David Cameron never set out to start an education revolution - he just wanted to help his Otago Boys’ High School maths students pass their exams.
In the six years since, however, he has helped create an empire of learning; a social enterprise reaching hundreds of thousands of New Zealand teenagers and empowering dozens of disadvantaged communities.
The affable 30-year-old founded LearnCoach in 2012 with his wife Deborah Lambie, wanting to take the benefits of one-on-one classroom teaching to a wider audience. LearnCoach is a website with hundreds of specialised video tutorials, taking in maths, science and English, along with a growing number of university tutorials for the likes of law and health science. Since launching, the concept has been an unrivalled success in the education realm, helping provide individual tuition to more than 150,000 students in secondary and tertiary subjects each year. LearnCoach’s online students watch more than a million free video tutorials per year; the equivalent of filling a 300-seat lecture theatre ten times every day.
To help the project, David has mobilised an army of passionate volunteers and driven an expanding, self-sustaining organisation which continues to impact the lives of young people around the country. His enthusiastic leadership has been credited with breaking beyond the four walls of the classroom, inspiring the next generation of educators and revitalising long-term teachers alike.
Now he has also recently launched New Zealand’s first ever Second-Chance-School, where any room can become an NZQA-qualified classroom. Refugee centres, prison cells or hospital wards can instantly become ‘pop-up’ schools through the system.
Chosen as a Future Maker by TeachNZ in 2016 for his ability to engage students in science and maths study, he also won the Young New Zealander of the Year Award in 2018.
But the seeds of his success were sewn early in his education career, in less-flattering circumstances, growing up in Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast.
"In my first two years of college, I had 141 detentions,” David explains. “I wasn't trying to be a bad student; I even liked school and had a lot of fun in class talking with friends. However, I wasn't so interested in the classwork or homework. I found it boring and didn't engage, which would frustrate my teachers and my parents."
Faced with exam failure, he buckled down and came up with study techniques that not only got him back into mainstream classes but also sparked an interest in helping other struggling students.
It led him to university, then a short career as a secondary school teacher and professional tutor - until his online epiphany as a 25-year-old gave him access to a much larger classroom.
“I saw a lot of students who were just like me — disengaged and unmotivated. I thought if I could show them how to thrive in their exams, they might be motivated to do well in school as well. The original video was for my two maths classes and, six weeks out from exams, there were about 70 students using it. Over the next four weeks, another 4000 students around the country signed up.
“If I had to do that teaching myself in a classroom setting, it would’ve taken 10,000 hours or five years’ full-time work to do it. It was really exciting to see how the internet could break those space-time boundaries; you could be in a whole lot of locations all at the same time.”
David’s vision and leadership has since helped LearnCoach expand exponentially, reaching into far-flung communities, supported by the small group of paid workers and vast group of volunteers who develop and distribute new content.
It’s the students themselves, however, who are fast becoming the biggest contributors to the learning system.
More than 1000 have contributed feedback on teaching, editing and new material, with the best of these students awarded LearnCoach scholarships to continue their studies.
As well as developing LearnKo - which matches English teachers with Chinese students online - David’s future goals include turning LearnCoach from a teaching support system into a full online school, enabling education in hard-to-reach places at a fraction of the cost.