How The Covid-19 Pandemic Led A Dubai Teenager To Start Her Own Online Tutoring Programme


(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Thu 25 May 2023, 7:27 PM

In the summer of 2021, when the world was in the throes of the Covid-19 pandemic, Afrah Shaikhji had a brainwave. The teenager, back then in Grade 11, had a ringside view of the challenges of teaching younger children via online
classes as her brother, a Grade 6 student, struggled to cope.“These kids have a shorter attention span, so naturally, it was very difficult for them to sit in front of the computer and pay attention the entire day, especially in a class of 30-35 kids,” she explains.“I actually saw many of my brother's friends play video
games during the class, but they regretted it later because Grades 6 and 7 are very important for building a base in subjects like mathematics.”

“It was very difficult for teachers to pay attention to their needs as well,” she continues.“And not a lot of people organised extra classes for younger children online
, while older kids could even turn to YouTube for help.”

To top it off, parents barely managed to balance work, home and school.“They were confused about what they could do for their kids... The students' mothers were more worried about what was going on in class than them, and asked each other for notes.” Afrah adds that she also knew of people who had lost their jobs during the pandemic, and how their financial
issues took a heavy toll on them.“Even paying the school fees was difficult and extra tutoring cost much more.”

So in July 2021, Afrah launched and organised a free, two-month online
tutoring programme called GenYouDxb for students of Grades 4 to 7.“I wanted to offer something that was free, but without compromising on quality,” she explains. By the end of the non-profit initiative in September, Afrah says she and her team of 12 student tutors had coached 90 kids across various CBSE schools
in the UAE.“Their parents were so happy that they requested us to continue the classes and even offered to pay for it, but we had to take a break last year as we were in Grade 12 and had academic commitments.”

Now, with the Grade 12 CBSE board examinations firmly behind her, the 18-year-old plans to restart the classes this July.“We wanted to resume them when we could put all our effort into it, instead of doing it half-heartedly,” says Afrah, who plans to pursue dentistry.

Giving back to society

The Dubai resident believes in giving back to society through volunteer work, thanks to her parents who always taught her the importance of doing so.“I've been participating in Model UN at school for a very long time.” She insists that unlike her peers, she didn't launch the tutoring programme for an impressive college admissions resume.“This was just something I wanted to do myself.”

Initially, a friend was supposed to help her launch GenYouDxb but Afrah says she, understandably, had to back out due to schoolwork.“I was not very sure of how to proceed. Even my mom was unsure about how many parents would trust kids our age with their younger kids. We were both a bit sceptical about it.”

Afrah started out by opening an account on Instagram and uploading a hiring form for tutors. She may not have been sure of how things would pan out, but she was very clear that she wanted an all-girls team of tutors of her own age.“I believe in women's empowerment. When a girl puts her mind to something, she will definitely do it,” she says. Responses came in quickly, mainly from acquaintances.“I had school at that time and I interviewed them during my breaks, which were about 20 or 30 minutes long.” During these interviews, Afrah would throw hypothetical scenarios at them.“I asked them questions like, what would you do if a child doesn't attend classes regularly.” We venture a guess - maybe talk to the student?“The correct answer is, they have to take it up with the parents as these students are still quite young and you need to be very sensitive and patient while handling them,” she explains.“I also have to be kept informed of everything as I am the parents' point of contact.”

Next, she began reaching out to parents via WhatsApp.“I put a message out about the classes, and my mother shared it on my brother's school WhatsApp group. It spread quickly from there, as they forwarded it to other parents. I asked my friends to share it with their parents as well. It spread very organically.”

The tutors taught Maths, Science and English.“I tutored Grade 6 students on Science,” she says.“We had a Google Classroom for each subject so the kids could ask doubts and communicate with us. We also created WhatsApp groups for all parents, where class timings and assignments were shared.” They prepped for classes by poring over the syllabus, study material and textbooks.“Many kids were from my school, but when students from other schools
enrolled for the classes we asked their parents to share the syllabus because the schools
could be teaching from different textbooks.” They created catchy presentations, and held exciting quizzes and educational games to keep the children engaged.“They were very excited - it had gotten to a point where one kid used to read ahead just so that he could win the quizzes! That meant the students were paying attention but sometimes, it got a bit overwhelming. It was difficult when a few kids kept unmuting themselves to ask questions and stuff and I had to clear them. But I wanted to remain approachable and relatable.”

There were other minor hiccups, too - for instance, the students used to share links to games on the chat box during classes.“I had to explain to them that the classes were for their own good and that at the end of the day, they were going to get their results and their parents were going to know what they were up to. We also had certain ground rules, which were shared with the parents as well - for instance, the students had to name themselves properly while logging in because we had instances of Zoom bombing, where random people would join the class and that wasn't safe for the kids.” She also logged into these digital classrooms during sessions without warning, to ensure that they were proceeding smoothly.

Readying for a relaunch

Afrah has already restarted the programme's Instagram account.“We might also offer more subjects this time like Hindi, as many parents had requested for it. We may include Arabic as well if we get a good tutor because teaching a language is very hit or miss.”

“I also want to bring in more tutors. And last time, I didn't have anyone to help me with the logistics so I want a team to help me organize it. And of course, it will remain an all-girls team,” she smiles.

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Khaleej Times

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