The internet has no doubt changed education as we know it. In the last few years, we’ve heard a lot about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) all over the world and seen increasing initiatives in the Arab region including Arabic education platforms Edraak from Jordan, Tahrir Academy from Egypt, Rwaq from Saudi, and others.
But the buzz around MOOCs in the last few years has diminished a little: the platforms haven’t always succeeded in maintaining the absolute attention and commitment of students. These platforms also lack direct contact between students and professors because most of the courses are pre-recorded. The lack of this human aspect is one of the factors that drove Thea Myhrvold to establish tutoring platform Teach Me Now in Dubai.
Myhrvold told us that she developed the website by the end of 2013 with the help of the In5 accelerator in Dubai, and launched in last January with more than 700 teachers from all over the world, notably from the US and the UK. Myhrvold’s goal is for the platform to be “a bridge between the best teachers in the West who are looking for work, and students who need their help in the Arab region.”
Extensive experience in private lessons
Myhrvold’s interest in private lessons was no accident. Her career in NGO work, as well as her experience tutoring students all over the world led her to the belief that “education is at the heart of change.”
She also has experience in digital: she was involved in the development of educational gaming app IB Smart. She even suspended her studies for a whole year to further delve into the world of coding, developing, and programming.
While tutoring, “I would use PayPal, Skype, and Google Docs; however, things were very complicated. There wasn’t something similar to eBay or Amazon for tutoring,” she explains. Refusing to use other tutoring websites that take commissions of up to 60 percent, she decided to launch Teach Me Now to serve as a teachers Yellow Pages directory.
All lessons are carried out directly on an interactive interface. This means that communication is done in real time, whether through sound and/or video between the teacher and the student. Teach Me Now also features an interactive writing board and a document-sharing feature. The main website relies on Microsoft’s Asp.net framework, according to Myhrvold who is currently studying the possibility of upgrading this technology to make it easier. “We’re considering today many options such as Azure/Link or even alternatives from Google such as the Hangout feature,” she says.
Teach Me Now targets three users:
- Teachers: Myhrvold visited universities such as Yale, Harvard, Stanford, and Cambridge to attract the best teachers to participate in the website. Teachers can visit the website, sign up, and update their profile by uploading a short video, samples of their work, or their certificates, as well as set their rate. Teach Me Now takes a commission of 15 percent from the teacher.
- Students: “If a student wants help in math, they can easily look into our database and send a message to the teacher they want. It’s similar to the LinkedIn or Facebook mechanism. The teacher and student can then communicate as much as they like to in order to reach a deal. The student must have enough money in their account balance before the start of any course, because Teach Me Now guarantees payment. Often the first 10 minutes are free of charge for students to make sure that there are no internet problems, and the student can then at any time and for any reason whatsoever put an end to the course and only pay for the number of minutes that he spent with the teacher.”
- Parents: Parents can track the progress and grades of their children and handle payment.
Teach Me Now’s concept is new to the Arab region but has predecessors in other markets. “The oldest website in the field is Tutors.com which is only available in the United States. There are many other websites in South Korea and Asia where demand is increasing,” says Myhrvold.
So far, Myhrvold isn’t currently seeking investment and doesn’t see a need for it in the coming stage, especially that the website has already started generating revenue. “This is a strategic decision. We are not looking from investors because our seed funds have been enough,” she says.