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SmartClass: Taking the classroom online

Tuesday March 30 2021
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By Priyanka Sippy

After finishing his teaching degree in 2019, Gabriel Peters, 24, remained unemployed for one year. That year was incredibly stressful, he said. With no income, Gabriel struggled to make ends meet. The problem was that all teaching roles he applied for required at least a few years of experience.

But as he had just graduated from university, Gabriel did not have the experience needed to get his first role. He said that this is a challenge that many young teachers are facing.

“It is very common. The young teachers are very stressed, and they are suffering. When you cannot get a job after studying, you can’t continue to develop yourself” he explained.

But, the following year, Gabriel got a break. Hearing about a new online tutoring platform called ‘SmartClass,’ he signed up as a tutor of mathematics and chemistry - and has since taught around 13 students. The platform, he says, is now his main source of income - and he believes that the initiative can be beneficial to Tanzania’s new teachers who are seeking employment. “I am trying to tell my friends who are unemployed to register to SmartClass. It provides a great solution, as many parents are looking for good tutors and it can help Tanzanians in the education sector who don’t have work.”


Introducing SmartClass

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The platform, created by several student entrepreneurs, launched in 2019, is now Tanzania’s leading online platform for tutoring services, hosting over 5000 tutors for around 300 subjects.

Adam Duma, 23, one of the cofounders, started working on this business idea with friends when he was still studying at the University of Dar es Salaam - which is now an official partner of SmartClass. The founders of SmartClass, Adam Duma, Salvatory Kessy and Seraphine Kimaryo were recent finalists in Tanzania’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards, as well as finalists of the Commonwealth Youth Awards 2020.

The platform, Adam says, has helped to connect those who can teach to those who need teaching - and with the click of a button, young students can access different expertise from across the country. The platform gives the option for both home tutoring and online learning, and ensures credibility, as tutors must go through several checks and interviews before they are registered.

It then works as a marketplace, where each tutor can set their own price. While the platform sets the minimum price of Sh3000 per hour, students can pay Sh20,000 or Sh25,000 depending on the subject. The student pays directly through SmartClass, who then take a commission. As a former tutor himself, Adam said the idea was born between him and several friends who were discussing the possibility of creating a digital platform where students could find vetted tutors. He saw a similar challenge to Gabriel – youth unemployment–and realised SmartClass could help: “I have many friends who finished college but then stayed home while they are waiting for jobs. SmartClass can help them get an income, and it supports students to improve their grades.” So far, it is doing just that. Adam reports that the performance in mathematics, sciences, and English of more than 10,000 SmartClass-registered students has improved by more than 50 percent.

He continues: “It makes me very proud to hear students say that without SmartClass they would not pass their exams. One girl spoke to me crying, saying that she had made it to division three, and she could not have done that without these tutoring services. Equally, I am happy when tutors call me to say they have got another job. Stories like this keep giving us energy to build this platform.”

Gabriel Peters also thinks that the tutoring services in particular hold many benefits for the students: “in our schools, you can find one teacher can have up to 45 students to manage. So, then it becomes difficult to know each student individually. But with tutoring, you eliminate the interior of the classroom, and you have one teacher to one student which is very valuable.”


The rising curve of e-learning during the Covid-19 pandemic

In March 2020, Tanzania was one of the many countries globally that announced the closure of schools and universities. This closure lasted for three months and brought unprecedented new challenges to Tanzania’s teachers and students.

Adam believes this is where technology can play a significant role. With rising internet access in the country, online classes provided a space for students to continue their education while remaining safe as the threat of the virus loomed.

Globally, e-learning became the only way students could keep learning during the pandemic. Adam now believes that online learning, with platforms such as SmartClass, has the potential to become widespread across Tanzania and the rest of Africa. He thinks that the sector has untapped potential: “While some awareness is still lacking, last year, we saw the start of African universities and schools starting to move everything online.”

Equally, Adam says that some of the new skills required for the job market in the 21st century is not necessarily taught in schools, particularly digital skills, and online tutoring can also support with this: “the job market changes and students also need to build their skills in line with this. Sometimes they are not taught in class, but with e-learning people can go and look for it online. It gives the opportunity to get knowledge from different people.”

The vision is big for the founders of SmartClass. They are aiming to offer more services to a wider audience – especially reaching those in more rural parts of the country.

For Adam, it all comes down to making an impact: “What I love to see is being able to help people learn at their own pace. I am proud of what we have achieved so far. I want this to become a company that impacts many people for years to come.”