Edufocal does it
It is uncertainty and fiscal fragility that has seemingly characterised 21st Century Jamaica and her people.
A devastated domestic economy, compounded by unfavourable global conditions and the plummeting value of the Jamaican dollar, feels to some to be the tip of a slippery slope towards further economic austerity and a bleak future for the land of wood and water.
Yet, this perceived barren budgetary landscape to some is a fertile pasture for others, as budding entrepreneurs across the social spectrum in Jamaica continue to conjure innovative strategies to turn bust into boom and Jamaica into a groundswell for growth.
One such entrepreneur is 23-year-old Gordon Swaby, a fresh-faced Internet entrepreneur who is CEO and founder of Edufocal Ltd, a subscription-based online educational resource for Jamaicans of Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate and Grade Six Achievement Test age.
learning by merging
After subscribing, students have access to thousands of test questions for these examinations, an online community of their peers and an interface that encourages learning by merging the principles of traditional education with the allure of modern technology.
Why Swaby can head a thriving business in such a harsh economic environment is because he has created a niche, created an economy, he has taken a simple model and made it work here in Jamaica - but with a spin.
"That spin is a concept called 'gamification'. Gamification is essentially incorporating game-like elements into non-game contexts; and in our particular situation, is that we've chosen to incorporate it into education," he explained to The Gleaner.
"Students pay a subscription fee, sign into Edufocal and have access to thousands of test-prep questions from teachers all across Jamaica. Once students are answering questions correctly on Edufocal, you'll earn experience points which allow them to move from one level to the next. While they're leveling up, they have the opportunity to win small incentives like movie tickets, food vouchers and phone credit."
A remarkably simple idea, that no one else on the island was doing, to his knowledge, when he conceived the idea with his cousin years ago and realised his vision in March 2012.
"We've got a lot of support from corporate Jamaica, particularly BCIC and Rainforest Seafoods; they've been very supportive of us. We've had a lot of take-up from the students. We have over 3,000 registered students now who actively use the service. Our results speak for themselves. Last year, four out of our five students on the leaderboard got their first choice and all scored in the 90's."
Swaby insists that Jamaica has grounds for growth and prosperity, citing his own journey as empirical evidence, but says that many Jamaicans are forced into entrepreneurship, creating a culture of hustling that is bad for business and repels potential investors. He urged budding businessmen and women to become formalised and registered with the relevant authorities and offered some advice as to how to carve out their own niche in the bustling world of business.
"Spend time fine-tuning your craft; take it seriously," he explained.
"Yes, you have to focus on the here and now. And I think that human beings are hard wired to focus on here and now. And the real outliers are the ones who decide to be more prudent about their activities. So every action, every step that you take should not be for here and now, but also for the future. You're setting up yourself for not only you to flourish, but for your children and your children's children to flourish, and that should be the way you look at life in general. And become formalised, definitely."
Our results speak for themselves. Last year, four out of our five students on the leaderboard got their first choice and all scored in the 90's.