Photograph — Grade level reading

The quality of leadership in Nigeria is probably not on the list of things we take pride in as a people. But it can certainly be if we know where to begin and make a conscious choice to do what is necessary. That beginning is in the content and style of education that we provide our future generation with.

Traditionally, our society places a lot of confidence in formal education – schools, teachers, and academic curriculums to mould and shape the minds of our young ones from their formative years. The reasons for doing so are evident. The formal educational system grants learners the privilege to acquire academic and social knowledge and skills which prepare them for successful careers and enable them to lead better lives. This is in turn achieved by putting young learners under the care of teachers who are trained to ensure they receive the quality education.

However, it appears the common ‘one teacher, one classroom’ method applied in the formal education system may be hindering learners from finding and achieving their true potential as individuals. From getting good excellent grades to knowing their strengths and developing their life’s passions. This enlightening chat with Obasolape Abiola, the founder of ProTeach, an education technology (ed-tech) company working to promote a ‘one teacher, one student’ learning style, explains how.

Ventures Africa (VA): So what do you think is the main issue keeping Nigerian children from having quality education?

Obasolape Abiola (OA):  The traditional classroom system in Nigeria is broken. We have a situation where a teacher in a classroom is expected to teach a class of about 30 students using one particular learning style. But we all know that the teacher cannot give the required attention to all the students in the classroom because they all have different learning styles.

A few number of the students will really get what the teacher is saying. So what happens to the rest of the kids? They lose interest in school, they also decide to go through wrong career paths and all sorts of things like that. This really affects kids.

Parents are becoming more concerned about the educational future of their kids, and they really want them to get good grades, they really want them to excel in whatever they do. That’s where we come in. To redefine the way learning is seen across the country or Africa as a whole. By making sure we determine the learning style of each learner, and connect them with the right tutor that can help them improve their test scores and at the same time, excel academically.

In order to be able to improve their test scores and do well academically, the teacher approaches the learning pattern of that kid in a personalised manner. Kind of look at the child and say, “Does this child really like looking at graphs? Does this child really like listening to people? Does this child really like using their hands to work on stuff?” Trained tutors with the understanding of that particular learning style of the kid will be able to help that kid achieve whatever they want to achieve academically as quick as possible.

VA: Tell us about ProTeach

OA: ProTeach is basically a platform where tutors get to connect to learners, or learners get to connect with tutors. But there’s a special way in which we make the connection happen, because learning is key for us, and it has to be done right.

It is important for parents and teachers and school administrators to look at learning with a personalised approach. Because in a way, it helps the confidence of the child between the periods that they start school and start growing and getting into the workforce.

VA: So, how do you source for your tutors at ProTeach?

OA: At ProTeach, we usually go through a rigourous interview process for tutors who want to connect with learners on our platform. It’s like a three-stage process where we get to meet and you talk to us about your passion. You talk to us about why you think you’re the right kind of person to change the learners’ lives. And we also look at your discipline – what background you’re coming from, where you currently work, where you’ve schooled, and we put all those things together to make sure that you’re the right kind of person we can connect with our tutors.

Then at the same time, we also need you to write a proficiency test that would ascertain if you’re competent enough to be able to teach or tutor in a particular subject. That way, we’ve been able to crack the aspect where – in a country like Nigeria, we don’t have criminal records, we don’t have real records. So, we get all these things together and after that, we run our own checks on them. If we certify that you are good enough to be connected to learners across the cities we are currently in, then we make the connection happen.

We’ve noticed that in three years, we’ve never had any major complaint about the quality of our tutors.

VA: How about the emotional and psychosociological needs of kids?

OA: During the process of them being interviewed, we also look at all the emotional and physical attributes of each tutor which places us in a position of knowing who they are as a person. We try to say, “If this person is undergoing these problems – academic challenges and all that – these are the right set of people that can work with them.” And you know by virtue of the fact that some tutors really understand some kids.

So the fact that they keep working with us, we begin to know those traits and identify it in them and be able to help them connect with other kids who have similar issues.

VA: How is ProTeach funded and sustained?

So ProTeach as a company has bootstrapped its way through the past three years now. But then we started looking at the opportunities we have at expanding our innovation across other cities in Nigeria, and we got in touch with Ventures Platform who happens to be investing in early state businesses and we went through their incubation program alongside with about six other startups, fantastic startups and we are hoping to start raising money to help us to the expansion that we intend to do in 2017.

We’re going to be having our Demo Day on the 27th of January where we’ll pitch to potential investors. We’ll see how they can key into what we’re currently building, or how we’re trying to change the face of education in the country.

VA: What vision does ProTeach – and similar ed-tech platforms – have for the future of academics in Nigeria?

So for us at ProTeach, we are passionate about two things and the first thing is about changing the lives of learners, young learners in particular so that they would be able to choose the right career path for themselves. We would also, in a way, reduce the rate of school dropouts by making sure that kids are much more interested in learning and education, and if we are able to solve that, it is a big impact that we are making on the economy.

The future of education and the way in which startups or ed-tech startups can key into it currently in Nigeria is so enormous, and I personally feel that at some point a lot of people who would be doing big stuff or really innovative stuff around the education system would have to be meeting up with startups who have built the foundation of education from right now up until that time.

ProTeach has been able to put in our database a large number of tutors who are really good at what they do and they can help in all sorts of manners to expand whatever anybody has in terms of improving education in the country.

Organisations like ProTeach and other ed-tech companies can look at situations on a long term plan where they would have to be the go to companies for big corporations who are hoping to make a dent in the education system in a country like Nigeria. Ed-tech startups are rightly positioned to be able to help those set of people achieve what they want to achieve when they eventually decide to take a look at Africa.

We need to find real solutions to the problems around learning in Nigeria and Africa.

Also, for us at ProTeach it’s a two-way thing. Apart from the fact that we try to assist learners to reach their potential, we also in another way try to feed into the economy by putting more income into the pockets of teachers. Good teachers.

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