New online school nurtures young writers

Article Date:  March 6, 2015

A new online school is looking to share the teaching methods crafted at the University of Oxford with Kingston students.

The Sage School for Young Writers was co-founded and launched in November 2014 by two Kingstonians: Raja Panjwani and Dev Thain.

Both young men attended Oxford University but got their early education in Kingston.

Panjwani, a noted International Master in chess, has a bachelor of science in physics and philosophy from Western University, a master’s degree in philosophy of physics from the University of Oxford and his master of arts in international and development economics from Yale University.

Thain earned his master of education in cognitive studies, a bachelor of education and bachelor of science in biology from Queen’s University before completing his master of science in learning and technology from the University of Oxford. As well, he has started a few entrepreneurial ventures in Kingston, including a student real estate company and his current company related to agricultural software.

While their personalities may appear to clash, with Panjwani being calm and centred and Thain being fast-talking and driven, it’s how well they work together that has made the passion for the Sage School for Young Writers come alive.

“The methods we use in our courses and revisions are based on the Oxford Tutorial Method, which both Dev and I studied under when we did our master’s programs there in 2012-13,” Panjwani said. “Our experience was transformative, and our business is the result of a long process of deliberation on how we could bring this didactic process to young Canadians. It isn’t fair that it remains Oxford’s best-kept secret, when so many students could benefit from it.”

The goal of the Sage School for Young Writers is to help ignite and support passion in young students.

“These are the sort of techniques that really help someone grow as a thinker and we think the earlier you begin, the better,” Panjwani said.

Thain likes to refer to his favourite quote, often attributed to William Butler Yeats, which says “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a spark.”

It’s that spark that Panjwani and Thain aim to ignite in students.

“I can’t teach anybody everything they need to know in a three-hour class, or three one-hour classes a week, but if I get them excited and get them completely enamoured in the topic and teach then to think critically, they become these unbelievable minds,” Thain said.

Students aged 11 to 17 can sign up for the online writing course, but space is very limited as each creative writing coach will only accept 15 students per course.

The online-based school offers a number of services for students looking to improve their creative and essay writing skills.

The flagship service is their creative writing courses.

It offers one-on-one expert mentoring for 12 weeks from a number of notable Canadian writers, including: Heather Wright, Jean Mills and Robert Priest.

“We have three of the best writers in Canada, and on top of that they’re wonderful educators,” Panjwani said. “What they do is guide students through a 12-week course where the student produces their own piece of work. They may produce a short story or a poem or whatever it is and the writer (mentors) guide them through that process and challenge them.”

The secondary service that the online school offers is called Submitted Drafts, which is open to high school, college and university students.

“What’s amazing is (the coaches) can impart their knowledge to the (students),” Thain said. “(They) are genuine experts and remarkable teachers and they know their topics.”

All of the coaches are chosen as world class in their chosen fields and come from Harvard, Yale, Oxford and around the world.