Juniors aspire to make education accessible, free through online tutoring


Olivia Battles

Sitting outside the rotunda, juniors Cynthia Rajeshkanna and Melissa Dai go over potential dates for tutoring.

Ben Schanzer, Assistant Sports Editor

At the end of May, juniors Melissa Dai and Cynthia Rajeshkanna created an educational nonprofit to make educational support more accessible to all K-12 students.

Aptitutor is a tutoring service that connects high school students to other students of all ages to help them with their educational endeavors. Aptitutor also offers group classes to teach a larger group.

“We came up with Aptitutor during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closure,” Dai said in a Zoom interview. “Based on our experiences with online learning and our classmates’ experiences, it was clear that students weren’t exactly learning to the extent they had been in the past, and they weren’t receiving the same comprehensive education that was offered in in-person classes.”

“Further than that, tutoring, academic help and other sorts of supplemental resources that could aid in that transition into shorter classes… weren’t necessarily available,” Rajeshkanna said in a Zoom interview. “Obviously the pandemic placed certain constraints on the economy… so education became something that was harder to access… I guess that is what made the problem appear to us, and the pandemic only served to highlight it, but the problem has been something that has existed well before the pandemic.”

Tutoring sessions are 40 minutes long and can be scheduled as a single session or weekly recurring sessions, where a student meets with the same tutor over the course of multiple weeks. Tutoring sessions are taught by certified tutors.

According to Dai, Aptitutor currently has a network of 22 certified tutors and three tutoring assistants.

“A certified tutor is a qualified high school student who is knowledgeable in multiple academic subjects and can work well with others,” the Aptitutor website reads.

Although certified tutors must be high school students, middle schoolers are eligible to apply to be tutoring assistants. Rajeshkanna believes this position is important because it will create the foundation for future certified tutors.

“[When selecting tutors,] we look at academic performance and social skills because tutoring is a social process as much as it is an academic one,” Dai said.

Unlike most tutoring services, Aptitudor’s tutors volunteer their time.

“All of our tutors volunteer their time, which is great because we want people who are coming to help, not just because they are looking to get paid,” Rajeshkanna said.

Aptitutor’s website offers over 40 subjects that people can receive help with. This list includes 11 languages, numerous electives and Advanced Placement classes.

“Our tutors are very linguistically diverse,” Dai said. “A lot of tutors have reached out to us and said ‘I can tutor in this language and I think it would be great, and that is who we are looking for.”

In addition to servicing the Boston area, Aptitutor has a growing international presence.  

“We have expanded internationally which is really great,” Dai said. “People have contacted us from India, and we have a regular student who does five sessions a week from Ethiopia.”

Dai and Rajeshkanna hope to continue running Aptitutor for a long time.  

“At all times, Melissa and I will remain the head of operations,” Rajeshkanna said.  “As time goes on, we may delegate responsibilities more.  We may have more managers under us who schedule sessions and work directly with tutors… We definitely see this growing. It is not just going to end as soon as we go off to college.”

“This [lack of access to education] is not going to go away, so we are not looking to do this for just our high school careers,” Dai said. “We are looking to do it far beyond that because [we’re trying to fix] such a prominent issue.”

In addition to tutoring, Aptitutor’s main service, they also offer a Learners’ Forum, something Rajeshkanna feels is unique to Aptitutor. The Learners’ Forum is meant to help those with quick homework questions who do not need a 40-minute session.  According to Rajeshkanna, those who post to the Learners’ Forum can expect a quick answer back from a certified tutor.

Another service Aptitutor offers is educational grants for those that require financial aid. These grants are funded by a GoFundMe which, as of October 22, has raised over $1400 from donations.  

Dai and Rajeshkanna hope to use this grant money to purchase Chromebooks or other learning devices for students, as these devices are crucial during this time of virtual learning. Dai acknowledged that people who do not have devices may not be able to fill out the grant applications, so they are working on finding other ways of finding who may need these devices to reach out to them directly.

Northborough seventh-grader Ishita Urs originally discovered Aptitutor while trying to stay productive over the summer. She ended up enjoying her experience as a tutee so much that she is now a tutoring assistant.

“The [tutors] are really kind and they are very patient,” Urs said in a Zoom interview. “They are always willing to explain something again if you don’t get it. It is really easy to learn.”

Dai and Rajeshkanna both believe the last line of the Aptitutor mission statement best represents their goal as an organization: “Above all, we aim to empower all learners and give back to the community.”