My initial encounter with the Annual Conference of Colleges (AoC) and the series of face-to-face meetings with College CEOs and leaders turned out to be transformative.
My relationship with education and the education space has been a complex journey. Upon graduating from school, I earned the dubious distinction (met with joking comments, yet some disapproving glares from the teaching team) of being publicly announced as the student with the most unexcused absent hours among 92 students in my grade.
Partly attributed to toxic bullying problems at our level and partly due to my boredom or failure to grasp the importance of the teachers' lessons, I found myself on an unconventional path. Fast forward a few years, and I have submitted my PhD Thesis, dedicating my life to supporting student mental health. It was a love-hate relationship for the longest time.
Despite my reservations about the education system not being optimised for how our brains learn best—through narration and play—it is unquestionable for me to collaborate closely with secondary schools, colleges, and universities to support their students' mental health. This age group is prone to the manifestation of mental illness, and when teens and young adults struggle with mental health to the extent of dropping out, it has significant social and economic repercussions.
I have committed my life to preventing this from happening.
While I am aware of the rising numbers of mental illness cases and the dropping natural recovery rates over the last few years, experiencing the reality in my app analytics is a vastly different thing than engaging in conversations with CEOs, tutors, safeguarding staff, and headteachers in person.
At the AoC, I engaged in back-to-back meetings with concerned yet determined educators. They hoped that eQuoo, our evidence-based mobile mental health game, could be the preventive intervention that kept their students healthy enough to attend classes, keep up with learning, and have a positive college experience free from the burden of mental illness.
The experience surpassed my expectations. I'm genuinely touched by the individuals I've encountered—their unwavering commitment to offering educational opportunities to young people amidst the hurdles they face.
Sean Mackney from PETROC shared with me that his team is developing a programme that begins in students' homes to help them overcome clinical anxiety, allowing them to pursue a degree, whether in person or through a hybrid model.
Mike Hopkins from South City College Birmingham revealed that his students face economic disadvantages to the extent that he has now funded additional police officers to address the issues and violence outside the college, highlighting his determination to offer at-risk youth an opportunity to escape their circumstances through education.
Liz Bromley from NCG has discovered funding in unexpected places, squeezing the last dime out of grants to enable refugees to integrate into society by contributing. She has partnered with us and Activate Learning (AL) to conduct the largest-scale clinical trial in history with college students. This gathering of data is what Gary Headland, AL’s CEO, says will help him shape policies for a human-centred education, changing lives.
Sitting and conversing with these leaders—and many more—has humbled me and fostered my affection for a sector that now bears faces, hearts, and an abundance of determination. I now feel somewhat less like the founder of a lone startup striving to make a difference and more like a fighter who has joined hands with genuine agents of change. I am proud to be a part of a system much larger than myself.