empowermefirst.college - key Q&A

We make higher education accessible - against all odds!

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein

The concept is innovative, it’s exciting. We tried to answer the questions we most frequently get.
If your question isn’t answered please write to us, so we can add it.

Key Q&A

For too many children, schooling does not mean learning,” said World Bank Chief Economist, Paul Romer.

We are a charity based in Switzerland. Our aim is to bridge educational gaps between secondary school and university to allow more students to pass university entry level. We start in sub-Saharan Africa, where “according to UIS data (UNESCO), almost 60% of youth between the ages of about 15 and 17 are not in school.” empowermefirst.college is accessible to anyone regardless of gender, background, belief, physical mobility, social or financial status.

The teaching units are accessible via mobile phone and other devices, the students will have regular access to tutors and can collaborate with other students globally. The teaching units can be used offline to save data and by local high schools to provide state of the art teaching material.

The main language at first is English. At a later stage it will be available in French, Spanish and other major languages.

Learn more

We focus on years 9/10 to 12. While many students receive secondary school education, years 10 to 12 are often less accessible, either because they’re not available in the rural areas, unaffordable or the young people are forced to make a living for their families.

We focus on talented poor and middle-class students who can’t afford private school education but are keen on getting access to university or a good vocational education. We are also on supporting local state schools with material and teacher trainings to give more students the chance to go into higher education. Because the teaching units are independent of space and set school hours, they are accessible from anywhere and anytime. So, even students expected to earn a living can study in their spare time.

Our education aims beyond classic upper secondary school education. We go further to empower young people to be successful in the global market of the 21st century.

We empower young people to turn their ideas and innovations into thriving businesses. We do this firstly with projects in which the students apply their knowledge and turn it to practical use. Secondly, they are encouraged to collaborate internationally on completing their projects or entering national and international competitions. Thirdly, we coach them in setting up a start-up.

We especially want to bring change to society by empowering young women, as they are driving forces of social and economic change. We do this by firstly making education independent of space, time and finances, secondly giving learning flexibility women in life situation in which they may not be able to attend a school in town, during the day or full-time. Thirdly, applying knowledge to everyday situations has proven to make science more accessible to girls, thus we empower young women to go into science and engineering. Forthly, we create education materials with stories of great achievements by women.

Sustainability isn’t just a rich man’s luxury, it has great impact on a country’s economic development and future. We go further and turn it into economic chances for students. We do this, by firstly using examples and setting projects that educate students in how to think sustainably. For example, might a biology project involve building a compost container from waste plastic bottles. The students will then turn vegetable waste into compost, use the compost to plant vegetables for a roof-top urban garden and the biogas for cooking. For economy class they then make a business plan in how to start a community kitchen with a small fee for the use of gas or a snack stand, for which they might even use their own vegetables produce.

The digital competences students acquire in the course of their studies will make them competitive in today’s job market and business world. It will allow them to access knowledge effectively, network globally, conduct efficient online meetings and make them ready for lifelong learning.

In a globally linked world, networking is central. Students build global research networks through our collaborative tool. These contacts may stay, after they’ve become business owners, policy makers, engineers, innovators. To be successful in a global world, learning about different cultures leads to understanding of different values and cultural norms and creates openness, flexibility, respect for and acceptance of difference. We give clear codes of conduct based on our values and standards set by human rights, educate about and celebrate cultural differences, educate about how to communicate in a respectful and constructive way. Furthermore, we don’t only teach about different systems of governance, but allow students to learn about the benefits of democracy, flat hierarchy and grass-roots decision making, in different learning situations, be it when working in research groups, be it when they are asked to help improve the teaching units, be it when they have to network to reduce their fees or bring their project to the community, be it in peer-to-peer problem solving and tutoring, be it by tutors not acting as authority figures but as guides and mentors.

We offer online upper secondary education to prepare students for university entry level. In each country we will analyse the university entry requirements and adjust the material to meet the country’s syllabus. For this we work with local teachers, schools, and school boards.

Furthermore, we will use the framework of the IB (international baccalaureate) to allow the students easier access to international universities and scholarships.

We also focus on vocational programs. This can be tailor-made to the needs of our sponsors. Let’s say you need electricians or mechanics for your plants in South Africa, we can work with you to put together learning units that will give your trainees the theoretical knowledge.

Using student-driven, project-based online learning units prepares students for the demands at university and in the job
market. The content relates to their realities as well as allowing to cross-link knowledge to global issues such as climate change, sustainability, health, digitalization, equality, human rights.

The online college learning units will mostly be structured in four stages:

  • Introductory videos by tutors, explaining the main points, giving advice on what to focus on and learning strategies.
  • Theory to read up with extra references to further reading.
  • Exercises on different levels of difficulty in an online test structure with feedback of how to solve the problem and references to theory, if they got an answer wrong or want further reading. They have to pass each level to move on to the next.
  • Projects in which they can apply their knowledge. This can be internationally collaborative and will be graded by a tutor. For instance, in physics, they may have to build a simple motor with household goods and then write a journal of why they did it in a certain way, what they observed and measured and how they can apply their theoretical knowledge, e.g., by calculating the energy used.

This will empower the students to think crosslinked, develop their own learning strategies and individual projects.

Students are encouraged to take part in local and international research competitions, in which they can prove their abilities and further their chances of scholarships.

Students can get help in the following ways:

  • Online forum
  • International collaboration with other students from our global network
  • Message or email to their tutors or local teachers
  • Regular online tutoring sessions at different times of day and night to accommodate different time zones and students, who work during the day
  • Feedback on their marks and coaching by an assigned tutor

The tutors will be constantly trained by us in methodology and use of the material. They get support from the authors and department heads and are asked to make suggestions to improve the material.

Here’s an example for two physics units.

1) introductory video

In this video, there will be the following information:

a) What the unit is about.
examples: I motions , II work energy and power

b) tips and tricks
– How to go about learning it.
– What formulae students need to learn.
– How they can memorize the theory best. 
– Where to find more information, e.g. links or downloadable material.

c) focus:
What do the students need to focus on, e.g., examples of motions in our daily lives. Maybe a video with a motion and explaining the main concepts involved in it.

e) theory explained
With examples and sample exercises that tutors solve step by step.

2) written theory – online and for download / in an offline version

a) theory explained in written form and more extensively and in a downloadable / offline version.

b) examples

c) sample exercises
with sample answer and tips of how to solve them.

d) further reading: links, downloadable material

3) practice:

a) online and as offline / downloable version

b) different levels
students can only enter the higher level, when they got the easier ones right.

c) answer with learning opportunity
The answers will include tips of how to solve the problem and links to further reading.

4) project for further study and innovation

a) core task:
This project is the main objective of the unit and can be done individually or as a collaborative project.

b) result:
Students have to film the process and write a diary / essay on it.

c) example:
I motions: Students watch different objects going down a board at a different angle and have to measure the speed and explain why the speed is different (angle: gravitation, friction: material, form)
II work energy and power: in the example a simple motor is built with a battery.

d) Own ideas: Innovation
I motions:
Own example / ideas from students are very welcome, e.g. an object pushes another.

II work energy and power:
Students build a motor with renewable energy sources: wind, water, sun and send the plan and a film of how they build it for marking.

e) marking:
The project will be marked and the students receive a grade.

  • Maths
  • Science: Physics, Biology, Chemistry. Later: sport and health science, computer science, design technology
  • First Language: English. Later French, Spanish, …: language and literature
  • Language acquisition: German, French, Latin. later: English, Spanish, ancient Greek…
  • Arts: fine arts, illustration, writing, music
  • Individuals and society: leadership, economics, geography, history (local and global syllabus), world religions. Later: Information Technology in a Global Society (ITGS), philosophy, psychology, global politics

we can add new subjects on demand.

There are no fees for education, mentoring and assessment done by empowermefirst.college. However, if students choose to sit exams outside our school environment, e.g., Cambridge exams, those fees apply.

We offer a baseline test, to give students the best possible support in their choice of subjects and carrer planning. Students can retake the test after two months, if their ambition is to study a course they are not yet ready for. We thus advise students to take the test in late winter or early spring to give them enough time.

The entry requirements are a completed secondary school education and a teacher recommentations. Furthermore, they are asked to make a short motivational video. During their studies we also ask them to actively support empowermefirst.college by engaging in peer-to-peer tutoring and organising fundraising events.

We work with governments to see what we can offer to improve accessibilty and quality of teaching materials and methods throught out state schools. Often, it might be more effective for schools to invest in material that is constantly updated than in school books.
Furthermore, saving on printing cost may compensate for investment in infrastructure.

We focus on years 9/10 to 12, because lower secondary school up to year 9 education is provided in most countries, even in rural areas, while upper secondary is often less accessible and less affordable.

Furthermore, most young people at that age own a mobile phone and are versed in using it. They are keen on student-driven, independent learning, if they have access to collaboration and the guidance of their tutors. Because the teaching units are independent of space and set school hours, they are accessible from anywhere and anytime. So, even students expected to earn a living can study in their spare time.

According to UNESCO, 60% of youths between 14 and 17 in sub-Saharan Africa are out of school, while 2/3 still receive secondary school education. If of the 27% of the extra dropouts 10% can be reached, we have a large student body to start with. Furthermore, infrastructure in many of the sub-Saharan African countries allows for students to have mobile phones and at least intermittent access to electricity, Wi-Fi or data. We also have a good personal network in these countries.

All units can be done with mobile phones.

We first start in countries where most young people have mobile phones, intermittent access to electricity and data/Wi-Fi.

There will be a low data, low tech version, in which teaching units can be downloaded for offline use. These units can still be done without watching the introductory videos. To get help from other students and their tutors, they would need to access the forum or send messages. Alternatively, they can work with their local teachers.

We will also start a campaign to sponsor devices like computers, phones, routers or solar panels to schools and students.

As we try to make our project as close to the students’ reality, a physics project could include building their own (preferably sustainable) generator, while an (interdisciplinary) economics project could be, to build a food dryer out of scrap metal, to prevent food waste and generate an extra income to pay for their data plan.

We will safeguard our website against hackers.

We make it unattractive for people to try to steal our content by keeping fees low and providing attractive benefits. For instance, should it be cheaper for students and schools to use our online materials than to have to buy schools up-to-date books. Especially, if they have to walk or cycle long distances to school, carrying a notepad, pen and a phone or tablet is far more motivating to regularly attend school, than having to carry a heavy bag of possibly outdated books.

Fully enrolled students can get many benefits: High class, up to date material, motivating methodology, an international network, personal coaching, online classes at different times to choose from at their own convenience, grading, feedback, a leaving certificate. Those who can’t afford the fees, can apply for a scholarship, which might even include a sponsored device.

Schools get regular teacher trainings, coaching and support on use of the material, methodology and grading. If they can’t afford signing up for the package, they can get it for free in return for tutor time: The tutors give certain hours after school to work as online tutors, for which they get special training.

Firstly, we will progressively develop every year. At the same time, we will expand the regions. After English speaking Sub-Saharan Africa, English speaking parts of the Caribbean, Americas, Asia, rest of Africa….

Secondly, we will expand into other language regions: French speaking Africa, Caribbean, Spanish speaking countries, …. At the same time, we will add new subjects.

We are constantly analyzing, how we can reach more students in the existing areas, be it by introducing sponsoring projects for scholarships (“sponsor a child”) or teachers, hardware, school infrastructure, sustainable electricity.

As a charity we depend very much on people believing in our cause and volunteering to create education for millions.

We need you in many ways: Influencers to tell the world about our cause, funraisers, web specialists, authors, tutors,…
volunteering opportunities

  • Affordable, high class education to reach university entry level
  • motivating methodology and teaching material they can relate to
  • Access to education independent of area of residency, time, cultural restrictions and finances
  • International collaboration platform, which can lead to future research partnerships
  • High level of education and leaving certificiate
  • Better chances for scholarships and university acceptance globally
  • Parents: Support in home schooling
  • State of the art teaching, up-to-date teaching materials for all students and  especially for gifted and motivated students
  • Material for distance learning
  • Material for talent promotion
  • Regular teacher training
  • Boost to economic progress
  • Highly skilled local workforce and less dependency on foreign expertise
  • Less youth unemployment, poverty and resulting crime
  • More social equality, improved standard of education in schools with low funding or in poor areas
  • More innovative projects and startups emerging locally, less brain-drain
  • Students and schools get internationally networked, which can lead to future research networks
  • Boost to service industries, research and development
  • Education for young people confined to institutions, such as clinics and detention centers
  • More political stability, less conflict, less corruption
  • More sustainable and socially responsible decision making
  • Less migration, fewer refugees
  • More spending power, new markets open up
  • More accessible to investment

The fees are kept to a minimum and there will be scholarships for talented students from poor backgrounds and we encourage students to take part in international competitions.      

We work with governments to see what we can offer to improve accessibilty and quality of teaching materials and methods throught out state schools. Often, it might be more effective for schools to invest in material that is constantly updated than in school books.
Furthermore, saving on printing cost may compensate for investment in infrastructure.
We also will start campaigns to invest in specific infrastructure as well as student sponsorship.

From the second year after the launch, the fees should cover part of the content production and salaries for local tutors. From the third year, they should also cover part of the salaries for the global tutors and department heads. From the fourth year forward, they should cover a larger part of the costs.

As we are developing the college in stages, expanding the subjects we are teaching, the tutor body, the languages and reations we are active in, we are likely to stay dependent on sponsorship for expansion of projects, language and regions.

Dr Anthony Powell – founder, director, dean

  • Responsibilities: communication with investors, sponsors, universities, schools, acquisition of students, schools, HR, Strategy, Content: leadership, world religions
  • Experience: Founder of a college, long standing experience as lecturer, dean, minister
  • Network: large network of community leaders in Africa, UK, US, Carribean
  • Education: PhD in Theology, Diploma in Leadership, TEFL Advanced Certificate in Teaching English as a foreign language

 

Brigitte Koch – co-founder, head of communications and content

  • Responsibilities: Communications and marketing, content, concept and strategy of the online college, work with the heads of all departments, content: English literature and language, German literature and language, art
  • Experience: Long standing experience in teaching (grammar school, vocational colleges, teachers’ university), author of online teaching materials, communications, journalism, webdesign
  • Network: Leaders and educators in Africa and Switzerland
  • Education: MAs in: German and English linguistics and literature, higher and further education, new media art and design

we are committed to

  • promoting equality, diversity and the rights of individuals to access high level education.
  • promoting the social, democratic and economic development of individuals and their country.
  • staying politically neutral, respect local legislation; the college’s legal jurisdiction is Switzerland.
  • providing equal access to education, independent of financial, educational and social status, background, gender, belief or local educational inequalities.
  • ensuring graduate competence, learner and teacher satisfaction.
  • communicating effectively with students, teachers, tutors, authors, schools and universities, governments.
  • living and promoting our values: Honesty, Integrity, Transparency, Respect, Trust, Professionalism, Innovation and Continuous Improvement.