Edtech Cleverbean secures $200k to fast-track lessons, prevent teacher burnout with AI

Edtech Cleverbean secures $200k to fast-track lessons, prevent teacher burnout with AI

Cleverbean co-founders Alina Hunter and Lucy Chambers (Provided)

A Sydney-based edtech helping Australian teachers reduce the risk of burnout has secured $200,000 in a seed funding round from Skalata Ventures as it looks to ramp up its offering by adding AI-assisted feedback to its platform.

Launched in 2018 by Lucy Chambers and Alina Hunter, Cleverbean provides teachers and schools with evidence-based and research-backed learning materials covering the entire Australian English curriculum from kindergarten to Year 6.  

Speaking with Business News Australia, Hunter said the raise will help bolster the platform’s teacher memberships and implement a new AI offering designed to help provide real-time feedback to students.

“The new features and technology we're building are all around providing feedback for students, particularly in the sense of writing. 95 per cent of students won't get feedback on the skill of writing whilst in the lesson. That's due to the complexity of the skill, but also the fact there's no way a teacher can get around to 20-40 kids in a class and give them really explicit feedback,” Hunter says.

“How can we use technology to make sure that that feedback happens in real time and with really high accuracy? It's really important for us as we think about building those tools - that our real ethos is around supporting teachers and empowering teachers so it shouldn't feel like a replacement. It should feel very supportive.”

The technology was built based on an analysis of hundreds of pieces of classroom work, teachers’ feedback and their level of experience.

“We've done some interviews with school leaders and teachers. [They’re] all consistently saying this helps them fill a huge gap, particularly in the area of student writing,” Hunter adds.

A former teacher, Chambers notes that teachers spend an average eight hours per week preparing for lessons, but that the vast majority (92 per cent) don’t have enough time to prepare for effective classroom teaching.

“As a teacher, you’re often using social media to find pre-planned materials to save time. But the concern is that there’s no standard of governance, which makes it difficult for teachers to know if what they're getting is really evidence-based and how,” Chambers says.

“The nucleus of what we do solves three key problems - proving the best quality materials for teachers, making them lightning-fast to find, and ensuring that every student is being given personalised feedback.”

A study from the Grattan Institute titled Ending the lesson lottery: How to improve curriculum planning in schools found that 76 per cent of Australian teachers don’t feel they have the support from schools to plan high-quality lessons, while 59 per cent are facing burnout.

The study, which surveyed 2,243 Australian teachers and school leaders, also found that 55 per cent of teachers are dissatisfied with their school’s current approach to curriculum planning. The figure rose to 61 per cent for teachers at disadvantaged schools.

Nearly four in five teachers (79 per cent) said a comprehensive bank of high-quality curriculum materials would be very or extremely useful, with 88 per cent also agreeing that having access to such a bank would give them more time to focus on improving their classroom practice and meeting the learning needs of individual students.

According to Cleverbean, 96 per cent of teachers using the platform are already saving time in planning lessons. The platform’s growth has primarily been fuelled by word-of-mouth referrals among teachers, with thousands of them paying for the edtech out of their own pockets.

“Of course, we would much prefer that schools pay for the product, not teachers. But the early validation we have seen from teachers gives us confidence that schools – and government – will adopt the technology on their behalf,” Hunter says.

When asked if the founders have plans to expand the platform to include subjects like maths or science, Hunter noted it was important the startup nailed its existing product offering.

“We've definitely spoken about it a lot as an organisation. One thing for me as a product person is to make sure you get something really right before you go broad…it's about going deep and adding a huge amount of value for a particular area,” Hunter said.

“Once you've nailed that you can go: Okay, now we can replicate that across different areas. My belief is about going deep first and nailing that one proposition really well, then you've built the trust and permission to scale out across different subjects.”

Skalata Ventures investment manager Tom Smalley adds that Cleverbean has strong traction with teachers, and an impressive AI-assisted roadmap.

“The recent budget saw an additional $25 million chipped in to pilot new ways to reduce teacher workloads and maximise teaching time,” Smalley said

“Cleverbean is giving the glacially slow government a lesson in efficiency - going directly to teachers with a polished, research-based platform."

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