With the sheer number of tuition centres and tuition agencies out there that provide parents with a host of tuition options for their children, it’s easy to think that tuition is always a good idea—perhaps even the best solution that one can think of when it comes to helping their child cope with academic challenges or to simply boost their performance in school. This is not the case, however, as recent years have seen the rise of a new breed of technology that aims to cater to Singapore’s competitive education system. Challenging and now changing the way parents and students perceive and use tuition, online homework apps have quickly become the new go-to solution of students who find themselves struggling with homework in challenging subjects such as math.
Students struggle with homework
With Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics or STEM education being especially challenging in Singapore, parents have long sought for ways to make the academic burden easier on their children. From enrolment in tuition centres to finding a suitable private tutor to involving their child in after-school enrichment programs, Singaporean parents have always been on the lookout for practical solutions to their children’s academic woes, specifically, to their frequent encounters with difficult homework questions or problems that are too tough for their school level.
With the growing use of social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp, smart parents (who sometimes fondly refer to themselves as “kiasu parents,” kiasu being a cultural thing in Singapore which means “fear of losing out” and can be anything from positive to negative, depending on the context) have found a way to make dealing with challenging homework less daunting. This is through crowdsourcing or asking questions to a group or a community that share a common interest. In Singapore where parents’ concern over various areas of their child’s education never seem to end—from PSLE sample problems, to understanding the Singapore Maths Model Method, to the best O-Level preparation for their child in Year 11—countless Facebook groups on these topics exist in large numbers and at present continue being created. This new way of connecting comes as great relief to parents because finally, they can have the help and support of a like-minded community of people who express similar concerns over their child’s education. More importantly, it provides them the convenience of being able to ask fellow parents about any question related to their topic of common interest—homework problems included.
With these, parents started creating groups and forums that are solely dedicated to asking math questions. Usually posted in these groups and forums are snapshots of tough questions or sample problems, especially in math (mostly from homework, or, during Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE)-taking season, extremely difficult math questions that have broke down test-takers) that both students and parents cannot answer. Students can point their fingers on a number of factors—teacher didn’t explain the math concept too well; not enough examples were provided; large class number or poor student-to-teacher ratio thus reduced chances of retention and comprehension on the student’s part; etc.—while parents can blame the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) math syllabus being too difficult or themselves for not having been exposed to advanced math lessons during their time, yet it will all boil down to an unsolved homework problem and a ticking clock that will signal “Time’s up!” once the school day has ended.
And so, Singapore’s educational technology (edtech) industry has their work cut out for them. Luckily enough, a number of start-ups have noticed the occurrence of such behind-the-scenes struggle of parents and students when it comes to math homework problems that seem to intimidate the child rather than encourage him. And, luckily enough, Singapore’s bright edtech start-ups saw that this struggle is something that not even the billion-dollar tuition industry can grapple with.
The rise of homework apps
Given the classic after-school conundrum of students grappling with homework, a number of edtech start-ups in Singapore have been working in recent years to fill this gap in the country’s education sector in order to deliver a new kind of service: online homework assistance.
Past technological developments in e-learning have brought the education sector valuable learning tools such as Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs that prove to be useful in distant and adult learning; databases that catalog questions asked by students, and then answered by tutors or experts and then posted online to allow viewing by users and works as a reference site; online math testing sites that have a database of questions and answers, which students can use by taking practice drills and tests as most of these sites allow graded practice tests; and, more recently, live one-to-one online tuition that allows real-time tutorial in a virtual classroom that simulates a classroom setup. Online homework apps come as the latest addition to these innovations by Singapore’s educational technology sector.
Most of these apps are community-sourced platforms and work through crowdsourcing, which means answer or solutions to math problems are provided on-demand by users of the app or its community—math teachers, tutors, or even students themselves. Some are powered by advanced technological innovations such as artificial intelligence or AI, machine learning, and the use of highly sophisticated algorithms. Whatever the case may be, we have rounded up some of the most widely-used math homework apps in the country (with some even extending patronage outside of Singapore). Along with it are some basic information about these apps and how to use them so parents can learn more about these seemingly miracle solutions to their child’s homework woes.
Founded in 2016 by Lai Weichang and Jason Tan—co-founder and chief technical officer, respectively—of Singapore tuition agency ManyTutors, Ask.ManyTutors is an app that makes it possible for students in the Primary Level, Secondary Level, Junior College Level, and International Baccalaureate Programs to ask a tutor homework questions 24/7. Ask.ManyTutors allows its users, usually students and parents, to ask any Singapore Maths or Science-related homework questions by taking a photo of the question using one’s camera phone and posting it to be answered by the agency's base of 45,000 tutors. Users can also provide answers to questions that other students or users find difficult. The app promises answers in as short as 15 minutes to a few hours.
The app works for students in Singapore as well as those in the USA who study Singapore Math.
How it works: The app works in three easy steps. First, users need to take a photo of their challenging math homework question, and then select the level and the subject, which in this case is math. Next, users need to type in required information (such as their email address), and then click submit. Once the math problem has been submitted, users need to wait for 15 minutes to a few hours to be provided with answers, which will be sent to them through their email.
Upside: Provides a quick and easy math homework option free of charge
Downside: Problems usually take a while to be solved, averaging 2-3 hours, as seen on Ask.ManyTutors website
Founded in 2016 by young entrepreneur and CEO Betty Zhou together with her team of collaborators, Miao dubs itself as “Your AI Homework Helper.” Its maker, Miao Academy, is an artificial intelligence (AI) company that aims to revolutionise the way students learn and access educational resources. Their math homework app, Miao, offers help to students in the Primary 6 Level to Junior College Level in need of assistance with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects.
Aside from users in Singapore, Miao is also used by students in the secondary and tertiary levels in the US and in the UK.
How it works: The app allows users to snap and upload a photo of a maths question. However, unlike popular math homework apps that directly provide students with solutions by generating specific answers to specific math questions, Miao only searches math problems that are similar and related to the question submitted by a student. These sample problems offered by Miao come with answers and workings, so that students can learn to solve their own homework using the samples provided. By using natural language processing algorithms, Miao analyzes a submitted question or problem and presents similar practice questions and other information related to it (in as fast as 10 seconds) with the help of learning materials such as articles or videos to aid in the understanding of the math concepts behind each question.
Upside: Promotes independent learning by giving students a “push” in the right direction by providing sample problems similar to the one submitted, as opposed to directly giving a solution
Downside: Not ideal for direct homework help as actual answers or solutions are not provided
“Ask and Learn, Answer and Earn”—this is Queri’s motto. Founded in 2016, this homework app provides homework solutions by allowing its users to crowdsource the answers to difficult math questions. With is revolutionised use of on-demand peer-to-peer assistance, Queri aims to give students an opportunity to help out their peers and earn from it if they consistently give out accurate help to those who need it.
How it works: By registering and logging in to a Queri account, the app allows its users to do mainly two things:
For those who seek homework help, Queri allows users to post questions either by typing it into a text box or taking a snapshot of it. With over 22 topics, the app allows users to list questions under a wide range of academic subjects and areas, including mathematics, chemistry and physics. At present, the app’s most popular category is mathematics in the primary and secondary level. Most questions posted are answered within five minutes to half an hour.
For those who seek to help out others with their tough homework, users can do so by providing an answer in text or photo. If they are the first user to do so, they will earn credits, ($1 for each credit, which can be withdrawn to a PayPal account).
Upside: Allows exchange of information between students; Students with advanced math skills are incentivized by earning
Downside: There is the possibility of getting incorrect answers
Founded in 2015, Snapask is a Hong Kong-based online learning website that offers tutoring services to students living in Hong Kong, Singapore, and neighboring Asian countries. Students could also ask questions and tutors would answer them
How it works: Students can simply snap a photo of their question, post it on the app, and, once a tutor (from their pool of 200+ tutors) has received the question, they will be provided with the answers and the steps to the solution via private chat message.
Upside: Provides quick and easy solution
Downside: Pool of tutors doesn’t necessarily mean qualified or expert tutors
iMath is a tech-enabled human-centric platform that aims to help students with their homework and enhance their learning by using technology to bring quality learning and caring coaching to any student anytime, anywhere. With the ease of use and the endless possibilities that the Internet provides, iMath desires to give every deserving student the help and assistance that he or she deserves from a nurturing community of math experts and enthusiasts.
How it works: By registering and logging in to their iMath account, users get free and convenient access to iMath’s Community Wall. This bulletin board, where members of the iMath community who seek help and seek to lend a helping hand gather and meet—allows students and parents to simply post a snapshot of a difficult math homework and get answers and detailed workings from tutors, parents, or from other students as well. By allowing students and parents to help out, too, iMath makes for a homework app that doesn’t just generate answers but one that makes genuine exchange of information possible.
Upside: Provides quick and quality answers to your quick math questions with the help of a supportive and nurturing math community
Downside: Not a question-and-answer marketplace
So, for an all-around homework saviour for parents and students who find themselves stumped with tough math problems, try iMath today! Download the iMath app here.
This article was written by Louise O. Lopez