Education tech company FlashAcademy helps students who speak English as an additional language meet the challenges of learning. We spoke to CEO Veejay Lingiah as the digital pioneer celebrated partnering its 1,000th school
Veejay Lingiah knows all about the problems facing students who speak English as an additional language (EAL). As the child of two parents who immigrated into the UK, he was the only non-white student in his primary classroom. He remembers clearly how challenging that made school life and as he grew older he vowed to do something about it and to provide a way to help others.
Today, the UK welcomes more than 200,000 immigrants a year from a huge spread of countries and with an equally large range of languages spoken. However, with the majority of schooling in the UK being taught predominantly in English, EAL children are at a huge disadvantage in the classroom if their English language development is not properly supported and encouraged.
That’s where Veejay and his team at Birmingham-based FlashAcademy come in, providing students from all backgrounds with a digital platform that allows them to learn English and celebrate their home languages at the same time. FlashAcademy is an education technology company that reduces marking, supports independent learning and provides hundreds of free paper-based resources to save teachers time. The online language-learning tool allows schools across the country to help EAL students with their language skills and to interact with their classmates. Clear and accurate reporting on progress allows pupils to demonstrate their learning and identifies when a pupil has mastered the necessary skills.
Founded in 2012 as FlashSticks using pre-printed language Post-it Notes, the company later evolved to FlashAcademy, a move away from the physical to a new digital solution to the EAL challenge. In September 2017, Claire Evans, then deputy head at Anderton Park School, Balsall Heath, sat down with Veejay and became the first school to pioneer the use of the online platform to support EAL pupils with their language development.
In November 2022, FlashAcademy partnered with its 1,000th school – and at the time of writing that had grown to more than 1,100 and rising fast! The small team at FlashAcademy has also grown over the years to a dedicated group of 40-plus passionate language-learning professionals.
Co-founder and CEO, Veejay, said: “We set out with a purpose to help as many EAL students as possible. Over the years, one school has somehow turned into 1,000 schools, and we’ve been able to provide language support to thousands more children than ever before. We’re really excited and optimistic about being able to help even more in the future, because it feels like we’re still just getting started and there are so many more schools and students left for us to help.”
The potential is indeed huge. There are more than 30,000 schools in the UK with primary schools having one in five EAL pupils and secondary schools with one in six. Veejay said: “Our platform works on any device, phones, iPads and so on. The whole aim is to try to accelerate the pace at which pupils can get English and to unlock the language barrier. So many EAL kids are treated as if they are behind in learning when it isn’t their fault.” This was particularly critical during the pandemic when all homework was being sent to pupils at home, and that homework was in English.
The need for greater help for students has only accelerated with growing numbers of immigrants coming from all parts of the globe. Veejay explained: “People are being displaced from around the world and as a result what used to be a city-based problem in the UK is now an issue all over the country, so all schools in all areas face the challenges of EAL students.” FlashAcademy teaches English across 48 languages and is so flexible that it is possible to have multiple pupils from different countries learning together under one teacher in one class.
It’s not just children whose language learning has been accelerated by the app. FlashAcademy has expanded to provide language education for adult (ESOL) students, alongside supporting international schools overseas. The platform has even become affiliated with a number of Strategic Migrant Partnerships, helping migrants such as those coming across from Hong Kong to develop their English language skills. And Staffordshire County Council partnered with the app to provide language and education assistance for Ukrainian refugees living in the county under the Homes For Ukraine scheme.