Posted on July 2, 2018 by staff

AI business Matr hoping to plug the STEM skills gap


The founder of a London-based EdTech company believes that its technology could help plug the growing skills gap, particularly for disadvantaged students.

According to government figures, UK classrooms are set to grow another 20 per cent by 2025 and Tom Hooper, founder of Matr, says that tutoring can help to close the skills gap.

“One-to-one teaching is the most effective unit of learning that a child can experience. Teachers can’t do that. They are tasked with group learning,” explains Hooper.

This makes them prohibitively expensive for all but “a significant minority of more affluent children.”

Matr is attempting to solve this problem with technology. “We’re effectively an online teaching assistant,” he said.  “We’re using technology to make online teaching accessible to a far wider audience of children.”

Working with schools, the company allows teachers to provide on-demand one-on-one education to students via hundreds of trained tutors across India and China.

“By doing it online we require great talent, and we pay incredibly well across emerging markets. Equally, it enables us to deliver it cheaper here in the UK,” he said.

Hooper set up Matr in 2013, and has spent his time fine-tuning this global community, but is quick to point out that Matr is not a ‘tutor marketplace’.

The company has already delivered half a million sessions to school children across the UK, and takes the responsibility of providing top-class education is very seriously.

The company, which is currently focussed on delivering maths tutoring, recently closed a £4.75m funding round lead by the University College of London.

It is now developing an occupational qualification for online teaching alongside the University, and will use the funds to build out its AI and increase its global reach.

“We believe that a hallmark of a good education system is in good training and good safeguarding and well-structured learning,” Hooper  said.

Matr does this by not only connecting tutors and students, but finding and training the tutors. It does this with the help of artificial intelligence.

“We create online teacher training programmes, and we use the data from the hundreds of thousands of one-to-one lessons that we deliver to get insights into good practice. We then provide that insight intelligently back via the platform.”

“That’s what AI is, it’s an artificial means of augmenting the humans that use our platform,” he explains.

“It’s low-level stuff that we’re doing now, and a lot of the investment is to start accelerating that.”

Whilst investment in the company shows the need for more technology in education, Hooper believes that the teaching itself needs no improvement.

“Technology can play a part, but we shouldn’t forget that education is a human event.”

“The number of talks I’ve heard where people say ‘the classroom hasn’t changed since the Victorian era. We need a revolution’. I’m not convinced we do. Education is very pure. It’s one person imparting knowledge to another.

“We need to start from the reality that teaching is very difficult and we’re never going to be able to train someone to be a brilliant teacher. We’ can’t commoditise that.

“AI and technology are a means to accelerate value creation. It doesn’t make the value, it augments it.”

Hooper hinted at plans to expand Matr’s tutoring with more subjects in future, but said that the platform is limited to subjects which can be consistently across taught across continents.

“Languages are something we’d be interested, as is science,” he said.