Thursday, 07 November 2019 12:06

Zeynal Zeynalov: Mankind will always need food and knowledge

Interview with Mr. Zeynal Zeynalov, iCEO of Barattson

Tell us about yourself. What did you start your work from? And why have you made a choice in favor of the educational business?

I hold a degree in economics. Information technologies are my second specialty. I studied in Egypt. As early as in Egypt, in line with my schooling I started working a seller in tourist shops. Then I tried myself as a guide and even opened an own café called Che Burashka’s House. At the same time, I was engaged in immovable property business in order to create my business empire in Egypt. But as my close friend says, “that was a naïve optimism of youth”. After graduating from my university, I returned to the homeland and went to serve in the army. After the army I started working in the foodservice sector together with my comrade. We opened a mini-café called DAD. Then I was invited to “Səba” company to work over the project on bringing the Dubai ‘Al Farooj Fresh’ restaurant chain to Baku, and there it was a decision to establish a new firm ‘Baku Food Company’. The ‘Аl Chicken’ restaurant chain, where I was one of the founders and a director of the restaurant, was created under the ‘Baku Food Company’ brand.

Later I took a position of the operations director at Baku Food Company. Then I became a General Director. The first restaurant was opened in the downtown of Baku, at Nizami Street, and became very popular in a short time, by the way, without any special marketing campaign. The second restaurant was opened in Kurdamir.  I also would like to note that ‘Аl Chicken’ was the first Azerbaijani restaurant to get permission from the Coca-Cola Company for operating as its mini-facility. Formerly, this right belonged only to McDonalds and KFC.

To our regret, our chain closed due to certain circumstances in October 2014.

In November of the same year I joined my old friend Elshan Rahimov’s team as an Operations Director at Barattson Company which was created in July 2014.

Initially we had only 7 employees and the area of the office totaled 60m2 while today, 5 years later, we have about 100 employees working within our team and the total area of two branch offices makes over 2,000m2.

The educational sector is not my final goal for now, but I am sure that as long as humanity exists, it will always need two types of fuel – food and knowledge. Thus, if food serves as a fuel for a body, knowledge fuels a soul and mind.

Our goal is to create an education of the future, which is going to be based on information technologies. We have recently tested a system of education translation by VR (Virtual Reality). You may ask about advantages. It is very simple. It saves time spent on transport and area needed for joint studying. You, your fellow students and a tutor put a VR device on, being at different locations from one another. The entire information passed to you by a tutor is reflected on the virtual board, while you see a tutor and fellow students as avatars. It is one of our goals, our vision of education transformation. This technology also opens opportunities in retail and other areas of activity.

 

Which courses were conducted initially at Barattson?

As Elshan Rahimov is one of the best specialists in the field of financial education, of course the initial courses were related to the field of finance: ACCA, CIMA, CFA.

Meanwhile, we started conducting the English language courses. First we had 5 English language teachers and only 3 students. But nowadays we have over 700-800 students attending on a monthly basis English language and finance courses alone.

 

How many employees did you have at the initial stage of development? And how did you recruit your team?

Initially we had 7 employees whom Mr. Rahimov selected personally, including me. Then, the personnel recruitment was passed to me. I held interviews, selected employees for work and trained them. To date, we have over 130 employees including teachers and of course there is a separate team now dealing with these issues. 

 

Which teaching techniques do you apply?

We apply certain techniques which we refine. We work out some of them on our own. We have recently concluded that there is a need for a new program. For instance, there are students wishing to study accounting but have no basic knowledge for that.  So, we worked out a monthly training program familiarizing with and teaching basic concepts about debit, credit, etc. 20% of the course is dedicated to a theory while 80% to practice. Practical courses help students to better learn financial capability elements.

When teaching English, we apply the ‘Pearson Speakout’ method which is good enough. But it also has some shortages as it doesn’t turn out efficient for children. Therefore, we have decided to work out our own training program for underagers.

I also would like to note that we try to broadly apply a Data Driven Management approach. We gather data, analyze it, make decisions and introduce it.

 

According to what criteria do you recruit tutors?

Methods and pedagogical experience of a tutor are of importance to us because a man can be an expert in a field but may have no pedagogic skills required for conveying this knowledge to others.  It is a crucial moment which is why we pay a particular importance to it.

The process of teachers’ recruitment consists of 4 stages: candidates email us their CV.  We thoroughly consider them and select candidates for an interview. At this stage we also give priority to availability of certificates confirming their professional and pedagogical skills. Then, we invite selected candidates to an interview in order to select those whom we see as the most promising ones. We appoint a demo-lesson for them, which is a lesson on a certain topic agreed with a candidate beforehand. Participating at such lessons are the employees of the company. During a demo-lesson participants evaluate knowledge and pedagogical skills in accordance with the recruitment criteria. 

Candidates who successfully pass this stage conduct a test lesson in a group with real students. After a lesson we hold an anonymous survey among students, whereupon we make a final decision about a candidate.

 

Do you invite foreign specialists so that they hold trainings for your tutors or students?

Yes, of course. Barattson is the only Azerbaijani company possessing an official IELTS test-center status in Azerbaijan. In addition to us, there is only a British Council offering official IELTS test-center services.

In this regard, we periodically invite certified foreign specialists for holding trainings and re-qualifying our examiners, and for conducting trainings and seminars for our teachers and students.

 

What could you tell about company’s future development plans? Are there any projects expected?

Barattson’s mission is to ensure employment through education and we intend to make it come true by introducing the best practices in organizational and managerial fields, and also information technologies.

We are using a home-grown system to automate some aspects of the work of the company. It is a web-application through which students get registered. Our administrators distribute them within groups while teachers keep an electronic register, watch over their progress, etc. A student gets a certificate after a successful completion of a course based on this system. We started developing this system in 2015 together with a certain programmer and since then we have added lots of functions. We are increasing the staff of developers as we have big plans regarding the development.   

As far as projects are concerned, Barattson is a major sponsor of two start-up projects in the field of EduTech:

morooq  is a testing program for assessing English language  skills in accordance with IELTS standards.

SchoolMan is an educational facility management system.

 

Do you have representative offices abroad, if not, are there plans to open them? Which countries are in the priority list?

I told about the mission of Barattson, while our vision is to take leading positions in the educational market of Azerbaijan in coming 5 years and come into the spotlight in the CIS whereupon we will target the global market.

We plan to have this vision realized through the franchise business model. We are now working hard over optimization and description of business processes of the company.

We give priority to the following countries from the standpoint of attraction of franchise partners: Turkey, Kazakhstan and Russia. I also would like to note that we have recently got a franchise offer from the USA, which was quite unexpected. It serves an even larger inspiration for us on the way towards our goals.

 

Which method of education do you find as a benchmark?

We are trying to study existing systems and models of education, as well as learning methods in order to organize an efficient learning process and shape our own vision.

I can say that for now we are very interested in the Finnish and Japanese education systems. I also would like to note an enquiry-based learning which implies developing a research approach in students. I think noteworthy among learning methods is also a peer-to-peer learning method. I would like to tell you about the way I got acquainted with this method.

In March 2019 I left for the USA in order to study programming in famous 42 School located in the Silicon Valley. I find this a format of the School of the Future for getting professional education in certain areas. The main difference between this and other schools is the absence of teachers. That is to say, students get tasks through a special system and do their own information search in order to have their task done. A task itself is checked by fellow students. Accordingly, you also check other students’ work and that is what the peer-to-peer learning is: those who teach and those who learn are equal (schoolmates, classmates). It is noteworthy that there is no way to copy a ready solution from Internet because it is necessary to explain why you have fulfilled a task in this way, ground your decision, which, in turn, demands hard work from you because to justify your decision you have to possess knowledge which you also use when checking someone else’s work. After a successful check-up process carried out by schoolmates, a task is being automatically checked by a special system applying tough requirements. Even an extra space or sign can cause rejection, which, in turn, demands a deep concentration and self-discipline from students when fulfilling a task. 

It is also evident that people differ in terms of their abilities: someone is a quick learner. Someone needs to be explained and help. This, in turn, reveals those who have good communication skills, team working ability, leadership and teaching skills. In general, the teaching process in this school has been arranged in a way that makes you feel in a special training camp. But trained here are not soldiers or sportsmen, but programmers who, in addition to programming, can also plan their working day, communicate with colleagues and work in team.  Therefore, people who study in this school are popular with recruiters of the Silicon Valley companies.

I also would like to highlight another factor which I find important in arranging a teaching process. A lot depends on the space. Among many examples I will point to 42 School: it is a huge open space equipped with all necessary things to create a comfortable working climate, about 500 iMaс computers, design-based decoration of the space. All of it inspired to make something incredible and get good results.

Therefore, I think it should be taken into account starting from kindergartens right up to universities, training facilities and companies’ offices.

After returning from the USA, I offered colleagues to introduce the peer-to-peer learning at Barattson. We started testing this method in real groups: time is given for discussion between students after each class lasting for 30 minutes. Every student shares an opinion, tells what he understood, which questions he has, etc. According to the results of experiments, we have seen that such approach makes it possible to consolidate knowledge better and master new information more efficiently.

By the way, as far as experiments are concerned, as I have mentioned above, we attach particular importance to conduction of research work, and conduction of experiments is certainly an integral part of all this. Besides, we let employees offer their ideas and perform experiments because we understand that such approach is one of the key factors ensuring dynamic development of both employees and the company.

 

What is the main goal that you pursued when creating Barattson?

Our main goal is to teach people and help them to become high-end professionals, which is reflected in the company’s mission – employment through education.

Barattson has made very many good human resources for the Azerbaijani economy and even those who left us are now working for good companies and still maintaining good relations with us.

I also would like to note that students, who prepared for studying abroad, scored very high points and we are very proud of them.

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