At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in Kenya in March, the president directed that all schools, from tertiary to pre-primary level, be closed indefinitely. The resultant effect was that most schools scrambled to figure out means to ensure that learners kept up with the school work while well-equipped institutions simply took their classes online. This also saw the increase in national efforts to utilize technology to enable online and remote learning for its learning population.
However, even before the pandemic hit, education technology, also referred to as EdTech, had been growing rapidly. In the recent past, innovators in the country and beyond have been redesigning the traditional classroom to offer alternative modes of teaching and learning for teachers and students respectively, taking advantage of the widespread uptake of smartphones within the country.
One such company is PataTutor, a web application that connects parents or students to private tutors and thus allows tutors to earn from the platform. PataTutor (Pata is Swahili for find), whose idea was birthed late last year while development of the platform begun in February, has found itself smack in the middle of COVID-19 and for the founders, the pandemic has accelerated the uptake of this new model of learning.
According to the CEO and co-founder, Kelvin Dol, PataTutor was founded based on a learning gap he identified within his own family.
“I’d visited an aunt sometime last year and I found them discussing how to find a private tutor for my cousin who was to sit for her KCPE exams. A few weeks later they had still not succeeded in finding one,” Dol, who has a background in procurement explains.
This prompted him to start talking to parents to find out how prevalent the issue was and look for ways to fill that gap. Together with his two partners, both teachers with a combined experience of over 70 years, and an IT specialist, PataTutor was founded. Initially, it was a challenge to find teachers who would be willing to collaborate, given that it was a novel idea and most of them felt that it would replace teachers altogether, something he refutes.
“EdTech is there to complement the learning process and technology is a key aspect in education so we come in to offer an alternative that is more affordable,” he says.
Since its official launch in August, PataTutor has registered about 50 tutors and has over 200 hours of lessons have been taught both online on PataTutor’s live online classrooms and home-based tuition lessons.
“Although COVID-19 found us here, it has definitely sped up something that we have been trying to push for a while now,” he avers, adding that learners from the competency-based curriculum (CBC), 8-4-4 and IGCSE can all benefit from the platform as teachers are thoroughly vetted before being registered on the platform.
Additionally, parents can opt for online group classes which cuts cost and if further tutoring is needed, parents can then choose online one-on-one classes for their children. Regarding the government directive that schools be reopened on October 12, Dol opines that re-opening is a good move if safety protocols are put in place, adding that that tutors would come in handy at such a time as children prepare for the exams slated for early next year.
The digital divide
Like many other innovations, EdTech certainly brings up questions on social issues and in this case, the risk of widening the digital divide and consequently the gap between the rich and the underprivileged. This is something Dol is very much aware of.
“The biggest disadvantage of EdTech is that it has the potential to increase that gap. The solution to this, however, does not lie in EdTech innovators. We need public-private partnerships to ensure that this gap is bridged effectively. As PataTutor, we have made the services as affordable as we can to encourage parents to sign up, for teachers to earn a significant amount from the platform and for us to generate operational costs,” he expounds.
Given their online marketplace business model, Dol reveals that ultimately, the platform is meant to create value for teachers. As such, the aim is to have 1,000 teachers earning substantially from PataTutor by the end of 2021 with a vision of having tutors and students from East Africa signed up on the platform in 5 years to come.