Do the words 'Cheryl's birthday' send a shiver down your spine? You're not alone. A question from a Singapore maths competition, which asked test-takers to figure out Cheryl's birthday from scanty clues, went viral in April, with stumped adults worldwide amazed by the prowess of the city-state's children at solving tough math quizzes.*
It is this reputation for mathematical excellence that Singapore's education start-up KungFu Math hopes will act as a multiplying factor as it expands abroad.
Since venturing into Southeast Asia late last year, the three-year-old online learning portal has scored tie-ups with several local schools in Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia.
"Once people know we are a Singapore company, they want to know more about us," Derrick Koh, CEO and co-founder of Kungfu Math, told CNBC by phone. "Singapore has always produced top students in maths and that is a selling point. Our portal has been pretty well-received by schools overseas."
Students from Singapore have had impressive showings in international math tests, while the country's approach to teaching the subject is being adopted in other countries, including India and France. But stress is a perennial complaint among Singapore's students and parents, with the baffling logic problem about Cheryl's birthday reviving criticism that the city-state's education system is too competitive and challenging.
With that in mind, Koh teamed up with Foo Pau Choo - an educator with more than 20 years of teaching experience as well as Koh's former teacher - to come up with an e-learning website to allow primary school students aged 7-12, to play with numbers, literally.
Branding itself as a "revolutionary math gaming portal," Kungfu Math allows users to adopt virtual pets and through the completion of math problems, earn points to grow and decorate their pets. The aim is to help children develop math-problem solving skills through gameplay and transform the mentality of e-learning in Singapore, which remains largely school-driven and focused on assigning homework via online portals.
"It was an inspiration I had after running my own [private] education center for the past six years. I noticed that children are not interested in e-learning portals... they will do their online homework quickly and then rush off to play games on their computers," Koh said. "So we decided to come up with something that combines the best of both worlds."