South Africa’s largest tutoring company this month reached a milestone by signing up its 10 000th learner, and clocking more than 150 000 tutoring lessons.
That’s good going for an idea that was shot down by a university professor as being doomed to failure, when its business plan was submitted as part of course work way back in 2006 by Nick Miller, a mechatronics engineering student at the time.
Miller tutored some of his fellow students. When the need outstripped the time he had available, he saw a business opportunity, wrote the business plan and submitted it as an assignment towards his degree.
Today, thousands of learners have benefitted from Miller’s persistence. It took four years of hard work for the social enterprise to sign up its first thousand learners, but business has boomed since then.
The company currently has over 4 000 tutors throughout the country, of whom about 1 250 are actively engaged at this time. This year alone the company has hired 439 new tutors who were hand-picked from over 5 000 applicants.
“We’ve always focused on quality, not quantity,” says Daniel Miller, brother of the founder and current TeachMe2 Operations Manager.
Helping people learn together
The biggest accomplishment, says Daniel, is the relationships fostered and self-confidence installed in thousands of learners.
” What sets us apart is the quality of people we bring onboard as our tutors. We also only offer online tutoring as a back-up when no tutors are available.
“We believe in the power of the person-to-person connection. Tutoring is not just about transferring information. It is about people connecting, sharing skills and igniting a passion for learning.”
TeachMe2 offers an online portal where vetted tutors can offer their services to learners who need academic help. A learner registers on the website, chooses a tutor (the company can also recommend a tutor based on the learner’s preferences) and the lessons are set to go.
“We have had endless testimonials of learners at school improving their results by as much as 30% or 40%. Often the missing ingredient was not understanding, but rather the confidence to excel.
“Something amazing happens on the inside when a tutor who is only a few years older than you – and therefore far more relatable than your teacher or parents – sits down with you, explains concepts in a way you can understand and tells you that you are good enough.
“Kids start to believe in themselves again.”
In addition, the platform has helped people from vastly different backgrounds find common ground as they learn together.
“I have received feedback from an affluent family in Sandton whose child was tutored by a young man from Alexandra, saying how grateful they were for the opportunity to build bridges and have their preconceived ideas challenged. In many cases, tutors have become part of the family, so to speak.”
The Teachme2 vision
Miller explains that the company vision is to make it possible for anyone, regardless of their socioeconomic status, to learn anything from someone.
“South Africa is a beautiful but broken country. We believe each person has a part to play in making the future better for the next generation, primarily by sharing our knowledge, wisdom and skills with others. Changing the world starts with changing someone’s world.
“We therefore want to democratise human capital. Whether you want to pass your physics exam, get coached in rugby or learn how to engage cross-culturally, we want to help you find somebody who can teach you the ropes, face to face.”
The company is constantly developing technology to make the learner-tutor match more accurate and effective and is launching exciting new developments soon. In particular, it aims to reduce the cost of tutoring to make it accessible to economically-challenged learners.
‘I learnt just as much’
Abu Bakr Kirke (17) from Hout Bay was notified this week that he would be receiving five free tutoring sessions for being the 10 000th learner. Carmin Jansen van Vuuren, a Stellenbosch University psychology honours graduate, has been tutoring him in matric Afrikaans.
As a native Englishman and learner at SACS, Abu Bakr struggled with the language in spite of receiving As and Bs in all his other subjects.
“It was so bad that it affected my confidence across the board. A school counsellor advised me to either stop worrying about Afrikaans and save my other subjects, or to find help. I decided to go for the latter, because I did not want a fail on my matric certificate.”
His lessons with Jansen van Vuuren had a therapeutic effect.
“Academics were only part of my struggle. The big issue was my confidence levels.
“I have built up a strong relationship with Carmin, to the extent that I am confident enough to learn. When I feel stress overcoming me in my exam to the extent that I cannot think or process my thoughts, I put my head down and remind myself of my tutoring experience. This helps me get my confidence back.
“When one struggles in a subject, it is really nerve-wracking. You think of it a lot. It sits deep within your thoughts and sets all your academics off balance. Everything goes out the window.”
Jansen van Vuuren says tutoring definitely has a two-way learning effect.
“Initially I was nervous and my preparation was way over the top. But it is so rewarding to see somebody grow.
“On the other hand, I have met new people and have become part of their lives. I never expected to grow so much personally. It is very refreshing to connect with people. Tutoring has taken me out of my comfort zones and helped me form friendships in spite of age differences. It is like teaching a younger sibling.”