Bringing NCEA tutorials to the masses

June 2017

Education Review talks to DR Deborah Lambie about LearnCOACH, a site she co-founded that is helping thousands of Kiwi students to pass NCEA.

deborah lambie
Dr Deborah Lambie

Next to a LearnCOACH tutorial video titled ‘How to write an amazing essay’ is a button that says ‘Procrastinate’. Of course, I have to click on it, and a pop-up tells me that the co-founder of LearnCOACH, Deb, is a member of Toastmasters, which, surprisingly, is not a group that meets to discuss the latest toast news, “but a girl can dream”. This is just one of the interesting tidbits you’ll find under ‘Procrastinate’. Then there’s also a ‘Stop procrastination’ button.

It isn’t hard to see why teenagers like this site. I proceed to watch the essay tutorial, which is up-to-date and funny (it has references to Donald Trump, grammar Nazis and so on), as well as being easy to understand and, most importantly, aimed at meeting NCEA requirements.

Deb, or more formally Dr Deborah Lambie, laughs when I express my delight in the humorous touches.

“A friend of mine is a comedian and he went through and made sure everything was on point,” she says.

LearnCOACH is a labour of love in that respect, its content dependent on the input of co-founders Deb and her partner Dave Cameron and volunteers. There are now over 200 tutorials on LearnCOACH, and they have helped over 60,000 students. Not bad for a site conjured up in 2012.

“Four years ago I learned that one in 10 New Zealand students leave school with no qualifications and it really broke my heart,” says Deb. “And when your heart breaks for something, you have to take action.”

At the time, Deb and Dave were involved in tutoring high school students. As a secondary teacher, Dave had seen many students falling further and further behind, and as a doctor, Deb had seen the impact that missing school had on children with health issues. Students would underachieve, fail and, even worse, some students would label themselves as ‘dumb’ and give up on school altogether. Realising there was a limit to the number of students they could help with tutoring, they came up with the idea of providing the tutorials by video to reach a much larger number of students.

“Many parents are unable to help or can’t afford extra tuition,” says Deb. “Students can access these for free at any time.”

At the moment, LearnCOACH is completely self-funded so it is not hard to understand why Deb was so thrilled to receive a $10,000 AMP ‘Dare to Dream’ Scholarship.

She intends to use the scholarship money to help expand the site and add more tutorials over the summer.

At the moment the site has tutorials, old exam questions and answers, tutorial summaries that can be downloaded, and even the capacity for students to submit feedback and ask questions.

“You wouldn’t expect kids to take the time to send feedback, but they do. We get all sorts of emails and questions. One kid emailed recently saying he was having a crisis and the site had saved his life.”

There are plenty of plans to develop LearnCOACH further.

Deb and Dave hope to eventually include resources for parents, to help them better understand NCEA. There are plans afoot to offer tutorials in te reo Māori, subtitles for students who are deaf, and to work with youth health organisations.

The big goal for LearnCOACH, however, is for it to become sustainable, so that if Deb and Dave ever had to step back from it, the site would still continue. They have become a charitable trust, which will hopefully allow them to apply for funding in the future.

As if she isn’t busy enough with the site and her full-time ‘day job’ as a doctor at Wellington Hospital, last year Deb held the title of Miss World New Zealand. The competition required contestants to be involved in a charity project – an easy requirement for Deb, given that LearnCOACH was well underway by then.

Deb admits she’s pleased to have more time to focus on the site now that her duties as Miss World New Zealand have finished; however, she says the title definitely helped to leverage the site.

The ‘change the world’ mantra of beauty pageant queens is often a cliché, but Deb is certainly walking the talk. She is fast realising her dream of stamping out educational inequality with LearnCOACH.


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