A tell-all with Olivia A. Halsall, founder of OLEA Education.
You have an impressive education background and you have obtained prestigious degrees. What led you to establish OLEA Education Ltd?
I have always wanted to establish my own business, but it took learning a few languages, obtaining a couple of degrees, teaching a vast array of students and travelling extensively to really channel all my ideas into one concept. Attending prestigious institutions surrounds you with an abundance of inspiration, ambition and intellect. I owe a lot of OLEA’s early ideas to my peers who dared me to be bigger and bolder.
When I founded OLEA in June 2021, the global education landscape was chaotic and parents were looking for reassurance that their children would and could still receive a world-class education. Our assumptions of what education is no longer are and we can expect a tsunami of innovation as parents hold their hands up in desperation for something that is reliable and robust. Situated in Cambridge, UK, OLEA designs and delivers bespoke, innovative and world-class education to the next generation, preserving the wealth of our family office clients, and those looking to invest in the holistic development of their children.
Tell us about the Foundational Pillars supporting the OLEA courses and overall vision?
The five foundational pillars of OLEA are quotients of intelligence, emotion, creativity, spirituality and adversity. Those with a deep understanding of their own quotients can have greater autonomy, responsibility and ownership over their learning, thereby becoming better prepared for what challenges the 21st century may bring. When integrated into OLEA lears (lessons), these five foundational pillars can, over a sustained period of time, craft well-rounded, interesting and ambitious individuals.
To provide more of a breakdown, each quotient asks the following. IQ: can you problem solve, think critically, use logic to make predictions? EQ: can you listen actively, resolve disputes, communicate effectively and articulate yourself? CQ: can you make something from nothing, innovate, design and doodle? SQ: Can you ask the bigger questions about life, be mindful, engage with and appreciate the world we live in? AQ: Can you take constructive criticism, be self-aware and take ownership?
The overall vision of OLEA is to enhance students 21st-century skills. Since many of our students are non-native speakers of English, an additional benefit of our personalised programs is that one’s English improves also.
What is the profile of the students enrolling in OLEA’s programs? What is their geographical background and what is their level of English?
Currently, the majority of my students are from HNW Chinese and European families, with half planning to pursue their education in England, and the other half already here. Our youngest student is 7 years old, and the oldest is in their late 30s. The majority of our students are clustered between the ages of 13-17, which is a brilliant age to be installing OLEA’s Foundational Pillars. Lessons are primarily delivered online, with the exception of our OLEA Residentials, which are in person.
Generally speaking, there are commonly recurring syntax, grammar and vocabulary errors specific to Chinese learners of English, so at OLEA we have designed materials specifically in light of this. There are two parts to consider: English Language and 21st-century aptitude. Our pre-assessment deciphers the English level of a student as benchmarked against the British curriculum, and our interview elicits students’ personal interests.
Other factors such as a limited attention span, lack of motivation and low self-esteem are generally elicited via interviews with the parents and/or reading through past school reports, but we are continually evolving our assessments to get a better understanding of a student’s current position and where OLEA can build bridges with them. From this, personalised modules are designed.
What are the different modules offered to the students?
The thing I love most about OLEA is the ability to personalise each and every module to the academic capabilities and personal interests of each of our students. My favourite module is our highly popular OLEA’s Bilingual Poetry Module, which takes 8 hours to complete and is delivered in small groups of up to four. Based on the findings of my MPhil Thesis at Cambridge, this module teaches students how to write poetry, express themselves as bilingual speakers with bilingual identities, and harness the language of emotion.
OLEA’s LCE (Language, Culture and Etiquette) Module is another popular module, which can be between 6 – 24 hours in duration, and for students aged 16 + to appreciate the nuances of English culture. We recently designed another OLEA’s Reading for Life Module on James Bond! This has been exceptionally popular with students who recently arrived in England and need additional support with their reading.
Tell us more about the OLEA Masterclasses and how do you select the Mentors?
OLEA Masterclasses are designed and delivered by postgraduate students from the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge, or Ivy Leagues. They are each 2 hours long and bring a GCSE / A Level sub-topic into real-world application. Each OLEA Mentor undergoes a strict vetting process, is known personally to us, has an Enhanced DBS check, proven teaching experience and a fervent passion for their subject.
For students aged between 14 – 17, OLEA Masterclasses can make a real difference in their decision to pursue a given topic to higher education. One of our most popular OLEA Masterclasses entitled “Infectious disease. Are we winning and what’s the future?” is delivered by a final year PhD Biology candidate at the University of Cambridge. The testimonials have been brilliant; students learn about the technical science behind Coronavirus and its vaccine which empowers them to understand the world around them.
What is OLEA’s Box?
The idea behind OLEA’s Box is to attract curious minds and, once opened, to set students on a hunt for knowledge. Inside OLEA’s Box you will find all the necessary worksheets required to complete your personalised module, along with additional stationery, creative writing, critical thinking and reading materials. The contents of OLEA’s Box are personalised to each individual; the real symbol of OLEA’s Box is that demonstration of caring above and beyond. Given how well we know each and every student, we are able to personalise the contents of their box to make them feel heard and cared for. Recently, one of our students came down with COVID-19, so we were able to have an OLEA’s Box shipped to her on the third day of isolation filled with writing activities and comforting snacks.
What feedback have you received from past students which make you think that OLEA has a different approach to learning / perfecting English?
Feedback has been great! A 15-year-old, Shanghainese student has said, “OLEA courses have taught me a lot. The teachers are very enthusiastic and have a high level of teaching. In the class, we will not only review the content taught at school, but also involve related subjects outside of a single subject. OLEA imparts knowledge to understand better.
The teachers will also expand their knowledge to learn some topics that are of more personal interest. I like my teachers very much!” Her father elaborated, “I hope my daughter will be a role model for OLEA Education, and Chinese parents will actively come to you for programs. So it’s much bigger than tutoring, it’s a program bespoke to each individual”. Ultimately, the value lies in our personalised, robust and long-term commitment to our students, their holistic development and lifelong learning journey.
Tell us more about the OLEA Residential programmes you are hosting?
Try to recall the feeling you experience when waking up on Christmas day. A rush of excitement, curiosity and anticipation fills you, hurling you from your bed and into the commotion of the day. It is this sentiment that I want students to feel when they embark on an OLEA Residentials. Through carefully selecting quaint locations in England, OLEA Residentials craft a homely environment for students to immerse themselves in English language classes, intellectually stimulating masterclasses and enriching cultural experiences.
Ranging from a weekend to a month, OLEA Residentials are brilliant for international students looking for a home away from home. For example, our most successful OLEA Residential was held at the University Women’s Club in Mayfair, where I am a member. This charming building sits perched off the corner of Hyde Park and has the most quintessentially English library, which is great for small group lessons.
On a personal basis, tell us about your favourite English author?
I would have to say Mary Shelley for the sheer brilliance of her writing style as well as personal resilience in the face of some cruel life circumstances. There is so much to unpick in Frankenstein, so it’s a great one to cover in the summer holidays with those seeking a quirky story to ponder over. I also love the fact Frankenstein came out of a group of friends entertaining one another with scary stories; this resonates with my first lockdown during which I was in Cambridge surrounded by friends I now consider my family.
My favourite non-English author would have to be Oscar Wilde. His eccentricism and literary brilliance is, in my view, incomparable. I have loose plans to run an OLEA Residential in Wicklow, Ireland this summer for around 6 Chinese students who have expressed a strong interest in this. I have already designed a module based on Dorian Grey, so this will certainly be an OLEA Residential worth keeping an eye on.
You have a busy daily schedule. Do you still find time to practice your Mandarin?
Yes, although just about! I recently started taking three hours of Mandarin lessons a week: two sessions of forty-five minutes focusing on vocabulary and grammar, and one longer session focusing on the nuances of Chinese business. As an advocate of lifelong learning, I put myself on learning schedules, just as I do with my students until my goals have been attained. With any language, if you don’t practice and put the time in, it will leave you.
Ultimately, however, forming positive habits can stand you in good stead not only for language learning, but for pursuing other interests too. I also keep in close touch with my Chinese friends from Cambridge and am a member of a few clubs and community groups that promote Chinese entrepreneurship, culture and education in the UK.
If you were to name one mentor who has had a strong influence on your career and vision of life, who would that be?
The father of one of my students, a successful Shanghainese businessman, has been an exceptional mentor to me since I met him while tutoring his daughter in late 2018, right through to the inception of OLEA Education in June this year. He is similar to my own father in terms of his holistic approach to education, promoting the importance of cross-cultural communication, as well as supporting a child no matter their academic or personal interests. He has promoted OLEA among his network in Shanghai, honed my understanding of the nuanced demands of Chinese parents, and believed in me above all.
About Olivia A. Halsall
Olivia is the Founder of OLEA Education Ltd. She holds an MPhil in Education from the University of Cambridge and a 1st Class (Hons) BA in Modern Languages (French and Chinese Mandarin) with Business Management from the University of Birmingham. During this time, she attended Tsinghua University on exchange having won a CIS Confucius Scholarship. Olivia has 100+ journalistic publications in various news outlets, is an experienced editor and academic proofreader, and has 6+ years of tutoring experience across the UK, China and the UAE. She is an ECT Member of the Chartered College of Teaching in London, UK.
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