I wanted to be a teacher since I was a small girl,” admits Noor Boodai, 26, as she leans back in her chair in her Kuwait-based home office. She almost made this dream come true, but it has taken a twist. Boodai is in fact today both the founder of NEST (Nurture and Educate Students Today)—a Kuwaiti charity dedicated to helping educate those in need—and the founder of the Darisni App, which supports students in their learning outside of school.
In 2013, while still a 19-year-old undergraduate student in the faculty of engineering at Kuwait University, Boodai decided to establish NEST after becoming aware of the situation that children of refugees and war victims face as they suffer from a basic lack of educational materials. “While other charities were concerned with providing food and blankets to these victims, no one was thinking about education at all,” says Boodai.
Since launching, NEST has paid school fees for thousands of struggling students, as well as covering school supplies. According to Boodai, over the last six years it has provided full scholarships for higher education for more than 6,000 people.
As NEST grew, Boodai began to conduct research and development to uncover what was missing in the education sector in MENA. For two years, under a new company—Dars, or “a lesson” in Arabic—she researched curriculums, student feedback and exam results across the region to understand the weaknesses in the governmental education system.
Finding that there was a gap in the market for private tutoring fit for a digital age, Boodai self-funded and launched Darisni—which means “Teach Me” in Arabic—in 2017. The app is an online tuition platform for students of different levels from all over MENA. Boodai describes it as “Uber for private tutors”. For a subscription, students can choose what subjects they want to learn, while teachers log into their accounts and help users directly, while being paid by the minute.
The app offers an easy platform for studying by providing video lessons by professional teachers. Boodai says that Darisni now serves over 300,000 students, and has a total daily view of 1,000 to 1,500 minutes The content is provided by over 350 certified and screened teachers. They even help with homework—students simply need to take a picture of their question and submit it to the teacher.
Boodai’s passion for the project comes from personal experience. While she was a student herself, she faced problems with private tutors. She occasionally used a private teacher when she needed help with a subject that she did not understand, but found that he was not always available. “When I was a student, I needed help sometimes before the exam,” Boodai remembers. “But when I would call a private teacher, he was not available as he was sleeping or too busy to reply.”
Darisni now has offices in Amman, Jordan and Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt, in addition to the main office in Kuwait. Collectively, a team of around 150 create and collate the educational content. Almost all subjects are taught by teachers native to the GCC. For non-GCC teachers, a handbook is provided to teach them the local dialect so they can interact and quickly understand questions from the students.
In a step to provide better services and improve the app, Boodai organizes activities and focus groups that aim to acquire a more in-depth understanding about students’ needs and requirements, with the team then updating the app based on the information they collect.
The feedback they have received from these activities has helped to shape the next big thing for Darisni. “The education process is not limited to students and teachers only, it includes the parent,” says Boodai. Looking ahead and Darisni will offer new features for parents to monitor their child’s progress, providing statistics and an overall evaluation.
Teachers will also be getting access to new features that give them the ability to create reports, give exam feedback and assess a student’s strengths and weaknesses. And it won’t only be the students getting accessed—there will also be a review system whereby students can give feedback on their tutors and their teaching methods.
In a world where technology is now part of everything we use and interact with, e learning is a natural and necessary step. But at the moment these platforms are at their best when combined with traditional teaching, parental support and continuous passion.