Growth & Jobs | Ricardo Allen: Revolutionising online education
WHEN RICARDO Allen declined his Fulbright Scholarship, little did he know he would be helping to further the educational development and achievement of thousands of secondary-school students across the Caribbean by creating One on One Educational Services Limited.
Since its inception in 2014, the company has provided e-learning assistance to more than 50,000 students across the region, even in the aftermath of natural disasters.
“One on One started roughly about six years ago as a tutoring company, providing quality personal extra classes for students in and around Kingston and St Andrew. We started tutoring mathematics and we quickly got into the sciences,” the chief executive officer (CEO) and founder said.
Allen recounts how quickly the company grew, creating the need to reposition classes online.
“We moved from 50 students to 500 to 1,000 students within two years. We then realised we were bursting at the seams and we could not continue in the physical classrooms. We then took the formula we had, which allowed students to perform so well that personalised 10-to-one ratio formula, online. The company recruited some of the best teachers within the Caribbean to create lessons in the form of online learning videos for students,” he shared.
E-learning enables students to learn anywhere and not be distracted by occurrences in their physical environment. Students go through classes at their own pace, as they can pause, fast-forward and rewind lessons/topics.
“We’re in the business of enabling companies, governments and students to learn online, using instructional technologies and content that have been developed for the Caribbean,” Allen noted.
Allen recalled how, in 2016, a partnership with telecommunications provider FLOW pushed the company’s boundaries and led to its further expansion.
“We teamed up with FLOW to allow more persons within the Caribbean to have access to our online learning programmes. We helped to create what is called ‘FLOW Study’, which allows FLOW customers and non-customers to have access to our resources on their smart devices without any Internet charges,” he explained.
Allen noted that the collaboration enabled students to access lessons and classes without the limitation of Internet connectivity, a valuable commodity which is scarce during times of natural disasters.
“When Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the Eastern Caribbean in 2017, we were called by the governments of the Eastern Caribbean community to fly a team down to the location to help keep students in school, even though the physical buildings were destroyed,” he informed.
In 2017, Hurricane Irma was the first Category 5 cyclone to ever hit the group of islands. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria, another Category 5 cyclone, devastated the islands of Dominica, St Croix, and Puerto Rico.
“In Dominica, students were out of school for six months. But because of our online programme, the country increased its overall academic performance that year,” Allen pointed out.
The company’s efforts during that unfortunate period was commended by, and received a nod of approval from, the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC).
HELPING STUDENTS STAY ON TRACK
“CXC saw what we were doing in helping students to stay on track with their studies, and thought to partner with us to expand our online presence, by working with them on their learning platform ‘Learning Up’,” Allen said.
He noted that as recent as last year, when another natural disaster threatened the education system of another Caribbean island, One on One again answered the call to provide online educational support.
“When Hurricane Dorian devastated The Bahamas, One on One Limited was again called in to provide e-learning solutions. Sandals Resort teamed up with us so that students could receive schooling every week on our platform. We streamed the content, and Internet connectivity was not a problem. Students were able to learn at their pace and convenience,” Allen recounted.
The young CEO beamed with pride as he noted that 95 per cent of the students using One on One Educational Services receive a grade one or two in mathematics and English. He highlights how inspiring this is, as Jamaica actively seeks to improve the national mathematics average.
“While we’ve excelled in the online classroom space, we’ve also transitioned into allowing other universities and companies to use our services. Online learning is the future, every Caribbean country should have a strategy to keep students and teachers in schools connected in the event of natural disasters. We have a very high probability of being affected by natural disasters, such as earthquakes, hurricanes, floods and, in recent times, pandemics,” Allen stated.
Meanwhile, as the Caribbean grapples with the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) on health, the economy and education, One on One Educational Services Limited has joined the fight against the virus.
“In response to the closure of school buildings due to COVID-19, we’ve partnered with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information to roll out e-learning solutions. We have our One on One classroom product, which allows any teacher to sign up at https://classroom.1on1lms.com/ using their Gmail address, invite their students, and teach their live online class, and that’s free for the rest of the school year in light of the virus outbreak,” Allen shared.
He added that a similar product is being offered for businesses, if staff meetings or training sessions need to be conducted.
As it relates to tertiary institutions, the 30-year-old innovator and former Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative fellow shared that the company created an online platform for professional development that is to be launched next month.