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Hong Kong innovators

Hong Kong mum to launch a TripAdvisor-for-schools website, Whizpa, to help parents pick best options for their kids

Jennifer Chin’s crowdfunded website will let parents rate and review Hong Kong kindergartens, schools, summer camps, tutors and more to help families get best out of city’s education system

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 8:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2017, 10:10am

To get into a university anywhere these days, it seems you need to have it all: top marks, accolades across multiple activities, and a well-rounded personality to boot. In Hong Kong, this can be even tougher, with rigorous testing and credentials required even at kindergarten level.

Parents desperate not to let their children fall behind can often get lost in cyberspace, as they search for the best schools, classes and extracurricular activities.

Enter Whizpa, a bilingual website that will catalogue education providers in Hong Kong and allow parents to rate and review schools, athletics centres, art facilities, tutoring classes, even summer camps.

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“Education in Hong Kong is clearly big business – there are tonnes of providers out there, and as a parent, it’s almost impossible to know every single one of them,” says Whizpa founder Jennifer Chin, a mother of three. “I just felt it was very stressful, trying to google every single centre in Hong Kong.”

Chin surveyed her network of friends and friends-of-friends, and more than 60 per cent said they found it difficult to search for and compare learning centres, with most getting recommendations by word of mouth.

I just felt it was very stressful, trying to google every single centre in Hong Kong
Jennifer Chin

To be launched in late May or June, Whizpa will digitise these word-of-mouth reviews, giving seekers the “inside scoop” from other parents, according to Chin.

Already, its grass-roots-compiled database has more than 1,500 listings of learning centres alone, which can be searched based on age range, location, price and category.

It’s a model similar to OpenRice, a review site for dining in Hong Kong, or TripAdvisor, a platform for reviews of hotels and travel experiences.

“We all love our kids, and finding activities for our kids should be less stressful,” Chin says.

In two weeks, Whizpa raised about US$3,400 of its US$5,000 funding goal through Next Chapter, a Hong Kong-based platform for women entrepreneurs. Chin says crowdfunding creates both publicity for the site and validates the business model before its launch.

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Multiple education providers such as Anastassia’s Art House and Promatics Education Centre have already partnered with the site. Testimonials on Whizpa serve as effective and free marketing tools for these services, Chin says. And verified parent reviews will make providers accountable for their service and quality, acting as an informal regulator of the city’s private education scene.

“If you’re in this business, you better be providing good quality education,” she explains. “Parents are putting their kids in your hands.”

After its debut, Whizpa will introduce an additional function as well: a third-party digital platform to shop for classes or services from education providers. Most Hong Kong providers still only accept cash, bank transfers or cheques, Chin says.

“We can buy supermarket groceries online, we can buy clothing online. We can buy everything online, except education at the moment. Seriously, the only time I write cheques is when my kids have to pay their fees.”

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Chin, a former banker from Malaysia who has lived in Hong Kong since 2000, has watched the educational landscape change for her three children – aged 13, 12, and 1½ – with academic requirements escalating amid frenzied competition.

“Education in Hong Kong is so competitive because everyone has the mentality of trying to get their child ahead,” she says. “In Asia in general, our education system is a lot more rigorous than the US or UK or Europe; it’s very academic-driven.”

Rising income and education levels have meant “the whole ball game has changed”, she says, noting the rise of non-conventional classes for programming, fencing and even etiquette on top of normal academics and tutoring.

If Whizpa takes off in Hong Kong, Chin says the site might have potential in other academic-focused Asian hubs, such as Singapore or mainland China.

But her focus is still on Hong Kong. As a fast-paced metropolis, there is a lot of stress for parents already through long working hours and tiny apartments, and for students with high-stakes exams, she says.

“I cannot solve the issue of kids being pressured with all these different activities, but at least what I can do is hopefully come up with a tool that makes it easier.”