EQUITY IN EDUCATION: Techfunic Provides Online Tutoring at Competitive Prices

Look for the Company to Open a Seed Round of $2M Later This Year.

inter-TECH-ion intern Penelope Rivera wrote this article…

When it comes to education around the world, not everyone gets equal access. Poverty is one barrier in many countries,  both for access and for obtaining a high-quality education.

Typically, the poorest countries experience the highest out-of-school rates — those who have never even started school. In Third World countries, more than 68 million citizens cannot afford to attend school.

Compounding the barrier to access was the pandemic and ensuing lockdown. Since schools all over the world shut down, some parents have been concerned about their children learning via a computer screen, unsure of how effective this would be.

That’s why Ann Andrews, who has degrees in computer science and engineering, started a virtual edtech company in India.

“There needed to be a guarantee for parents that their children could be productive at home while working remotely,” Andrews told inter-TECH-ion.

Andrews and her corporate team were recently selected by the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute to participate in its accelerator. They are doing this in-person in New York City.

Another honor: Andrews was awarded the NYU Female Founders Fellowship for her pioneering work and contribution to America’s education system.

This fellowship qualifies Andrews to apply for a loan- alleviation grant once she completes her MBA at NYU’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, which she expects to do in 2023.

Techfunic’s U.S. HQ is in Jersey City. After the corporate team completes the accelerator program, Andrews plans on moving the HQ to NYC.

Techfunic’s Mission
The mission of Techfunic is to “provide high-quality tutoring in a fun, interactive, and intimate group setting that engages children productively.”

Techfunic’s original goal was to enhance students’ education during the pandemic.

In the future, as more and more students around the world go back to school in-person, Techfunic plans to continue live online classes. Andrews anticipates that she can grow her customer base even more based on feedback from currently-enrolled families.

Tutoring is available for elementary, middle, and high-school students.

Partnering with Colleges around the World
Globally, India is considered the “breeding ground of technology and math talent.”

With Andrews living in India, she capitalized on that — partnering with Indian colleges to hire tutors. To date, Techfunic has close to 150 college partners there.

Techfunic has also hired college undergrad tutors in Uganda, as well as other nations in Africa.

And, it started hiring tutors in the U.S. after the company joined the startup accelerator program at NYU, including grads and undergrads at NYU.

Currently, the corporate team has five core members and eight consultants. It has 35 tutors on the roster, and is hiring close to 10 tutors each month.

Techfunic tutor

The startup offers two core programs:
The first is the companys’ namesake, Techfunic. In this program, students learn to think programmatically, building games, not just playing them.

They get an intro to the world of coding through stories and fables. For instance, with the Little Geniuses program for students aged 7 to 11, they develop games and make stories come to life.

Take Aesop’s fable, for example, about a mouse saving a lion by eating through a net barrier.

Using Scratch, an online program developed by MIT to introduce coding to children, students get10 minutes to become familiarized with the story. Then, they use stripes and other images for the mouse and lion. Next, they add motion coordinates to the mouse stripe. And, then use blocks set in a loop to execute repeated actions, such as the mouse biting through the net in which the lion is trapped.

While making this happen, the students are getting familiar with coding concepts, in a tangible way, like for-loops, while constructs, if-then-else sequences, and programming co-ordinates.

This facilitates the development of algorithmic thinking and problem-solving skills. And, boosts their confidence.

“Programming languages come and go,” Andrews said. “Introducing children to foundational concepts and problem-solving algorithmically at a young age is important for them to develop an interest and be confident about tech.”

The second program offered is Arithfunic. With this, students strengthen their foundation in math with consistent practice alongside their regular schooling. Some children receive help with their homework and prepare for what’s being taught next week; others get math enrichment to help them qualify for college-prep AP-classes.

Democratizing Education
“To democratize education, every child in the U.S. should have access to affordable, personalized tutoring,” Andrews said.

If children need extra help and parents cannot afford to pay for tutors, this may cause students to underperform and fall behind the rest of their classmates, making it a socioeconomic issue, she emphasized.

Andrews has a Bachelor of Technology from the University of Kerala. Before starting Techfunic she amassed 18 years of experience in corporate technology, mostly in data modeling and enterprise data management.

She has worked with programs like C, Java and HTML web development, as well as realms including database design, product management and business intelligence.

She first launched her company in 2020 when COVID-19 caused public schools in India to shut down. 

From June 2020 to July 2021, Techfunic enrolled 250 students into one of their programs.

When the company first launched in the U.S. it only attracted students from the U.S. But soon, parents from other countries like Singapore, Germany, and Switzerland started signing their children up.

The company has an operations team that coordinates classes across different time zones to teach international students seamlessly.

Personal Catalyst as Inspiration
Andrews said her inspiration for creating Techfunic came from what she experienced with her own children, as she witnessed what was critical for students to have in India — a solid foundation in STEM — science, technology, engineering, and math classes.

“Growing up in India, (with) daily practice in math via supplemental tutoring has made math second nature for me and that has given me an edge in life,” Andrews said. “Whether it is a tutoring organization, or private tutor, these types of educational support systems are known to be very expensive in the U.S. The proficiency of U.S. children in STEM is much lower than in other industrialized countries, but this need not be the case.”

Funding the Company
Andrews invested the equivalent of $250,000 USD towards the initial expenses of the company to develop initial frameworks and other areas. Those included the tech, marketing/branding, curriculum and tutor training.

She is completely self-funded; summer camps this year have helped expand her customer base.

She expects to open a seed round seeking $2 million by the end of the year, to support growth and expansion strategies for 2022.

“We are having initial conversations with investors in the early startup stage, especially those who support social impact and education,” she said. “Investors who focus on supporting women and immigrant founders have also started reaching out.”

Cost and Competition
Typically, a tutor costs $45/hour, and can reach up to $100/ hour, according to tutors.com.

Techfunic programs, in contrast, start at $12/hour.

Benefit of Live Tutors
“In today’s pandemic world of virtual education, children can be easily distracted when left to learn by themselves using online content or videos alone,” Andrews said. “A live tutor makes a world of difference, ensuring that the students’ videos are on, and children share screens, creating an engaging environment like a real class.”

Class sizes are capped at three for “an optimal learning experience,” she added.

“Our parents report higher confidence and better grades in less than six weeks,” she said.

Scheduling and coordination of tutors, along with feedback, and result tracking are handled by the Techfunic team. A free trial class can be booked here.

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