Egyptian Online Platform Shakes Up Private Tutoring
CAIRO—A new Egyptian online platform aims to put an end to low-quality private tutoring in the country. The platform, called Tutorama, connects students with professional teachers near where they live, at reasonable prices.
“Tutorama was born out of the realization that any child can achieve outstanding results with proper, high-quality tutoring and mentorship,” said the platform’s co-founder, Omar Khashaba. “Schools are very important, but students do not receive individualized learning, which is more effective. Private tutoring, meanwhile, individualizes the teaching process, giving students more space to understand and digest the academic material.”
Private tutoring is a controversial subject in Egypt. Most Egyptian high school students, and many elementary school students, take private lessons in the afternoon and evening, to make up for deficiencies in the public and private education system, and to help them pass exams. Tutoring is a huge informal market: according to a report by the British Council, Egyptian families spend about $2 billion a year on private tuition. Classes in the state school system are large and students receive little individual attention.
The providers of private tutoring are often the same teachers that students see in the classroom. For teachers, giving private lessons is an economic necessity, due to low government salaries.
“Tutorama aims to offer professional tutors who can provide high-quality mentoring,” Khashaba said. Tutorama allows parents to schedule and pay for sessions through the platform’s website, as well as monitor the progress of their children online.
After closing its first round of investment from leading technology investor A15, the platform was launched in October 2016 as a limited, invitation-only pilot, by Khashaba and the start-up’s co-founder Mohamed Khodeir. Starting with just 100 students, they were able to optimize the user experience first before building up the numbers. Last year, Tutorama won first place in the “Ideas track” of the prestigious MIT Enterprise Forum Arab Startup Competition. It has also been making waves in other competitions, including Seedstars at Alexandria’s Techne Summit, and was opened to the public in January of this year.
Through the start-up’s website, users can select from a list of tutors and schedule sessions with them according to the subject they want. The platform provides lessons at a rate of 150-170 Egyptian pounds ($7-8) per hour, and allows students to have home-based sessions or lessons at public places in pre-approved locations. The service also allows students to create a tutor pool, forming a group to share the cost, and covers all subjects taught at Egyptian schools, including mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, languages, history and geography.
Khashaba said Tutorama is currently focusing on students from international schools, for whom its rates are affordable. However, he added that his start-up will expand to cover national schools and “the rates will definitely change.”
Dina Kamaly, one of Tutorama’s instructors, said finding the right tutor has been a problem for many students in the past. “But with Tutorama it is easy to go to the website, register and choose a suitable tutor in their area,” she said.
Kamaly has a master’s degree in finance and management from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and works as a financial and feasibility analyst for a real estate investment firm in Cairo. In addition to her business background, she has also worked as an assistant lecturer with the privately owned Future University in Egypt.
All of Tutorama’s teachers have a strong professional background, Kamaly said, and that this is what distinguishes the platform. Its instructors are mostly university students or recent graduates, who are vetted to make sure they are suitable for the job.
Amir Mohamed, a preparatory school student who has used Tutorama for extra physics classes, said the platform made a big difference for him: “Tutorama is great. I could not understand some physics lessons at school, but my instructor really helped me understand them. My parents were also able to monitor my academic improvement through tests,” he said.
While Tutorama has been well received by some, there are others who sound a note of caution.
Tarek Nour El Deen, an education expert and former assistant to the Egyptian education minister, said the rapid rise of private tutoring in Egypt is a complex issue. “A start-up like Tutorama can shift private tutoring from a negative phenomenon into a positive one,” he said. But he believes that it cannot solve the underlying educational problem in the long term. “Not all students will be able to use such a platform. That is why the government has to look for new, innovative ways to eliminate the dilemma of private tutoring.” He says the government should introduce reforms to the whole education and assessment system in Egypt. “If education in Egypt were to rely on critical thinking and innovative and practical activities, rather than memorization, there would be no private tutors,” he said. He added that teachers should get proper training as well as adequate salaries so that students would not need to take private lessons.