A new company scaling personalised home tutoring.
While Gbemisola Ogundowole (Gbemi), co-founder of GATE Academy, was in secondary school , she took after-school lessons at Anifa Preparatory Centre, Ilupeju where she met Tobi Afolabi (Tobi), her tutor then, and now a co-founder of GATE Academy.
At Anifa, students would enroll and visit a center periodically for their classes — just like the conventional classroom environment. This meant students still received no one-to-one session with their tutors, which parents like Mrs Fadaka, a GATE client say is “very key”. The problem with classroom learning is that students assimilate differently. And due to the crowd, syllabus and short-time spread, a lot of teachers cannot afford to spend too much time on one student.
Being a passionate tutor, Tobi would offer to go to the homes of these students, overtime, he got invited to the homes of more students for a personal one-to-one session.
Whenever he marked scripts, Gbemi usually offered to help.
Speaking about Gbemi and how they became co-founders, he said: “Overtime, I realised Gbemi was very responsible and intelligent…sometimes when I’m marking scripts she tries to help me mark…then I realised she probably also has a passion for teaching. So eventually, I started bringing her into the fold of teaching and that was how we became co-founders”.
By 2010, Gbemi was a tutor at Anifa. At the time, she was a second year student of the prestigious University of Lagos (UNILAG) studying for a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery. At the same time, she was privately tutoring other students.
With time, the number of students needing personalised lessons grew and they soon needed to expand.
The idea of GATE “came about 5 years ago when my co-founder Tobi and I thought of bringing more people on-board the tutoring outfit we had both started separately years back” said Gbemi.
Although, GATE is an abbreviation of Greatness Achieved Through Excellence, Tobi says it’s beyond that,and that “it was borne out of a passion to give the best education”, he adds, “we are actually a support unit to what they have been taught in school”.
The making of Hail-A-Tutor, an affiliate of GATE Academy
GATE academy, is a collection of passionate educators and private home tutors. Currently, they boast of 700 tutors and about 80+ students in their Database. The reason for this gap is that, one student can offer several courses and those courses would require domain expertise of the Tutors which is something GATE prides themselves in. Hence, one tutor can only take a limited number of students. While a tutee can have multiple tutors.
They prepare students for common entrance exams (for final year primary school students), UTME and diploma exams (for final year secondary students looking to study in Nigeria), and Cambridge IGSCE, IELTS, SAT I & II, TOEFL (for those looking to study outside Nigeria).
Mrs Fadaka is a living testimony of what I described above. Also, having enrolled her second child at Anifa (at the time Tobi was a Tutor and that was how she knew him), she was no new-comer to this idea of after-school lessons.
GATE tutors prepped her second child who is now a second year student of LBS's Undergraduate School for her Secondary School leaving Exams (JAMB and SSCE). And her twin girls in their final year of primary school (year 6) who have now gotten admission into secondary school. Such good long-standing relationship with the GATE tutors have earned them a spot in Mrs Fadaka's virtual Family tree. As she exclaims; "The tutors at gate have this very close relationship with my family. They are like family and the care they give the kids is genuine!"
For them, it is beyond teaching private lessons but more about supporting the development of a child’s mind. They teach courses like Mathematics, English, Art, Physics, Biology and Chemistry.
In addition, they offer 10 Skill Acquisition classes which is different from the model of private lesson I used while growing up.
Soon, it was time for Mrs Fadaka's child to move to secondary school, who else would come to mind than the "dedicated and hardworking" tutor, Tobi. When asked about whether she would recommend GATE, she paused trying to gather her thoughts, and added "Well, yes, because they are a bunch of hardworking and dedicated people", she continues, "although, there are a few things that could be better which I have raised with the Co-ordinator". Finally, she concludes by saying "generally, they are responsible people and if they need to reschedule, they let you know before hand".
To get a feel of how the students thought about their enrollment at GATE Academy, I spoke with Tioluwani Babalola, an outgoing student of Grange School. When asked about how he first heard about GATE Academy, he said, “referral from a family friend” to his mum. I asked whether GATE Academy tutors was his first experience of private lesson and he gave an emphatic No. “What’s different?” I probed further, “Quality, GATE is definitely better, my confidence rose and so did my grades”, he answered. That sounded smooth, like a line from a poem [must be an intellectual, LOL]. Not fully convinced, I asked, “Please, how do you mean And how do you measure this [quality]?”. Then he gave me the answer that put my mind to rest, “They have hands -on integration, like they explain in detail, and don’t move on until you understand”, he replied.
Bridging the learning gap in the University is a lot trickier as the courses require deep subject expertise. But GATE Academy, the "parent" company seems to have a solution, albeit not novel and has spun out an affiliate company, Hail-A-Tutor.
Hail-A-Tutor is a decentralised, on-demand model which pairs intending tutees with available tutors.
With Hail-A-Tutor, a student can find a private tutor on their campus, instead of incurring (unnecessary?) cost of hiring an experienced professional. GATE has been able to recruit top students from the Universities where they are currently present to become the tutors.
All a student seeking assistance or private tutoring needs to do is to search for the course they need help with on the Hail-A-Tutor site and then they get paired with a Tutor.
Did I hear you say, it’s just like Uber but for personalised Tutoring? Yes, you are right-ish
Just in case, you are not looking for a long-term tutor and only need help on a Project, their parent company, GATE has a service where they offer pure Project Assistance to University students.
In a country with the highest out-of-school children in the world - 10.5million, how do we improve the level of literacy? Could scaling school support systems like GATE Academy be the solution? Perhaps, this would be tagged semi-formal education due to the professionalism and flexibility it provides.
I do not imagine that this semi-formal education will rule out the informal apprenticeship model extensively practiced in the East. But that it would bridge the gap between formal and informal education for many.
In Nigeria, formal education is a luxury and even though the net enrollment rates for Basic Education has improved, the attendance and completion rate still remains low. This is due to the high level of poverty in the land. It is a luxury, first, because of the real cost - with poverty rate on the rise many families can barely cater for food, shelter and clothing (the three basic human needs). Second, opportunity cost, poverty rates have driven more children to the streets as hawkers. So, instead of a child spending “valuable” trading time in the classroom, Parents would rather have them
work hawk and earn a living to take care of themselves and their siblings .
Whatever it is, one thing is becoming clearer, driving literacy in countries like Nigeria will not necessarily come from formal education. A hybrid of the flexibility and hands-on approach of the informal system would have to intersect with the professionalism and accountability of the formal system to produce what we have called Semi-formal Education, in this post. And companies like GATE will be leading that revolution.
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