STEM Builders Learning Hub Limited, owned and operated by Kavelle Hylton, is seeking to fill the gap created by a lack of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers in Jamaica and the Caribbean.
Hylton told the Jamaica Observer, “I became a science teacher in 2010, but the desire to see change in our education system persisted. The problem of equitable access to education, especially for students like me that did not attend traditional high schools, continued, and so I decided to change that by creating an online learning platform where students could access qualified and experienced tutors regardless of where they go to school, live, or their socio-economic background.”
Hylton also created a science kit that became essentially a laboratory in a box. The science kits help students to get the hands-on experience that is essential for building “critical 21st-century skills and sparking that interest in pursuing a career in STEM,” the teacher and CEO says.
The company, which was registered in 2020, is primarily located online. Parents access services via the website www.stembuilders.com.
Hylton comments, “This was ideal during the pandemic since schools were closed and many persons were working from home. Now we have opted for a hybrid approach where persons can still access our services online, but we also have a new physical location, Shop #12 Pon Di Rock Plaza, Hellshire main road in Portmore, St Catherine.
The Hub generated over $2.5 million in revenue in 2021. The CEO is now considering expansion of services through equity or angel funding. The Learning Hub is one of 17 companies which are part of the Jamaica Business Development Corporation’s Accelerator programme.
Hylton told Caribbean Business Report, “The online tutoring services market globally has the potential to grow by US$16.45 billion during 2021-2025, and the market’s growth momentum accelerated during the pandemic with a long-term trend toward online learning.”
“Additionally, STEM toys market size is expected to reach revenues of US$9.5 billion by 2025 with the growing importance and interest in STEM education driving the market. Locally, the total available market is approximately 1,018,342 students, with a serviceable attainable market of approximately 570,272.”
Hylton noted that, by entering the different parishes and offering a hybrid service with its new STEM Builders Centre, the company expects to cover at least 35 per cent of the obtainable market by 2023.
The teacher asserts that the unique design of the programme has resulted in growth. Hylton shared: “We deliver the ideal STEM learning experience by combining online teaching with hands-on practical resources. Students can book a tutor, schedule a lesson, and attend their class from anywhere. Individual students and schools can also purchase science kits, lab equipment, and science materials from our online store and download free STEM resources.”
Love of science
Hylton explains that she started STEM Builders Learning Hub Limited primarily because of her love for science and “my desire for equitable access to qualified and experienced STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teachers and quality STEM resources for students in the Caribbean. The lack of access to STEM teachers and resources results in children that are not exposed to hands-on STEM learning”.
The teacher notes that the national science average for students leaving primary schools was 52.6 per cent in 2019 and schools catering to the poorest students, such as those in inner cities, had science averages up to 12 per cent below the national average.
The teacher recalled, “As a graduate of Trench Town Comprehensive High school I had first-hand experience with the consequences of this inequity since my desire to pursue the sciences was almost derailed because I did not have access to a biology, chemistry, or physics teacher. My school did human and social biology only, and we had no functioning science lab.”
Today the Learning Hub has over 40 tutors on contract that work part-time, with Hylton commenting that this allows them to supplement their income from the Government while also helping the Learning Hub provide access to students across Jamaica and the Caribbean.
The company is run with a board of advisors, a board of directors, and two administrative staff.
In 2022 the Learning Hub connects students/parents with “quality” STEM teachers for live one-on-one tutoring sessions. The company has also designed and manufactured a wide variety of STEM Activity boxes/science kits for homeschoolers, kindergarten, and primary and secondary level students.
The Learning Hub’s target market are parents, students aged between five and 24, schools, foundations, and any other organisation interested in increasing competence in the sciences.
Hylton shared that some of the challenges experienced so far include access to sourcing working capital “so that we can hire more people to help with the day-to-day operations of the business, which would help us to scale up our operations in a relatively shorter time”.
She said, “We have addressed this challenge by becoming very intimate with our numbers. Understanding our break-even point and implementing measurable strategies to increase our average sales and the value we provide to our customers have increased our revenue, and this will help us to hire more staff.”
The Learning Hub has also invested in training and implementing the different strategies. Profitability has increased by 15 per cent in 2022, in comparison to the same period last year.
Hylton told Caribbean Business Report, “We will continue to be innovative and responsive to the needs of our target market. Our aim is to build a trusted and renowned brand, hire the best talent, and expand regionally.”