Mob Pod - Bronwyn Covill from Need a Tutor.
Bronwyn Covill is the CEO of Need a Tutor. Bronwyn talks about how learning changes lives and that as an organisation they are determined to remove barriers that prevent remote and Indigenous students from accessing educational support.
Need a Tutor is a not-for-profit organisation that runs a collaborative online tutoring platform connecting teachers and tutors with students to provide educational support for remote, isolated or geographically disadvantaged individuals. The organisation also connects mentors with Indigenous business owners. The organisation most recently launched their tutoring support to at-risk Cambodian girls utilising their Australian tutors. Bronwyn talks about how learning changes lives and that as an organisation they are determined to remove barriers that prevent remote and Indigenous students from accessing educational support.
LG: Hello everybody and welcome. We’re very lucky today to be speaking with Bronwyn Covill, founder and CEO of Need a Tutor. Welcome Bronwyn.
BC: Hi Lisa, thanks for having me.
LG: So my name is Lisa Gissing from Westpac’s Davidson Institute and as I said we’re speaking with Bronwyn Covill from Need a Tutor.
LG: Now before we begin let me first of all acknowledge the traditional owners of the land in which we meet and pay our respects to elders both past and present I also acknowledge and pay respects to those here today who identify as being Aboriginal and Torres strait islander and recognise the diversity of indigenous peoples countries and culture within Australia.
LG: As Australia’s first bank we acknowledge our role in supporting an inclusive and diverse nation where all of our cultural backgrounds are recognised and respected. So Bron, tell us a little bit more about yourself and Need a Tutor.
BC: Sure. Thanks Lisa, for the opportunity to talk to you about the work that we do at Need a Tutor. We started Need a Tutor back in 2018 as an opportunity to provide an accessible way to educate indigenous and remote children. And the way we do that is by connecting them with tutors and teachers and then hosting online lessons between the two.
BC: This is all done through our own proprietary platform. You’re probably quite aware but indigenous and remote children do experience quite an extreme disadvantage. Particularly when it comes to education. There is a chronic lack of resourcing and underfunding which means many of these children in these remote communities start behind and then continue to stay behind in their education.
BC: And this educational gap, as we call it, has a huge impact on their ability to gain employment after school or even to continue on to tertiary studies. So that is what Need a Tutor tries to do - to find and assign teachers and tutors to indigenous and remote students, hosting tutoring sessions between the two, and using technology and our proprietary platform to do that.
BC: We’ve developed our own technology to access some of these children and to give them provisions to have their online tutor. And we’ve found that in the last 2 years that we have been operating, we’ve had a significant impact in helping these children to catch up with their educational gap or simply to supplement them with a qualified culturally sensitive person.
LG: And so how do you go about finding the tutors?
BC: Look we have lots of different avenues. A lot of it is word of mouth. Certainly, we’re very invested in our tutors. And we do pay them, they’re not volunteers. We value their skills, we value their qualifications, we value their time. So, we do pay them.
BC: Sometimes we do put the occasional post up on Facebook, on the appropriate group, and we do get a very good response from teachers around the country looking to help disadvantaged and indigenous kids. So we have a fantastic array of tutors and teachers on our books.
LG: How do you report on success in the organisation?
BC: Well, success is evidenced through the feedback we receive by the teachers and the schools and anecdotally by the students themselves and their parents. Our modelling has found that the key areas that we’re addressing through the program include things like better school attendance, particularly on the days that we have tutoring, which is an interesting anomaly.
BC: We’re also finding that we close the gap in the education areas like literacy, basic literacy and numeracy which is often the biggest problem with younger children in the remote communities. And we find that the one-on-one support on a regular basis really helps the child with their confidence. And having that adult mentor and person to talk to on a regular basis ends up forming a very special bond between the tutor and the child.
LG: How do you plan for the future? And, I guess, how do people find out about your services?
BC: Yeah, it’s an interesting process that we have. Obviously, our goal is to impact as many children as we can and to find out the best way to contribute to improving their future life outcomes.
BC: We believe, and we’d love to think, that one day we could provide a personal tutor for every child that needs it particularly indigenous, remote and disadvantaged children. In order to do this though, we need to form partnerships, not just with the students or the school or the community or the teacher. We need funding partners. And that’s the only way we can reach as many students as possible.
BC: We don’t receive any government funding or financial support from the government but we are fortunate to have a lot of interest in a lot of really amazing companies like Westpac and corporate partners and foundations and charities that are doing a really great job on the ground helping these communities and they see the value in investing in the education of our future generation and trying to address the inequity that we see so prevalent in these remote locations.
LG: And so how would a community find out about Need a Tutor and it’s services?
BC: We sometimes go out to different communities and approach them. We’ve done that in the past with recommendations from teachers or other organisations. But generally what happens is that we will be approached by an organisation that may already have support in a particular community but perhaps not education and are looking to maybe extend that support.
BC: For example, we have a fantastic foundation that does some great work with providing uniforms and providing food and also providing a learning centre for children to go to after school. The thing they didn’t have was access to learning support. So we were contacted by them to provide that as an additional service and now we conduct weekly tutoring sessions for 24 of their students in these community centres after school every day of the week.
BC: So yeah, we work through both the school avenue and the student and community avenue but we also work externally looking at different organisations and how we can help them as an additional service to what they are doing in the communities already.
LG: And is it the full range of school kids that you are helping - from prep or kindergarten right through to Year 12?
BC: That’s exactly right Lisa. We help primary, we help secondary in all areas. It’s an individual tutoring plan. So it’s not something that is prescriptive and it’s not something that’s purely done online as a question and answer. It’s geared towards the individual's needs. So the tutor will cater directly for what that child needs.
LG: What to do enjoy most about the work that you do in the community for Need a Tutor?
BC: I love what we do. I love everything about what we do. In fact, I love finding tutors because I find that they are so inspiring. A lot of these tutors often say they will work for free. They are just so wanting to help these indigenous and remote children. I love hearing the success stories that we get from our wonderful teachers and feedback from parents after sessions. I love hearing about just the connections that these tutors are making with the students after a period of time.
BC: Our commitment is paying, I think, huge dividends for the entire community. So we hope to get many more partners on board, allowing us to expand into different areas and even more remote areas within Australia. But also we’ve recently expanded overseas and we’re helping a number of at-risk girls in a very remote province of Cambodia called Prey Veng and we’re providing tutoring to those girls from Australia. So that’s been pretty exciting as well.
LG: Just as a final piece, if we were talking to other businesses or organisations that work within remote communities or looking to work within remote communities, what would be some of your advice for a successful business within remote communities? You mentioned some of the challenges you have before but also too the benefit and reward that those communities get as well. What would be your advice there?
BC: Look just from my perspective the biggest challenge that we’ve come across which I think everybody is facing is COVID. What we’ve found is the whole pandemic has exposed a huge, enormous digital divide that we knew existed in indigenous and rural communities. But the forced learning component of COVID has demonstrated something anecdotally that we’ve known but the extent of the problem is bigger than we thought.
BC: And it’s had huge implications on our communities. There are many many children that we cannot access or could not access without school or a community centre to allow them to get onto the internet. As you might be aware Lisa, many indigenous and remote students are without access to the internet in their family homes. Or they are unable to afford data, or they don’t have a device to work from.
BC: And we found that there were households where data was available but multiple children were trying to share one device and that led to many of our students disengaging from learning all together for a period of 2-3 months. I would really implore a lot of different organisations to help with that catch up around the country as schools resume.
BC: And if they can contribute at all to, you know, getting accessibility to the internet or affordability to the internet or even second-hand devices, we’d love to work with a program to enable that to happen.
LG: Well I think we might leave it there Bronwyn. Thank you very much for your time today. We’ve been speaking with Bronwyn Covill – Founder and CEO of Need a Tutor Thank you, Bronwyn.
BC: Thank you, Lisa, and thank you to Westpac for all of their support.