In It for the Kids

Across Québec, Allô Prof is helping thousands of youth succeed in school

Sandrine Faust (pictured here) could be called a “teacher’s pet.” As founder and general director of Allô Prof, an organization that gives students access to educators who assist with homework, she has helped hundreds of thousands of students do better in school. In 2012, Allô Prof earned the Ernst and Young Special Citation Award for social entrepreneurship. But Faust doesn’t rest on her laurels; she has plans to expand the Allô Prof website, and she keeps her eye on her goal: zero growth. The noble cause is the result of Faust’s vision behind Allô Prof, which she founded in 1996.

Every night inside Québec homes, thousands of students struggle alone with homework. They’re stuck on a math, French, English, or a science problem, and I believe it’s important to offer a helping hand, because homework well done leads to confident students.

The idea behind Allô Prof is simple: provide professional, free, easily accessible homework help to any student in Québec. But to understand our vision, you have to understand how it works. Each call is special because it’s initiated by the student. It’s a demonstration of the will to be helped, the will to succeed. We have witnessed this will tens of thousands of times. And it’s why we have such faith in youth and in the future: we know how hard they work and how important learning is to them.

When we launched, in 1996, we handled a few thousand calls a year; sixteen years later, we handle nearly half a million requests each month. There is a real need for our service, and we have grown and changed to meet that need.

By The Numbers

A look at the amount of students served and how they have increased by more than 100% every year:

500 k.

1.5 mil.

3.5 mil.

Originally Allô Prof was only a free phone-call service, and this service still exists. Students call our centres to ask questions to real teachers. In 2000, we witnessed the youth’s enthusiastic response to virtual technologies, and we chose to create our web services for two reasons: we needed to be where the students were, and we needed a method to answer the needs of a rapidly growing amount of students. Our virtual library allows students to find a solution by themselves. We added short educational videos and an Allô Prof YouTube channel, automated exercises, and video games on math and French basics. Students can also ask for help in our “cyberclasses,” which are virtual classrooms that allow discussions with a teacher, as well as in the forums.

Of all the things we do, the most important is the message we send. We tell students that we have a total confidence in their ability to succeed and in their wisdom to know when they should ask for help. They are never judged when they use our services. An Allô Prof teacher will never say, “You should know this,” or, “You should work harder.” We know it’s tough to admit a difficulty and to ask for help, especially for the boys. We do not judge; we show a student that he or she can do it.

In education, like in many parts of life, self-confidence is key, and that’s exactly what we work on first. The students gain self-confidence because we have faith in them. We recognize that there aren’t many positive messages about youth in our society. I believe we’ve been successful because students feel the respect we have for them.

Clearly we have developed a unique organization with innovative solutions. I’m proud of the success we have with students. But what makes me most proud is that we have built this with a team that is still here. Many of my colleagues have been here since the beginning. But working for Allô Prof is like falling in a trap: you can’t go away because the job is so rewarding.

Sometimes students will call to let us know that they passed their exam or their school year. This shows the importance our work has in students’ lives. Our teachers and the students work as a team. Students feel that their success is our main salary, and they are happy to share their achievements with us. When they tell us how grateful they are for what we do for them, that’s priceless!

This may sound surprising, but I hope someday Allô Prof will stop growing. I wait for the day when all students in Québec have heard about us and know that there are easily reachable, useful tools that will help them overcome their difficulties at school. I don’t know what that stage will be—10 million, 15 million, 20 million requests a month? But I do know that we will continue to work hard to build the structure and services that will handle however many requests we are going to face, no matter how high it’s going to be.