Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 27th 2017 Contents APRIL 27 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
NEWS | BG7
face of education
It was founding prime minister
Eric Williams who once said that
the future of our country is in our
Today, schoolbags are being re-
placed with laptops, books with
Kindles and Ipads, chalkboards with screens
and projectors and entire classrooms with
the university of YouTube.
The reframing of the academic experience
means not only the re-examining of con-
tent---which, in some instances, has become
outdated---but also taking a closer look at the
mode of transmission. In other words, how
best do we impart knowledge in to young,
The seed of every challenge presents an
opportunity and this is where two entrepre-
neurs have "put their heads together" to offer
an alternative to the traditional education
The Business Guardian interviewed Adri-
ann Maharaj and Rishi Paryag, founders of
iSparkedED, an online education and tutori-
al community focused on secondary school
students, as they attempt to revolutionise
the academic landscape
It is no secret that T&T's education system
is in need of reform. Many educators recog-
nise the challenge of transferring knowledge
in a society with an ever-shrinking attention
Questioned about the inspiration behind
their company Maharaj, 47, said: "The in-
spiration was seeded by a passion for people
development complemented with a genuine
problem existing in our society. To quote our
prime minister in a recent National Consul-
tation on Education: 'it is my view that the
education system is failing.'
"In fact, this is corroborated by an OECD
study where it was revealed that T&T was
consistently below average in math and sci-
ence, and markedly so where we were one of
the lowest ranked in the indicator measuring
the spread between the 10 per cent highest
mark, and the 10 per cent lowest scores."
Maharaj, an electrical engineer by training,
added that the problem was not unique to
"Generally when one examines the Report
on Candidates' Work in CSEC from 2004
to 2015 an improvement opportunity exists
there as well. For example, in May/June
2014, for the mathematics exams, 90,000
students sat the exam and 50 per cent of
the candidates earned Grade 1 to 3, and the
mean score was 75 out of 180 marks. This,
by any stretch of the imagination, is not an
acceptable performance for any Caribbean
country to boast about," said Maharaj.
It is this academic state of affairs that
inspired the creation of iSparkED.
Founded in 2016, the company conducts
online coaching sessions with a twist: one
on one student-coach interaction.
"We have embedded in our website an
audio-visual application with an interac-
tive whiteboard. However, the flexibility of
our system allows us to conduct session in
whichever application the student is com-
fortable with: Whatsapp video, Skype, Face-
book Video, FaceTime etc. We consider every
session an opportunity to accomplish growth
in students," Maharaj said.
Questioned about the academic coaches,
Maharaj---a father of three who last worked
as an electrical and instrumentation lead at a
methanol plant in T&T, and is now engaged
full time with iSparkED---added that they
were professionals and not teachers.
"Our coaches conduct sessions in a man-
ner that focuses on enabling and encouraging
students and catering to their actual needs.
No other providers in the region deliver on-
line tutoring in this manner---one-on-one
sessions, professionals who coach, flex-
ibility and 24/7 availability. Our coaches
pass through a rigorous process to ensure
the services offered are second to none. We
pay them something small for their time and
effort, but its generally a philanthropic ini-
tiative on their part."
Maharaj added that the company charges
US$40 per hour for its sessions and all pay-
ments are made electronically via Paypal.
Probed about the subjects being offered
by iSparkED, Maharaj stated that the current
focus is at the CSEC level with particular
attention to STEM (science, technology,
engineering and math) subjects.
"We currently cover at the CSEC lev-
el mathematics, physics and additional
mathematics. At the pre-university level,
we are covering SAT mathematics. These
are the courses we are most familiar with
as we both emerged from the engineering
domain," he said.
He added that the aim is to, over time,
grow the academic offerings
Maharaj stated: "We intend to, as part
of our growth, make other CSEC courses
available as well as SEA."
While it's one thing to engage students
academically in the digital space, building
a business is another story altogether.
Questioned about the business model Par-
yag, 36, said: "We currently make allowances
for two market segments: those who can pay
and for those who cannot. For those who
are not able, we solicit sponsors from vari-
ous sectors of our society. In comparison to
similar but not identical offerings in the US
and China, we found our price point to be
very competitive and, in most cases, lower."
Paryag, a national scholarship winner and
electrical engineer at Parsons Brinckerhoff
in New Jersey, noted that since its formation,
the growth of the company has kept pace
with the founder's overall expectations.
"To date, we have engaged over 15 coaches
from Trinidad, the US, Canada and India.
Our student body is currently under 100 but
growing steadily as word gets around from
the students and parents who have experi-
enced our model at work," he said.
While sharing knowledge is important,
tracking its effectiveness as it translates to
student's actual academic performance is
equally as important.
Asked about whether they track stu-
dents at exam time to measure the success
of their programme, Paryag, the father of a
2-month-old and 2-year-old sons said: "We
do measure and preliminary results from
our students to date, have been remarka-
ble. While the tangible benefit of superior
performance is being realised, perhaps more
importantly, is the intangible benefit of the
belief in themselves that these students now
possess as a result of the coach-student
mentoring model. In many instances, these
students now aspire to careers and futures
they never dreamed was possible."
As with building any other enterprise,
many challenges exist along the path.
Probed about the challenges they have in-
curred, Paryag said that being an innovator
in the education space is always a battle of
finding the right model that fits the domes-
He said: "Building a differentiated model
that could be viable required doing a lot of
intense research. Part of the challenge re-
sided in culture whereby many students and
parents are still unaware of the vast potential
that ICT is offering today. The concept of
having a personal coach remains somewhat
foreign and takes a bit of adjusting to. Fi-
nally, building a website that offered a level
of flexibility and personalisation that was
student-centred was also a challenge."
In spite of the challenges, Paryag and Ma-
haraj remain undaunted.
Paryag added: "The challenges have been
many but certainly not insurmountable. In
every instance, both parents and students
have come to appreciate what we offer to
the extent that many view it now as being
director, iSparkED Ltd
director, iSparkED Ltd
Entrepreneurs make a difference
with online tutorials and coaching
Part of the challenge resided in culture
whereby many students and parents are
still unaware of the vast potential that ICT
is offering today. The concept of having a
personal coach remains somewhat foreign
and takes a bit of adjusting to.
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