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His true calling: Nicholas Gomez moves from cricket to accounting to tutoring

Sunday, February 21, 2016
From left, Paul Ryan Perkins, Nicholas Gomez and Scott Hilton-Clarke.

Qualified accountant Nicholas Gomez has switched gears in his professional life and has now found his true calling, that of a tutor. How does one go from being a partner and country manager at a major accounting firm to becoming an accounting tutor? That was the big question Getting Personal was eager to ask Gomez who has taken a leap into the world of education, teaching the youth of our nation a subject where on average, according to him, two-thirds of the 24,000 CXC students do not succeed. 

His experience at volunteer teaching on Saturdays over the past three years at St Finbars RC Church, Diego Martin, alongside his wife “Aunty Liz,” a professional hairdresser and others was what propelled Gomez to leap full-time into the world of private tutoring.

In fact, Gomez acknowledges that the love for teaching and mentoring was identified from a young age since he was given the responsibility to captain many of the cricket teams at Fatima College (Under-14, 16 and 19), followed by the T&T U-19 cricket team in 1984.

At the age of 19, Gomez chose to provide math and accounting lessons to Form Five students. It was these experiences that shaped his passion for teaching and mentoring young people.

A talented and aspiring cricketer who reached as far as representing the championship-winning Queen’s Park Cricket Club team and representing T&T alongside his friend Brian Lara, he made the biggest decision in his life in 1986 to stop playing the sport he loved so much, following his only appearance in first-class cricket—T&T versus England in the Queen’s Park Oval, to focus on his academic and accounting career, one that was to give the 50-year-old his 25-year base to now embark upon his new career as a tutor.

This has led Gomez and his partners Scott Hilton-Clarke and Paul Ryan Perkins to set up their new companies—Exam Guru and the Light Bulb at a cutting-edge facility designed and built by Perkins, now open at Bay Road in St James. The purpose of Exam Guru and the Light Bulb is to transform the educational experience of the youth in our communities including the Caribbean region. Gomez is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (FCCA) of the UK, a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of T&T (ICATT) and also of Barbados and Jamaica. He sits on the boards of Heroes Foundation and the Foundation for the Enhancement and Enrichment of Lives, and he is a member of the Cabinet-appointed committee to review and assess the performance and operations of wholly-owned state enterprises and TSTT.

Q: Tell us a bit about your early years: where were you born, grew up and attained your various levels of education, including primary?
A: Born and grew up in Woodbrook, attended Holy Name Prep primary school followed by Fatima College. In my pursuit of the ACCA accounting qualification I attended various institutions—Herman Marcano and SAC in Trinidad, and Emile Woolfe in London.

What was the motivating factor in starting and being so passionately involved with this tutoring venture?
Having missed a lot of school due to a medical condition, spondylolisthesis, which I was diagnosed with in Lower Form Six while playing cricket led eventually to my interest in tutoring. The time I missed at school meant upon my return that I had to switch one of my A-Level subjects, from physics to economics…this was more than an eye opener as I was confronted with this huge text book, a text that reminded me of a volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica!

How was I going to extract the salient and pertinent points from this ‘encyclopaedia’ and capture it in a form to allow for easy revision when exams are approaching. In that moment I said to myself, I needed to find a way to be in service of students who face a similar dilemma as I was facing to help shape an effective solution. I pursued a solution. I found two textbooks written by Japanese authors, the perfect solution—one in micro and the other in macro economics—these books were concise, diagrammatic, covered the A-Level syllabus and easy to comprehend.

Later, when I left Fatima College, I provided tutoring in math and accounting to Form Five students. It was remarkably fulfilling to see the “light bulb” go off in the students’ eyes and say, “‘yes, I now understand, thanks!’” Enjoying the interaction with and mentoring younger teenagers from back then left that yearning to make a difference, so here we are today!

What do you attribute to the low passing rate in accounting and how can we/you address this deficiency?
This is a complex matter. What we have to confront is that the very low pass rate in accounting is very similar to the low pass rates in many CXC, CSEC subjects including mathematics and business, to name a couple, across the region. As an example, I have reviewed the publication of the CXC, CSEC results in the Caribbean region on their website and note several years where 60 per cent of the 90,000-plus students fail mathematics.

I wonder how many students get less than five passes and how many get zero passes. These stats are not published. The results tell us that the current educational offerings are not adequately responsive to our current societal needs. The approach of providing a seat for every student is simply not an effective solution. We believe there is a severe waning of engagement between student and teacher and that teaching, for many, is no longer embraced as a vocation but as a job. These two factors need to be effectively considered, confronted and addressed.

Do we fully appreciate and understand the impact on a young person who leaves school with few to no passes in their CSEC examinations? 
I believe there is a low self-esteem and low self-confidence crisis in our nation and region. Education is a gift for all of us, and it is really unfortunate that the educational offerings we have in place are not adequately engaging and embracing to assure that there is an equal opportunity for all to benefit. Think about our current state: young kids at the age of eight are put on a treadmill in primary school to learn to score highly in the SEA examinations.

They are ‘forced’ to memorise, ‘forced’ to regurgitate, a pressure pot really…all with the objective of scoring highly in the SEA examination to give them an opportunity to get into a ‘top’ secondary school. Have we asked how many top secondary schools do we really have in our region and nation today? Therefore, what happens to the many kids who are not placed in top secondary schools? What are their chances to secure a solid well-rounded education? What are their chances to build self-confidence and high self-esteem? 

I asked myself what if we were able to create a solution where the best teachers/educators in our region could reach more than 200 kids in any given year? Is that possible? How can that be accomplished? The purpose of Exam Guru and the Light Bulb is to transform the educational experience of the youth in our communities. We are exploring this on three fronts—the physical, the intellectual and the emotional.

Physical—establish a place that is cutting edge, innovative, very comfortable, and a place of high energy. Intellectual—to provide tutoring in a fun, inspiring, energetic way using leading edge technology and educational tools through tutors who are the most qualified, inspired and engaged. Emotional—to provide an environment where students feel supported, embraced and encouraged to perform at their optimal levels.

What is the most prevalent misconception about private lessons?
It is interesting that this has been a growing industry in T&T. That speaks to the current offerings not being adequately responsive to students’ needs. There is a view that teachers don't provide the requisite learning within the school day and offer private lessons as a means of supplementing their income. Is this a cynical view or is there some truth to this? I cannot conclude. What is evident though is that private tutoring has become necessary to prepare and support students to perform well in their examinations.

What would you say and what advice would you give to anyone contemplating a vocation such as yours?
Teaching is a vocation and I am eternally grateful and thankful to all those teachers who supported me in my life, including specifically Mr Clive Pantin and Mr Harry Ramdass—they provided me with the foundation and a chance to pursue many of life’s infinite possibilities. Great teachers influence and inspire greatness in students. This is indeed a vocation, one that has been calling me for some time, and I have now had the courage to step inside of it. Since doing so, several people have approached me to offer themselves to tutor in several subject areas. What if we have those with significant industry and business experience together with a passion to impart and share knowledge, step into the world with energy to tutor our youth. Exam Guru will provide subject matter—gurus who have such a calling.

What advice would you give to the young people of T&T?
You are the future. Each of you has a gift given by Almighty God so you owe it to yourself and to God to find that gift and to pursue it to the fullest. Often it is that very gift that is the foundation of our purpose in life. Muster the courage, take that leap of faith and step inside of it and give it all that you have. You will find fulfilment, love, joy, and happiness.

What daily motto/credo do you live by and in three words, your recipe for success?
Casey Kasem, the famous American disc jockey, coined this phrase which I embraced as a teenager: “Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.” Pursue your dreams!

If someone only reads a couple lines of this interview what would you want them to know?
The youth are our future. Their education and development is of paramount importance. We need to transform our educational offerings to inspire greatness, self-esteem and self-confidence in all of our youth.

What other information about Exam Guru and the Light Bulb would you like to share with our readers…contact info, social media, upcoming events/open house etc?
Visit us at the facility and chat with us on your specific circumstances and needs. Facebook: The Light bulb, Exam Guru; Phone: 235-BULB, 235-GURU; Address: 26 Bay Road, St James; Upcoming events: Open House—Youth and Parents—3-6 pm on February 26, 2016, at the Light Bulb.

Describe yourself in two words, one beginning with N, the other with G, the initials of your name.
Nurturing, Guiding.