What is iSchool, exactly?
iSchool is an EdTech coding platform offering subscription-based, long-term programmes (up to six years) – like math or languages, you can’t learn coding in a crash course – to students aged six to 18. Students have weekly, one-on-one, online synchronised courses with certified coding coaches. At the end of each semester, they submit a final project and [eventually] obtain a certificate in artificial intelligence, machine learning, data science, web development, game development, 3D coding, virtual reality, augmented reality, or graphic design.
What drove you to launch this platform?
I’m an electrical and electronics engineer, and I have participated in many robotics and coding competitions around the world. In 2018, I was a regional director at [Japanese technology company] Fujisoft, that hosts the All Japan Robot Sumo Tournament. I was fascinated by how very young students who are learning coding, robotics, and artificial intelligence, were beating adults.
In the Middle East, we didn’t have access to technology education; but technology is evolving very fast and many schools are not able to hire a subject matter expert in coding and technology; they need a tech partner to integrate and enable ICT and computer science. So, I started iSchool with my co-founders, Ibrahim Abdullah and Mustafa Abdelmoneim.
How did you develop the concept itself?
We did a lot of research about technology education, CS Computer Science kits, standards, methodology, and curricula in both Arabic and in English, and we first launched offline in 2018.
In late 2019, we were testing a fully gamified online format but we were too far ahead of what people needed. And then, COVID changed everything. Parents were home, searching for online activities for their kids. And many people lost their jobs – traditional, physical jobs – during the pandemic; so, everyone was looking at technology education as the way of the future. We pivoted to fully online, tested group sessions with four or six students, and finally switched to individual sessions – it’s more personalised and efficient for the students.
iSchool took off from there, scaling rapidly. Today, the platform is available in 14 countries, has 411 employees and more than 15,000 graduates, and is accredited internationally by STEM.org, an American STEM education research and credentialing organisation, and IAIDL, an American research and innovation programme office focused on harnessing the scientific and economic potential of AI globally.
How do you support students once they complete the programme?
We have partnerships with many businesses and software agencies to connect students and open internship opportunities. We also have a partnership with the Egyptian Ministry of Communication to host coding and programming hackathons. And we collaborate with NGOs to help underprivileged students, like refugees, learn digital skills and become independent. We started in 2021 with 40 students and we are currently serving more than 400. We’d love to do more.
What are your different revenues streams?
We have several: 80% of our revenues come from B2C subscriptions – either quarterly, half-year, or annual – and the other 20% come from B2B – we provide our services to more than 65 school and networks in Egypt – and partnerships with NGOs and governmental entities for special programmes, hackathons, and bootcamps. I think we’ll break even by the end of 2024.
This business model is very good in terms of unit economics, especially in this market. We have a very strong team in Egypt, where costs are much lower than other countries, a complete six-year curriculum, and an operational platform; so, we have the cultural, price, and content edges over competitors.
What’s the state of EdTech in the Middle East, in your opinion?
There’s a huge need for EdTech in the MENA region, especially after COVID, but no big player serves the whole sector. They’re all specialised in subsectors – accreditation systems, schooling systems, learning management systems, content development systems, etc. [This is why,] if you’re trying to break through in EdTech right now, better to have technology expertise rather than education. Since there are no systems already built, there’s room for a lot of innovation and a huge opportunity to initiate something that no one has done before.
How did being active in the UAE help you grow?
It gave us more of a global mindset. We meet people from 20 different countries every day. If you test a product in the UAE, you can consider it valid for an international market whereas in markets like Saudi Arabia or Egypt, it has to be very localised. For example, in the summer, we see a huge peak in Saudi Arabia and Egypt that we don’t see elsewhere. Parents in [these countries] aggressively push their children to enrol and be dedicated.
What are the next steps for iSchool?
We started from Egypt, expanded to the Middle East, and the upcoming year will be more global expansion. Our ambitious goal is to be available in Europe and more available in the U.S. and Canada, all while having at least one million learners from the Middle East.