds, but also team players that fit into our culture and are sincerely committed to our objective. Currently, we have team members in different departments: Engineering (30 people), Marketing (15), Operations (20), Funding and partnership (5), Education (50), Customer service (10), Data science (10).

We create a flat structure in which all members have access to the executive team. Each team member is in charge of their own project. As a result, our members exhibit a high level of innovation and accountability in completing their jobs.

Provide an example of your Team Lead’s ability to conceptualize and implement a new idea.

A crucial aspect in the learning development process during the era of envisioning a virtual learning experience was developing a community. As a result, the idea for Steamese Profile, an educational social network, was formed. We aim to establish a platform for these young students to communicate with one another after class, exchange knowledge and ideas in the same way that they would if they were studying in person, and present their weekly work for inspiration. We then conducted focus groups with parents and children to get feedback, held a UX sprint to create UI mockups, and mapped out the essential user journeys. Our engineering team immediately created a minimum viable product (MVP) and specified analytics events to track progress. Organic adoption was overwhelmingly positive thanks to the product-market fit. On the platforms, we noticed students sharing deep learning thoughts, and many of them posted their weekly assignments as soon as they finished them. The rate of weekly attendance and assignment submissions increased as a result of this. STEAMESE Profile will be the central platform for all STEAM students in the future, including standalone applications such as a discussion board, announcement hub, weekly challenge page, and parent weekly reports. 

What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?

Working with corporations, schools, and other institutions is crucial for SFV to achieve its long-term goals. 

First, we have been partnering with five elementary and secondary schools to bring SFV into their curriculum. School partnership is considered one of our main strategies to bring SFV to as many students as possible. The pilot in five schools this fall has given us valuable lessons to expand our network of schools in the future. 

Second, we have been partnering with corporations to improve the efficiency of their CSR programs. For example, in November 2020, IBM Vietnam granted us $12,000 to co-organize the “TJBot workshop on Robotics and AI” for teachers from all 63 provinces in Vietnam. These teachers can now use the educational resources we provided to prepare for longer training programs in the future. 

Third, we have been partnering with other NGOs to reach disadvantaged children. Joining forces with UNICEF Vietnam, we are planning for a comprehensive package of affordable devices, internet connectivity, and STEAM education for children in remote areas. Additionally, we have been organizing workshops and short training sessions for students from Pacific Link, an organization that empowers girls in areas with a high risk of trafficking.     

Partnership & Growth Opportunities

Why are you applying to the Octava Social Innovation Challenge?

We believe the partnership with Octava and MIT Solve would add tremendous value to STEAM for Vietnam and make our program accessible to more children. 

First and foremost, the funds would be utilized to hire a strong full-time team who will support local schools and students. These full-time employees will be responsible for expanding our program to more schools across the country, training FDTA (forward deployment teaching assistants), and assisting students with registration and learning journey. 

Second, your customized support program which is operated by both MIT Solve and the Octava Foundation would be very helpful for us in determining priorities and allocating resources accordingly. We appreciate the opportunity to learn from your expertise in social entrepreneurship, which allows you to have a significant impact while maintaining a sustainable business model.

Last but not least, your network of resource partners and mentors in the educational technology sector will help us find partners who share the same mindset and goal with us to transform a developing country with a lot of potential like Vietnam. 

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
  • Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development
  • Financial (e.g. improving accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Network connections (e.g. government, private sector, implementation communities)
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and global media)
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
  • Product / Service Distribution (e.g. expanding client base)
  • Technology / Technical Support (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design, data analysis, etc.)

Please explain in more detail here.

We need the cooperation of other organizations with expertise, experience, and resources to help us realize our long-term objective of being able to serve 20 million children.

On the infrastructure side, we've been able to establish and maintain a solid technology ecosystem that gives our students a great learning experience. Due to the lack of capability from existing complementary cloud solutions, many contemporary in-house engineering solutions are designed from the ground up. With a goal of serving 20 million students in the next five years, we'll need to scale out our present infrastructure even further, as well as be able to implement specialized and highly automated services that free up our technical team to focus on product development.

On the operational side, a strong full-time operation team is essential to support local teachers and students efficiently and at scale. This necessitates both financial resources and human capital.  

While our strength is the STEAM education program, we need support for student devices and connectivity. We serve as a hub to attract other social resources to join our forces. We have been actively looking for telecom partners that can provide internet connectivity to remote schools; early conversations are promising. Lightweight Chromebooks will be a suitable solution for students who do not have laptops either at school or at home. We have been looking for corporate partners who have resources to support student devices. 

Solution Team

  • Hang Cu Head of Partnership and Fundraising, STEAM for Vietnam
 
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