Archives for posts with tag: 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 


So ladies and gentlemen, it’s been exactly one year since ThinkChange Pakistan was launched. Conceived over early morning Skype calls, and an endless stream of e-mails, TC-P is a humble attempt to track the growing social innovation, and entrepreneurship space in Pakistan.  While we are still a long way from capturing this growing #socent/#socinn space in its entirety, we are confident that with your constant feedback, we can continue to chip away at what we have started.

A big thank you to our contributors for making the editorial team’s job a little easier, and to the wonderful change-makers for taking the time out of their ridiculously busy schedules to talk to us about their work.

Since Feb 15 2011 – Feb 15 2012 has been an eventful year for all three of us (TC-P editors that is), we would like to share some of the things we have learned about the #socent and development space in the past twelve months:

Jeremy in action: Making a sales pitch for solar lanterns in Thatta

Jeremy, EcoEnergy Finance

It’s hard to believe that a year has passed already! The biggest change for me in the past year has been joining EcoEnergyFinance as their Director of Operations and conducting their pilot distribution of 100 solar lanterns in Sindh, Pakistan. Working in a social enterprise, rather than talking from the sidelines, has revealed to me the considerable challenges faced in the sector.

One of the toughest challenges has been determining how we work with other organisations to achieve our aims. We’ve had to wrack our brains to develop a partnership model, and after many revisions and meetings where people are confused by what we do, I think we’re making slow steps towards clarity. I’m hoping that after the pilot, I’ll be able to share a great deal more about these challenges, for other people to learn from!

Maryam, IREX:

Html codes, wire requests, grant monitoring, online portals and classrooms – these are some of the things that have kept me busy the past few months. Since November, I have been working to get our program’s alumni activities off the ground. Currently our alumni programming consists of a small grants program for community development projects, and a series of online trainings. My work with TC-P has increased my exposure to fantastic social enterprises working in Pakistan, and instilled in me the importance of sustainability, and establishing rigorous standards for project design, and financial transparency, which has really helped me with my work with the small grants program, as well as ADP.

Since we primarily rely on technology to communicate with our alumni, I was initially daunted by our ‘lack of options’ and honestly, a little skeptical about the impact of online trainings. But thanks to my personal experience with amazing organizations like TechChange, and TC-P posts on mobile technology, and virtual education in Pakistan’s schools, I have realized that I may have been giving edtech a lot less credit than it deserved. I am excited about continuing to learn more about this space, and exploring how it can be realistically integrated in basic education development projects on a larger scale.

Kalsoom, Invest2Innovate

In the last year, I was readying to launch my start-up Invest2Innovate before going live in September 2011. i2i is building early-stage social enterprises and access to capital in new and untapped markets, beginning (of course) with Pakistan. We are currently working with four social enterprise clients, including EcoEnergy Finance (where Jeremy is the Operations Director!), and doing due diligence on a fifth client. i2i is also building the funding pipeline and look forward to potentially building an angel investor network for start-up social enterprises. The road this year has been harrowing, rewarding, tricky, and exciting – all at the same time. It hasn’t been easy, and start-up life is a rollercoaster of emotions, but I wouldn’t change my decision for anything. I think few people can say that they are doing what they truly love, so I feel really blessed to be working with incredible partner organizations and entrepreneurs who inspire me every day.

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!

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.

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