Jacob Kelly: founder of the tutoring initiative promoting free education amid school closures

Interviews Profile

Image description: Corona Virus Tutoring Initiative Logo 

 

On Wednesday 18th March 2020, much to the anticipated concerns of many parents, guardians and teachers, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the mandatory and indefinite closure of schools throughout the UK.

Amongst the proliferation of anxious-driven questions surrounding examinations, predicted grades, home-schooling and childcare, an idea inspired an Oxford University student, second-year undergraduate Jacob Kelly, as he immediately recognised the potential impact of such a decision on those families unable to secure and afford private tutoring.

Following the news, Kelly decided to circulate a Google doc form to gather interest through Facebook from any university students who would be interested in offering free tuition. In just twenty-four hours, Kelly received over 1,000 sign-ups. What initially began as a local project where Kelly planned on “manually matching people”, quickly transitioned to a project requiring “a team of 15-20 people”. And so, the Corona Virus Tutoring Initiative was officially founded.

Speaking to Kelly, his main objective for the initiative was made clear: to ensure that students, of all ages, “keep thinking about their subject and keep enjoying their subject”. In this acknowledgement, Kelly was keen to state that the role of the tutors is not to know the curriculum inside out or to help a student “answer an essay question perfectly”, but, instead, cater their teaching so they may keep students intrigued. Kelly is certainly in favour of an approach prioritising the cultivation of learning over the strenuous task of tick-boxing standardised assessment objectives.

Unable to pre-empt the demand and interest of his project, Kelly admits that the Corona Virus Tutoring Initiative is currently “operating on a day-to-day basis”. However, much to his credit, the Initiative has thus far graced a successful path, with a third of the approximate 3,000 volunteers who have expressed interest already completing their safeguarding training.

The body of volunteers is an amalgamation of students studying at various universities (Oxford, Cambridge and Durham to name a few). Kelly praises the Initiative’s composition, claiming the variation in tutors establishes “a broader perspective” and maintains a necessary level of inclusivity so that students who gravitate to all aspects of education can be accommodated.

To manage such a vast and dedicated body of volunteers, Kelly has split his team into focused sub-sections. Describing the machine now needed for this operation, Kelly explained: “there’s a group working on publicity, a group working on support, a safeguarding team, a couple of people working on programming and there’s a team working to train and support new tutors.”

Kelly’s idea in its embryonic phase has turned into a fundamental lesson about communications, start-ups and scaling. He recognised that whilst “all of the people involved are learning on the job”, he and his team have received invaluable support from other long-standing established initiatives and charities, including Project Access.

Reflecting on the future of the Corona Virus Tutoring Initiative and its longevity beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelly poignantly observes that the socio-economic disparity evident in and inextricable from our education system “won’t go away when schools re-open”. Whilst this is an unfortunate fact, the Corona Virus Tutoring Initiative has now created a “network of however-many thousand amazing university students” who are all more than willing to assist those in need.

The Corona Virus Tutoring Initiative is a silver lining in the emotional turmoil symptomatic of a widespread, devastating pandemic. At its epitome, it disproves the often-clichéd stereotypes and remarks that young people are indifferent to or unconcerned with topical issues. At a time where the terms, ‘isolation’, ‘social distancing’ and ‘quarantine’ consume the media, the Corona Virus Tutoring Initiative aims at unifying people through engaging, educational discussions.

Those interested in receiving free tuition from the Corona Virus Tutoring Initiative are invited to visit coronavirustutoring.co.uk for more information.

 

Image courtesy of Jacob Kelly, Corona Virus Tutoring Initiative. 

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