Archives for category: Education

This week, ThinkChange Pakistan looks at Rabtt, an innovative voluntary youth organization that brings students and mentors from different classes of society in an effort to promote independent and critical thinking in Lahore.

The Rabtt team organizes a 2-3 week camp every summer where their team of volunteers teaches low-income children  English, Mathematics, Physics, along with Critical Thinking, Drawing and Drama. What makes Rabtt special is that while majority of non-profit education-related ventures focus on basic service-delivery, Rabtt has chosen to concentrate on creating civic-minded, and independent thinkers.

Rabtt, which literally means ‘connection’ in Urdu was founded by two LUMS graduates, Aneeq and Imran to get students thinking about their identity outside of the prescribed curriculum, as well as motivate them to achieve, and do more.

By teaching various disciplines through an analytical approach, Rabtt aims to create “good learners”. The camp stresses on the importance of giving students room to interpret presented information and express their opinions. These instances can be as simple as allowing them to solve a Math problem their own way, or as exciting as introducing to them the tenets of Capitalism and Communism and asking them to analyze, debate and compare.

What makes Rabtt’s teaching methodology more effective from routine public school classes is also the smaller class size. The student to teacher ratio is 20:1 where as in public schools it can go up to 50:1. “We set the number of students in accordance with the number of instructors we recruit, and the resources we have. More than the number of beneficiaries, it is the quality of the impact we are able to deliver that is important to us” says Hammad, the social media director of Rabtt.

The camp’s students are selected on the basis of a pre-camp diagnostic, which is administered to roughly 50 children. The pre-camp diagnostic is a test of basic mathematics, English and logic. It is both a measure of the student’s ability, as well as an effective monitoring and evaluation tool.

Currently while the core Rabtt team is only comprised of four people, the organization has managed to develop a strong pool of volunteers (check out some photos of their team and volunteers here). Any one who is interested in volunteering, completes the form on their website. The Rabtt team then interviews the prospective volunteer, and upon selection, trains him/her regarding the assigned role.

Rabtt’s fund raising strategy has largely been focused on fostering solid relationships with organizations that share it’s mission and purpose. Hammad elaborates:

“The first step for Rabtt was to identify the target audience for its educational camps, and be very clear about what value these camps will add to the educational experience of the students. Once that was established, the Rabtt team approached like-minded individuals and organizations for support. Our aim was, and is, to make longstanding partnerships with like-minded organizations…The thrust of the fundraising campaign was, hence, not as much focused on brand promotion for the different organizations we targeted but more so on combined values and vision”.

One of Rabtt’s first supporters was Akhuwat, a micro-finance organization that provides interest free loans to the poor. Other organizations Rabtt focused on was different publishers and book houses that directly cater to the school children Rabtt aimed to work with.

“One of the biggest challenges in the beginning was to build credibility with these organizations…Trust is hard to gain when an organization is still in its developing stages”. The Rabtt team organized a number of in-person meetings and presentations to help gather the support needed for Rabtt to hold its first summer camp. “But now, within a year, we have successfully conducted three camps, have a growing pool of volunteers and  a clear direction that we can present to our supporters”.

Rabtt is now working to grow in terms of curriculum development, and program sustainability.  The team is working to standardize the content of the curriculum, and improve it based on student feedback. It also aims to establish a steady follow-up program to remain in touch with the summer camp ‘graduates’ and continue to contribute towards their personal and academic development.

If you are interested in keeping up with Rabtt, go ahead and like their Facebook page and follow their blog.

For more educated-related posts on TC-P, check out:

Hussain Bandukwala’s Q&A with the Design for Change (DFC) Pakistan team

VEFA Pakistan: Using Virtual Ed to Reach Students in Need

Thinking about Mobile Technology in Pakistan’s Classrooms 


2012 promises to be a good year for BLISS, says Saba Gul, the Co-Founder & Executive Director of BLISS, Business & Life Skills School. Below Saba writes about BLISS’s new partnership with Sughar Women and her recent visit to their vocational training center in Thatta, Sindh.  This post first appeared on the BLISS blog. 

We’re starting off the new year with some thrilling news: BLISS is scaling to Mirpur Sakro, Thatta in the Southern province of Sindh, where we will start working with 100 women and girls. Thatta was badly affected by the 2010 floods, with devastating effects on livelihoods.

Our executing partner on the ground is Sughar – a program of PDI(Participatory Development Initiatives), founded by the indomitable Khalida Brohi, also an Unreasonable fellow in 2010.

This past weekend, I visited Sughar’s vocational center in Mirpur Sakro, accompanied by Khalida, Jeremy Higgs, Manager of Operations for EcoEnergy Finance, and a dear friend Seher Suleman (who shares with the rest of us a hunger to change the world).

A 3 hour ride from Karachi, much of it on a dirt road with agricultural wasteland on either side, brought us to a large wooden shed that served as Sughar’s vocational center for the village. Men and women from the village filed in with smiles on their faces.

The women were thrilled to be able to showcase their work, which was so beautiful that Seher and I couldn’t resist whipping out whatever cash we had to buy some of it off of them right there and then. While none of them spoke Urdu, Khalida patiently translated everything they said.

In conversations with the women, I found out that none of the girls in the village were enrolled in school beyond the age of 12. The main reason seemed to be a lack of female teachers, without which it was culturally unacceptable for the girls to attend school. The teachers had been sent/appointed by the government, and repeated requests to send female teachers had been ignored. The other reason was early marriages — most girls were married off by the time they were 15. We visited the only school in the village, with one classroom that was used for both boys and girls attending all grades.

Jeremy had a fascinating conversation with the men about selling solar lamps to them, since the village didn’t have electricity. We exchanged some laughs as the men told a story about how their mobile phones were taken to the nearby city every week by one of them to be charged. The women jumped in as soon as Jeremy asked what difficulties the village faced without electricity, all talking at the same time. They wanted to have lights for cooking, feeding their children, doing household chores. Their lives had to be paused from sunset to sunrise.

A few of the men wanted the solar lamps for free, even though the monthly installments Jeremy had worked out for them equalled the amount they spent on kerosene every month. Notwithstanding the fact that the lamp would be theirs to own in 8 months, that they would never have to pay for kerosene again, and that the lamps were far superior to kerosene in terms of the light they produced as well as safety and health-wise. But too many NGOs had come and gone and offered free solutions that didn’t last beyond a few months. Free was still attractive.

Jeremy did succeed in striking a deal with the men, and now has an order from a neighboring village as well.

I left the village as I had left Attock almost two years ago — a little heartbroken at the limited resources this community had available to them, but really excited about the opportunity this presented for BLISS.

I can’t wait for us to work with these women! And with Khalida, someone whose work I’ve admired since I first met her last year. Here’s to new beginnings — 2012 promises to be a good year!

Michael Trucano in a (fairly) recent blog post touched upon the potential for SMS technology in the field of education in Pakistan. While Trucano was quick to point out that SMS technology is no substitute for schools, he successfully made the case for exploring how basic text messaging can be used to benefit people with low end mobile phones and posed important questions that need to be answered before we expand the use of SMS in schools.

Trucano highlighted the Asghar Mall College pilot project where 150 students who had their mobile phone numbers on file began participating in a daily vocabulary quiz exercise delivered by SMS. These young men from middle to lower middle class backgrounds were sent simple multiple-choice questions.  Texts were addressed to each student individually, using the equivalent of a ‘mail merge’ function. The students would reply via SMS, and then receive an automated response based on their answer.  In this response, a notation was made about whether the answer given was correct or not, and then the correct answer was incorporated into a sample sentence.

Based on the results of the pilot, the Provincial Education Department of the Government of the Punjab is showing interest in exploring these activities further. The project principals have already started thinking about expanding the scope of their activities. For example they are currently toying with the idea of sending text messages to parents to encourage further parent involvement in the student’s academics.

Another example of a project using SMS technology in the field of education is Mobilink’s project to enhance literacy in girl students through SMS. The pilot project was launched in 2009 with the help of a local NGO, Bunyad. In the pilot phase, 250 female learners received informative Urdu text messages daily, which they were required to respond. The program was implemented with the help of 10 teachers enlisted by Bunyad. According to the Mobilink site, the results have been quite positive:

It was found that at the beginning of the program 57% of the girls were graded ‘C’ and only 28% of the girls managed to score an ‘A’. However, near the end of the project the situation reversed with percentage of girls receiving a ‘C’ dropped to only 11% whereas more than 60% of the girls were awarded an ‘A’.

(Of course one cannot jump to the conclusion that the jump in grades was the result of use SMS technology alone – we need more information regarding the information that was contained in the text messages as well as other related factors e.g. teacher involvement with students before, during and after the pilot)

Trucano emphasized that vocabulary-building and grammar quizzes are just two potential applications of this sort of SMS-based interaction. This is clear from the information we have of the Mobilink project where ‘informative texts’ were being sent to the girls as opposed to quizzes.

SMS technology definitely presents some interesting opportunities for classrooms in Pakistan. But before we can advocate for use of mobile in classrooms across the board, we need to move towards addressing the questions that Trucano posed in his blog posts: how many young students have phone and how many can afford to participate in education-related activities via mobile phones?

As we begin to collect more data and the feasibility of use of SMS or mobile technology in Pakistani classrooms becomes clearer, we definitely have some exciting possibilities ahead of us. Have a look at a couple of relevant and interesting examples below to get some inspiration:

The Jokko Initiative in Senegal: Empowering Women through Mobile Technology

Mobile Phone Adult Literary Program in Niger

Although this powerpoint presentation by Creative Commons on 25 uses of mobiles in classrooms is geared towards classrooms with affluent students with smart phones, they are some interesting options available to low-end mobile user phone as well. Check it out here.

If you’ve additional insights regarding the use of mobile technology in classrooms and know of some pilot projects that we may have missed out, please let us know in your comments!

Madeeha Ansari completed her Bachelors in Economics from London School of Economics last year and currently works for an Islamabad-based development consultancy that specializes in enterprise development programs. She frequently blogs for the Express Tribune and just started her own personal blog

It took a lot for me to go from Islamabad to Lahore for the Teach for Pakistan Assessment Day. Frantic calls were made, emails were sent, mentors were sought. I wanted to be sure, I said, before bringing inevitable conflict in the household and “making a bigger emotional investment”.

So I went, of course, and had a thoroughly good time. Met a bunch of bright young people (very many from LUMS), employed my new facilitation skills in the budget allocation dilemma, fell in love with the interviewer. Toted a bag of Red Things including a shiny shoe and Winnie-the-Pooh for my lesson on adjectives, in which I am happy to say the class did quite well.

The truth is, however, that Assessment Day might not be the most accurate simulation of what awaits the first batch of Fellows during their two year commitment to teaching in under resourced government schools. For those who have never properly ventured outside Clifton and Defense, the first challenge will be to make sure they fit. It wouldn’t do to stand out, not if one has to be going to the same school in the same locality in a tough city, notorious for its lawlessness and deeply resented chasms of disparity.

Another equally important consideration is acceptance within the school. Although they will of course be facilitated by the TFP team, it will be difficult to determine the dynamics between the new recruits and the older, more experienced teachers who may be falling in a different salary bracket. The young teachers are going to have to be very, very polite.

Then, there’s the job itself. Those with an O’levels background are going to need some serious orientation to the local system, because even the Math is in a different language. Since this is only at the primary school level, things should work out just fine. However, the fact that we don’t have a single standardized board or medium of instruction does make it different from, for instance, Teach for America.

These are generic things that might have to be thought about when offer-holders are taking their decisions, because it wouldn’t be fair to flake out afterwards. For those who really feel it, such concerns are simply fodder for two years of thought. This time is not just going to be about teaching, although that in itself is enough to make life worthwhile. But these two years will set things in perspective, giving this batch of Fellows some real world grounding that would otherwise have taken a very long time. The insights that they’ll get into the local education system will surpass any secondhand, theoretical nuggets they could pick up elsewhere.

The TFP team must not have slept for a very long time in their efforts to cover all bases, offer the right kinds of incentives, pick the candidates with the skills, flexibility and passion to follow through. It’s a beautiful program and everyone in the social sector wishes it was their idea. Now it’s up to that carefully selected set of young people to understand that they can be a meaningful part of something awesome, knowing what they’re signing up for.  After that, they can forget everything else they know, to let those seven year olds teach them what the world is really about.

Over the past few months, we’ve covered a number of topics related to social entrepreneurship: profiles of entrepreneurs and enterprises, success stories and business models, and most recently controversies in the field. One area we’ve not covered is efforts to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs, through the education system – leading towards social entrepreneurship being seen as a viable career path.

Social entrepreneurship in universities is a recent phenomenon, coming with the recognition of social entrepreneurship as a potential career path after university – in particular after an MBA.

Looking across the world, there are a number of ways in which social entrepreneurship has been included in university: from specific courses on the topic (for example, Standford, Yale, Duke, Oxford and Columbia), to integration of social entrepreneurship case studies into many “mainstream” courses (for example, Harvard). Many universities also have student societies (such as NetImpact) engaged in the area, fellowships (MIT’s Legatum Fellowship, Oxford’s Skoll Scholarships), as well as regular talks and lecture series. On the practical side, many universities now co-ordinate internship programmes for their students, to develop real-world experience in the topics under study (e.g. MIT G-Lab).

For those fortunate enough to be able to complete education in the USA and England, the above universities offer plenty of opportunities. But what’s the level of engagement in Pakistan’s leading universities?

A glance at the top business and liberal arts universities across the country reveals little integration of social entrepreneurship into the curriculum, with the exception of LUMS, which ran a social entrepreneurship course aimed at MBA students this past semester. Student initiatives like YLES and IBA Invent have produced socially-minded entrepreneurial ideas and LUMUN-SRP facilitated volunteer work in NGOs.  Yet, it seems that in a country where the challenges are staring us collectively in the face, there’s a lack of engagement with social entrepreneurship – a means to develop a generation of business leaders employing market-based solutions to our social problems.

Is this a reflection of the demand for such skills by employers? Or related to the focus on business degrees, instead of social sciences? In the USA, where the impact investing and social entrepreneurship sector is booming, universities may be integrating social entrepreneurship into their curricula to meet an industry demand.

The question is, how do we change this?

The TC-P team has a few ideas:

  • Organisations (whether social venture funds or social enterprises) can provide fellowship and internship opportunities to university students
  • Social venture business plan competitions to encourage innovation by university students
  • Establishing local funding/support networks for budding social entrepreneurs
Do you have other ideas? Share them in the comments!

Jeremy Higgs sits down with Ahsan Jamil, CEO of the Aman Foundation, to discuss the Foundation’s recent work and the future of impact investing in Pakistan.

Ahsan Jamil Portrait

I recently sat with Ahsan Jamil, CEO of the Aman Foundation, to have an informal chatabout their current and future work, and the direction social entrepreneurship and investing are likely to go in Pakistan. According to Ahsan, the Foundation has focused on implementing its strategies without raising much publicity, as “the right to speak is something that you have to earn.” Yet, admittedly, the Foundation is reaching the stage where it is getting ready to share its challenges and failures, in the interest of learning from and improving upon mistakes.

Established 2 ½ years ago, the Aman Foundation’s aim is to bring about sustainable, scalable and systemic change in three areas:

  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Capacity-Building

Healthcare: 2626 Ambulance Service

The Aman Foundation’s primary and most visible initiative in the area of healthcare is the 2626 Ambulance service – the bright yellow ambulances on Karachi’s roads are immediately recognisable. Since March 2009, more than 120,000 emergency calls have been answered by the 100 ambulances and 1000 staff on board (with a doctor, nurse, driver and state-of-the-art equipment in each ambulance).
2626 Ambulance

According to Ahsan Jamil, the service operates on a “Robin Hood” model, charging more (1500 rupees) to those going to private hospitals, and relatively less (400 rupees) for a public hospital. This differentiated pricing is designed to make the service affordable for all, regardless of socio-economic background.

Yet, 2626 is not without its challenges. The service is not yet at a break-even point, with each ambulance dispatch currently costing 4000 rupees. Two approaches are being taken to make the initiative profitable: reducing the cost of each dispatch and providing additional services, such as subscriptions, to bring in additional revenues.

Education: AmanTech Vocational Training Institute

AmanTech Vocational Training Centre

AmanTech, located in the Korangi Industrial Area of Karachi, was recently founded to provide much-needed vocational training in 5 skill areas. Recent years have seen the emergence of a number of vocational training institutes. Where AmanTech distinguishes itself is in the skills and the job opportunities. All students at the institute not only undergo training in their chosen skill area, but also in soft-skills, in order to “to be able to integrate better into the work environment.” Secondly, the aim is to place graduates in positions overseas, where their earning power is greater.

As a new initiative, there is a long way to go, with the emphasis now by the Aman Foundation to prove a concept, and later to “trim” it to make it more efficient and streamlined.

Capacity-Building: Grants

The Aman Foundation provides grants to organisations, in order to act as a catalyst and provide support to organisations that are implementing Sustainable, Scalable and Systemic initiatives. A list of their grantees is available on their website.

The Future of Social Enterprise in Pakistan

As both an implementor and funder of social impact initiatives in Pakistan, the Aman Foundation has a unique perspective on the future of this field. According to Ahsan Jamil, critical to this is government engagement. Many of us are openly critical of the government and its inefficiencies, yet do not see any way to reform. Interestingly, Ahsan’s belief is that “ultimately the government has to be brought into the fray.” For this to happen, the private sector needs to demonstrate how existing services, such as schools, can be run efficiently, and to eventually bring the government on as a client.

“ultimately the government has to be brought into the fray”

Entrepreneurship in general, while a hot topic in Pakistan, faces many challenges, particularly when social/cultural factors are considered. Yet despite this, Ahsan Jamil observes that increasingly there is a sense of “dignity” that is attached to the act, and a belief that failure isn’t so taboo: “success is built on the pillars of failure,” according to Ahsan Jamil.  There’s a significant number of opportunities in Pakistan for positive social change and innovation through entrepreneurship, and I expect that we’ll be seeing the Aman Foundation at the forefront of that movement in the coming years, both as an implementor and funder of social ventures.

In April 2003, Samina Rizwan, currently the Senior Director of Industry Strategy and Insight at Oracle Corporation Middle East and Africa, launched Rizwan Scholars to support higher education in Pakistan. Rizwan Scholars (commonly referred to as RizScholars) is a not-for-profit philanthropic organization that offers scholarships to “academically exceptional but economically challenged young Pakistanis regardless of gender, religion or ethnicity”. Internationally recognized organizations such as Give2Asia, Pakistan Center for Philanthropy and Standard Chartered Bank have included RizScholars as one of their select sustainable initiatives. The trust has been continuously rated highly in the areas of financial management, governance and systems management, and serves as a great case study of the importance of effective management in philanthropic organizations.

How did it start?

Samina’s family has been supporting deserving individuals’ education efforts for a number of years but it was not an institutionalized effort. “Anyone aware of Pakistan’s plight, especially in the area of education should need minimum external pressure to undertake an education related venture. Every Pakistani should address our educational plight on a war footing!” says Samina. Following the death of her husband, Air Cdre Rizwan, the family decided to launch a trust to solidify their pre-existing efforts in the field of education.

How does it work?

“Riz Scholars provides scholarships in the form of quarterly stipends (between Rs. 1500 to Rs. 2500 per month) to deserving Pakistanis for their higher education needs. We aim to take the service to the Scholar as opposed to taking the Scholar to the service” explains Samina while speaking to TC-P. By this she means, that the trust is not focused on the construction of schools and colleges but rather on providing opportunity to students who are hampered by economic limitation to pursue higher education.

While ventures such as Zindagi Trust (another great initiative!) specifically target Pakistan’s most needy class, those whose economic situation barely allows them to get into a school, RizScholars caters to middle and lower middle strata of society. “We feel immediate action…is absolutely necessary for a class of society that has a chance at higher education, has the greatest talent pool of the country, but is hampered by financial constraints” says Samina.

At any given time, RizScholars has 150 to 180 students on their roster. Currently, the number stands at 186.   The annual plan for scholarship depends upon the funds available. In order to fulfill the organization’s commitment to the scholars, the management has to ensure that money will be available for existing scholars to complete their program even if they are no additional funds coming in. Once they have completed the assessment and there are funds left over, the team proceeds to shortlist from applications and conduct interviews. Currently, the organization can take up to 40 more scholars. Interviews will begin in April 2011 for the upcoming fall semester.

The organization’s commitment to the student however, does not end with awarding the scholarship to the student. RizScholars has a fairly stringent system for monitoring the progress of students. The organization’s officers demand grade sheets before they make the next stipend payment, and are in touch with the faculty regarding the academic progress of the student. The trust also sends out admin offers to the universities and colleges across the countries for site visits. Samina emphasizes, “It is important for a recipient of scholarship to not feel belittled, not consider the money a handout. It is important for a RizScholar to know that he/she has earned the stipend through qualification and effort”.

“The model of operation and governance that we have created is scaleable and sustainable. It has been tested over the years and has been audited for errors and omissions, risks and irregularities…The only thing standing in the way of its growth in terms of scholar numbers is funding.  If we could get ensured funding from a credible, audited source, we could scale the model to 5 times its current size” says Samina.

Currently, Rizwan Scholars’ funding structure is relatively simple. The trust doesn’t aggressively solicit funds in the market domestically or internationally through donor agencies. The efforts are centered on two sections of society: communities closely connected to the trust, and corporate bodies. Their fundraising efforts are focused on developing personal and detailed relationships with donors, and developing a plan whereby the organization receives a modest but regular amount of financial support. In return, “we provide complete access to our audited accounts and reports of our scholars…It has never happened that a regular donor has opted out of our program” says Samina. Furthermore, the family runs the initiative at no charge. That said, Samina acknowledges that fundraising has remained one of RizScholars’ greatest challenge.

One of the reasons I thought it will be interesting to feature RizScholars on the blog was in part because of Samina’s own corporate background. She acknowledges her experience in the corporate sector has helped her greatly:

Business experience and corporate knowledge grooms and refines an individual to plan well, communicate effectively and assess the risk related to projects.  This, in turn, brings sustainability to initiatives. In addition, the credibility one establishes over several years of engagement in the corporate sector is the foundation upon which philanthropic, not for profit ventures must be built.  Finally, it is important to account for and measure not just inputs such as plans, finances and human resources but outputs such as the improvement in educational outcomes that are achieved as a result of the initiative.  All of this is classic business management and it applies in not for profit ventures as well.

Making an Impact

The trust was launched in part to address questions that inevitably arise after a great loss: why does a person arrive in this world for? What is our purpose? “We do not know if we are answering these questions with regard to Rizwan’s presence in this world or ours (his family), but in a small way we are trying to make our lives meaningful and valuable. RizScholars brings more benefit to us, in the form of self-satisfaction and actualization, than it does to the scholars that we support, so we remain grateful to our scholars for giving us this opportunity.”

That said, the trust is definitely on its way towards changing the lives of young Pakistanis who otherwise would not have the opportunity to pursue a higher education. Thanks to RizScholars, one girl from a pardah observing community in Hunza was recently admitted into the Mechatronix program at University of Engineering and Technology and Lahore: “This is a program which is tough to get into, men often do not qualify”.

RizScholars also helped many young students complete their degree following the 2005 earthquake: “Several young men and women lost their homes and family to the earthquake. They lived out their current terms at hostels with no money, sold their watches and phones, took loans and finally found us.  We have helped at least 35 to 40 earthquake impacted Scholars through their professional degree programs.  Many had lost their entire families”.

Samina however, is quick to point out that their work does not allow emotional attachment to any scholar, either during the assessment or through their time with them. “For us, a scholar who touches our heart is welcome and appreciated, but someone who has brilliant high school grades but may not be “socially and emotionally uplifting” is the best scholarship candidate” explains Samina. “So, we do not look for emotionally resonating stories…Rather, we look for young Pakistanis who give us maximum confidence that they will achieve their academic objectives and improve their lot not just in this generation but for generations to come”.

If you’re interested in supporting the trust, you can donate to RizScholars here. Know of similar great initiatives in the area of education? Please let us know in your comments!

Rizwan Scholars from Rizwan Scholars on Vimeo.

The ThinkChange Pakistan team has compiled some articles we’ve been tracking throughout the week, just in case you missed them.

  • This week saw the launch of the Education Emergency campaign, highlighting the need for reform in Pakistan’s education system.
  • Salman Khan (of the Khan Academy) gives a TED Talk on using video to reinvent education.
  • DC for Acumen is hosting the “Dignity DC” photo exhibition and auction on 31st March. Tickets can be purchased online.
  • IDEO announced and the Residents Programme for social entrepreneurs. Exciting work with one of the world’s leading firms designing products for the BoP.
  • The Harvard Business Review discusses the 3 trending innovation challenges.
  • The Acumen Fund is weighing in on a competition to design innovative ways to get the message out there that maternal health is a right, and not an option. Join in the competition!
  • NextBillion regularly posts available jobs:
  • Fellowship applications are closing soon! PopTech and Skoll Awards

Have we missed something ground-breaking this week? Let us know!

This post first appeared and has been cross-posted with Kalsoom’s blog CHUP:

In Pakistan, the education sector needs vast reform and improvement, and education inequity and low school participation rates are enormous issues. According to Nancy Birdsall, the president for the Center for Global Development, the USAID education program in Pakistan is its largest in the world, with more than $330 million budgeted for FY 2010. However, despite large donor investments in the sector, “Pakistan ranks at the bottom of South Asian countries for educational outcomes,” with issues like education inequity, low participation rates, and teacher absenteeism. Out of the 20 million primary school aged children in the country, one-third are out of school, and of the children who are enrolled, 45% will drop out between grades 1-5.

Teach for Pakistan, a new initiative part of the Teach for All global network (which includes Teach for America), seeks to change those current statistics. The organization will expand access to quality education by engaging Pakistan’s future leaders in the movement against educational inequity at two levels:

  • Recruiting highly motivated and talented university graduates and young professionals to teach for two years in under-resourced schools in Pakistan, enabling them to improve the educational outcomes of these students.
  • Teach For Pakistan alumni will work from within and outside the field of education with a lifelong commitment to ensure that all children have equal opportunities to learn, grow and improve their life prospects.

Amber Zuberi, the project coordinator for Teach for Pakistan, chatted with me further about Teach for Pakistan, noting it was more than an innovative initiative. It signaled “a paradigm shift that could redefine teaching, leadership, national priorities, and Pakistan.” It is essentially a movement that engages youth to have an impact, to be a part of a larger effort to tackle an endemic socioeconomic issue.

I have a number of friends that have gone through the Teach for America program, which has been operating for over 20 years and boasts incredible results, (According to Rakesh Mani, a 2009 Teach for India fellow, over 60 percent of Teach for America alumni have stayed within the field of education). Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools and former Teach for America fellow (if you have not seen the documentary Waiting for Superman, I highly recommend it), emphasized why Teach for America works in a talk at the Aspen Institute,

Those children and that academic gain they saw over that two year time span…who their parents were did not change, their communities [and environment around them] didn’t change. What changed were the adults in front of them every day in that classroom. And that’s what made the difference. Those children had the aptitude and potential, but just needed the right adults who were committed to this and who were involved and pushing them…

Many reading this post probably received incredible educations. We were the lucky ones. When I think back to my schooling over the years, I still remember the teachers who truly impacted my life along the way, and I am still in touch with many of them. Some years ago, I visited my second grade teacher’s classroom in Dhaka. When I was seven years old, Mrs. Tunon was sprightly and magical, entrancing us all with her energetic teaching and storytelling. Entering her class as an adult, she smiled sweetly at me, gave me an enormous hug, and announced to her students, “I taught Kalsoom when she was your age,” to which her students exclaimed, “Wow! But she’s taller than you!”

In Pakistan, the challenges are enormous and they are complex. Most children are not afforded access to a good education. They are innocent bystanders to a fractured education system, where critical thinking is rarely taught, good teachers are hard to come by, and drop-outs are a common occurrence. The statistics may not change dramatically in our life-time. But efforts like Teach for Pakistan are taking innovative steps to getting us there faster, engaging our country’s youth along the way. They are currently accepting applications for their first class of fellows, and are looking for young and passionate candidates. To apply to Teach for Pakistan [the application deadline is March 15th, and placements begin in August 2011 for two years], click “Apply Now” on their website.

As the number of  TEDx (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks in Pakistan grow, it’s a great time to start actively thinking about how technology and development can overlap to bring about lasting social change.

Thanks to International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), I was thrown into the conversation last Thursday during a panel discussion on the interplay between youth and cutting edge social media. I was wowed by two of the panelists, Jorge Soto of CitiVox fame and Peter Corbett, CEO of iStrategy labs and co-founder of DCweek.

The next day, Benjamin Berkowitz (@benberkowitz) also visited IREX to present on his wonderfully handy tool, SeeClickFix and how it can be used internationally to encourage citizens to report non-emergency issues and become active citizens in their municipality (FYI, you can report various maintenance issues in your neighborhood in Pakistan and sign up your local district official, provided he has an e-mail address, to receive the notification. I’ll definitely encourage you to play around with it).

On the home front, thanks to my friend, Madeeha Ansari at Empowerment thru Creative Integration (ECI), co-founder of the ‘Development Dhaba’, I was excited to learn that there has been a push towards ICT4Dev in Pakistan as well.

The ‘Development Dhaba’ is a knowledge-sharing platform hosted by ECI to promote dialogue among development stakeholders on different themes. In January, ECI hosted a dhaba on “Technology and Innovation for Effective Development”, which comprised of formal presentations alongside information kiosks through which different presenters shared communication material with the attendees.

Considering the fact that I’ve been hearing a lot about what’s going on in this sphere in the US, a conversation with Madeeha and a look at Development Dhaba’s agenda helped me get up to speed (to some extent) with some interesting initiatives taking place in Pakistan.

For starters, I finally learned about UNESCO and Mobilink Foundation’s mobile-based literacy initiative that aims to address literary problems among female youth through SMS. Also on the lines of mobile technology, Pakistan Urban Link and Support (PULS), an emerging social enterprise will create a “Linkedin” for the mobile to tap the market at the bottom of the pyramid.  The Holy Family Hospital also presented at the event, showing how it’s using its Telemedicine Rural Support Program to provide health care to the rural community.

In the area of communications, White Rice Communications which uses animation to tackle sensitive issues received great feedback at the event.  The company presented selected modules of “Aflatoun”, a 14 episode animated series that blended educational content and information in an engaging manner. At this point, I could not help but think of again and its use of “digital stories” to bring to light suppressed or ignored narratives.

Although the technology and innovation space here is still constrained due to limited financing opportunities, low internet penetration and poor literacy levels, it’s exciting to see how a motivated group of innovators have taken the first step to make the space work for Pakistan.

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