One could look at the drive to create paperless classrooms as a disruption of the education sector, but for the most part the basis of education stays the same.
A teacher stands in front of a class, talks to a group of students, sets and marks exams and then repeats the process.
Consider this for perspective: everyday, a teacher gives 40 children, 20 maths problems to solve for homework. That translates into 800 answers that one teacher needs to work through. In addition to this the teacher needs to identify the specific problem a specific child is having with a specific topic.
Any way you slice that example, it’s a gargantuan task. It’s also one that Tabtor Math Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Raj Valli wants to provide a solution for.
“When you call a plumber to fix a leak, do you expect him to talk you through the basics of plumbing and how to open and close a tap, or do you expect him to fix the leak? You expect him to fix the leak,” Valli says. “Why then do we expect teachers to go through hundreds of answers from students to identify one specific problem the child is having with learning?”
Tabtor is an education app that tracks a child’s progress in activities, in real time. The app records how a child answers a maths problem, any corrections they make, and most importantly, whether they got the correct solution.
The benefit of this is that teachers will be able to find a pupil’s problem areas nearly instantly and be able to work to solve those problems with them.
The app has been adopted by Via Afrika as a way for the firm to reach out to more students and offer teachers greater scope over what learners are learning.
“When I first saw the Tabtor app I said to myself this is it, this is exactly what we need in education,” Via Afrika’s acting CEO Micheal Goodman said. “It gives teachers and tutors the ability to focus on helping students in the areas where they need it most.”
Via Afrika has begun using the app in schools as well as in recently launched Maths Centres. “The Tabtor Maths Centres we launched recently function just like a private tutor would. The classroom is set up and tablets are available for learners to use and a tutor is on hand to offer assistance,” Goodman explains.
Not about the money
The app is not the main aspect of Valli’s business though. Yes, the app generates revenue and keeps the lights on, but Valli is focussed on effecting real change in the global education landscape.
“When pilots train you don’t have a bunch of pilots on the runway with an instructor sitting in another place saying, ‘Right guys, let’s see how well you fly’. You have hands on training with the trainer helping pilots understand where they go wrong,” Valli’s tells us.
This sort of individual attention is difficult though.
According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as many as 27 million teachers will be needed to achieve primary education worldwide by 2030.
“The population of the world is projected to go up by another one billion people in the next 15 years,” says Valli. “South Africa needs more schools which cost about R30 million each to build, and less and less people want to become teachers. This is a problem that needs addressing.”
The end result of a poorly educated population, according to Valli is a lack of gross domestic profit (GDP) growth. This in turn leads to economic and social instability which starts a cycle of decline.
“If we want to create a stable economic society across the world, education is the only place you have to invest,” says Valli.
The revolution is coming
Silicon Valley companies are currently disrupting numerous industries and services; Uber has shaken up the transport industry, while Airbnb is making inroads into holiday accommodation.
Valli suggests that education will have its day as well.
“Nowadays journalists have tools like notebooks and word processors with spell check. This has reduced the margin of error in reporting significantly and increase the level of productivity. We want to bring that level of productivity to the education sector,” Valli says.
“I don’t want to pitch a product,” Valli tells us before he rushes off to his next interview.
“I am upset with unemployment and poor education. I want change.”[Image – CC BY 2.0 David Lankford]