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Edtech start up

Why l founded EducationYalla (an EdTech start up)

For the duration of the 2020 due to travel restrictions & lockdowns l worked from home. Both my partner and l sharing the workspace.

For the most part my space was sat on the floor, at the coffee table. Here l put together all the thoughts and ideas that were whirling around my head … How could l help my students bridge the gap between school and the workplace. 

I listened to many a podcast, watched a lot of online seminars, read so many books and still was thinking what’s missing? To me everyone was aiming their support to an age range who had already left school, those who were in jobs and had an idea of what they want to do or needed to do to improve. BUT I know many a teenager who can’t decide what clothes to put on each day, without trying them all on, or what breakfast to have, if any … let alone having an idea about what they want to do when they ‘grow up’. Do we ever actually know the full answer to this? I’m currently on my 3rd career choice and still looking for a final answer! 

So, l went back to the basics. What do we need for us to be successful in LIFE? What are the SKILLS required for a ‘future-proof’ workforce and career?

EdTech has become a vital part of our current educational landscape. Think about the ways in which an education institute provides content to its students, how successfully it works with existing methodologies, and how we use an ever-increasing range of technology systems to track, assess and much more.
For many education institutions the implementation and refinement of digital learning, as an enhancement to traditional face-to-face teaching, was already high on their agenda pre-2020. 

However, with impending lock downs and the immediate closure of institutions globally to protect against the spread of COVID-19, the implementation of digital learning rapidly accelerated. Roughly 3.2 million education institutions across the world have had to adapt quickly to find ways to support their share of the world’s 1.5 billion students. A generation of students who could no longer study and socialise on campuses in the same way as previously, not even like they had just a week earlier. 

According to the World Economic Forum, global EdTech investments reached US$18.66 billion in 2019, and the overall market for online education is projected to reach $350 billion by 2025.

During 2020 the outlook of the education systems as we have known and used for years changed and changed quickly. We should remember to stop and take time to acknowledge just what this has done to the landscape of teaching and learning for it all its successes and faults, but that’s for another article! 

As it becomes clear that the challenges of social distancing look set to remain for the foreseeable future, the rush to provide temporary solutions has now turned to thoughts on how to make blended learning a permanent transition, with a real need to put in place a cultural and technological infrastructure which encourages and supports it.

What were my thoughts on EdTech?
Back 2017, l had the opportunity to speak at GESS DXB on the topic of ‘BYOD’ - Are we losing our basic Engineering Skills and Attributes due to the increase of BYOD technology within Primary Phase? My key points are; how we address the apparent decrease in student creativity and imagination, whilst also controlling the increased reliance upon technology to provide all the answers. (Click here for the presentation)

This topic had grabbed my attention. My teaching career already spanned +15yrs, and l had seen multiple changes and new ideas as to how my subject area (Design & Technology / Art Design / STEM) should be taught and had mixed views as to where we would end up.  This school initiative had forced me to consider how to use ‘technology’ as the main delivery method of teaching and learning, but also how it needed to be adapted, especially for students of such a young age, and the pros and cons. Was ‘Bring Your Own Device’ really the right way to go and how did we successfully manage it?

Then in February 2020 l was invited back to talk about the growing problem of the ‘increasing skills gap between education and workforce’ - 21st Century: The Skills Gap. It's no secret that companies are struggling to find the right talent to fill jobs. With rapid technological advancements, workers' skills are becoming obsolete faster than ever before. 70 % CEOs say their employees don't have the current skills needed to adapt, only 11% execs are confident that college graduates will be prepared for the workforce, and 42 % employees say they are likely to leave their current job because they aren't learning enough. (Link here the presentation)
My thoughts had already turned to what l could do to improve this situation not only for those students l directly worked with but also those further afield. EdTech seemed the right way to go … but how? 

(NB – I did also speak at the 2018 event on the topic ‘Know what is inside the box before you plan for outside of the box!’ Innovation. (Click here for the presentation))

Just what happened to 2020 …
In Dubai the last ‘face-to-face’ day of teaching for the academic year of 2019-2020 was the 5th March 2020. Schools closed, students started their 2-week spring break and staff wondered what on earth they were going to do when school resumed online on the 22nd March. The world of education needed to change and fast, with Zoom, Teams or Google Classrooms becoming the platforms of choice. 

These platforms are for the most part easy to use and whichever platform your school-institute has chosen as long as everyone is using the same it becomes just another way of doing things. 

But it still doesn’t actually promote and embed interactive learning …

That comes down to the individual teacher, their level and ability to engage with ‘tech’, the time available for planning and marking, access to additional resources which are allowed by the school and then finally their wish to learn how to create interactive and engaging activities online. And in a time when it felt like there was other more important issues for us to consider and worry about, this last point was not necessarily top priority. 
But schools made it work … some better than others it has to be said, but everyone had a go. They had to. For the continued education of our students, we as teachers had to learn on the job and in the beginning muddle through with daily issues of interrupted internet connection, ‘you’re on mute …’, ‘please hand in your work not just upload’ reminders and the many ‘Miss, this is my cat, isn’t he cute!’ moments.  

For me the 5th March was my last formal day of teaching until schools re-opened in mid-September.

So why did l build an EdTech platform?
EducationYalla was a project which l had been quietly working on prior to February 2020, but one which actually became my personal sanity and savior during lock down and the ongoing ‘work from home’ period here in Dubai. 
I had already spent part of the previous year working on a project called GuideMighty which looked at developing the workforce skills which were seen to be missing, but from a corporate viewpoint. However, this was not striking the right chord for me. If we get to this stage in life and these skills are missing, is it too late? Should we not be teaching and developing these skills and attributes whilst still at school? And so EducationYalla had a focus and came to be …

EducationYalla focuses on the development of Future Skills - C21st SKILLS, FINANCIAL LITERACY, SUCCESS STRATEGIES, HEALTH & WELL-BEING AND MUCH MORE …

I built a website (EducationYalla) as this was the logical place to start … but quickly found that it didn’t give the right flexibility for students to work independently and at their own pace, to receive content in a wide range of engaging and stimulating formats, whilst also being able to track their own learning.

So, l moved to a Learning Management System (LMS EducationYalla). For complete transparency (my tech skills are not that advanced) l use a LMS platform designed specifically for producing interactive ‘schools’ and have found that it positively changed the way the content programmes looked, felt and worked.  
I love learning and teaching but what l make clear throughout all of this is that l am not an expert in all of these topics … So, l reached out to people, companies large and small, in the hope that they saw the same problems as me and that they had the same vision that we could address some of these issues, one step at a time. 

And l got lucky … it wasn’t a straightforward process, there have been plenty of setbacks but also some successes. Certain people l would love to work with are just not there yet with their content ideas or their views of being online, but l’ll go back to them in the future in the hope that our conversations gave them a prompt. Whilst some were just ready and looking for a platform which promoted their work and their wish to support teenagers in these important issues and topics. So, a big thank you to Barclays Bank (financial literacy and cv development), Mind UK (mental health awareness), Daman Heroes and Interact (fitness) and dasideas (entrepreneurship). Their content allows me to support young adults in these topics with the knowledge that it has come from the experts in their field. 
So, l get to create and develop the content for EducationYalla with its collaborators (the experts) and WE deliver activities incorporating challenging, stimulating and real-world relevant tasks and information. All the activities encourage and embed the development of critical thinking, leadership skills, creativity, problem-finding and solving, whilst also maximising student learning and engagement. 

Why is this SO IMPORTANT? Because if you apply your learning with relevance to everyday scenarios, you develop a higher level of embedded understanding.
How do we do this? By encouraging individuals to adopt ownership for their own learning; EducationYalla allows each student to have their own learning portal, which contains direct links to their online resources. Students build their own learning portfolio, which can be accessed ‘anytime, anywhere, any device’.

What do we do? Improve and simplify the process of engagement to learning on topics around personal and social development.

Additionally, to support EducationYalla I started the podcast, #notjustmakingthetea. Now into its second season with over 60 episodes recorded, we talk about a wide range of topics such as the importance of role models, assertiveness, improving emotional intelligence, the 5-step hack to turn around an unproductive day, leadership, career networking advice and much more …. #notjustmakingthetea is listened to in 36 countries around the world from Vietnam to Brazil to here in the UAE, in 111 cities globally, and not far off 1000 downloads! Not bad for a quick chat which was being recorded in the car as it was the only space where it was quiet, and l wouldn’t be interrupted.    

Currently over 350 students use EducationYalla within the UAE, UK and South Africa. These students have been introduced to wide range of topics which will no doubt benefit their future careers, even if they don’t know what they want to do in the future as yet … And we all continue to LEARN – GROW – EVOLVE together. 
The more students who join EducationYalla, the better the range of collaborations l can build with the ‘experts in their field’ and the resources. To me it’s a win- win situation, students learn about relevant future-proofing life topics, schools have access to resources without needing to research and prep, collaborators showcase their services and knowledge, and companies in the future benefit from a generation of students who are better communicators, resilient, problem-finders willing to be risk-takers, ready to face the unknown challenges (the ups and downs) of a career and life not yet written.  
If you feel that your students, or someone you know, would benefit from having access to teenage-focused resources, on topics which will help to future-proof their lives, then please reach out to me … I look forward to welcoming you and your students to EducationYalla.