The generous contribution of four educational technology (EdTech) companies made it possible for the state-run PTV to launch Teleschool, a dedicated learning channel, to minimise the academic disruption in Pakistan after educational institutions across the country were closed due to the COVID-19 emergency.
The EdTech firms SABAQ, Orenda Project, Knowledge Platform and Sabaq Foundation say all the content being aired by Teleschool since its launch around a fortnight ago has been provided to the channel for free.
However, they pointed out, their partnership with the state TV would need to be revisited later, especially after the novel coronavirus pandemic comes to an end.
In good faith
“We feel proud to support the federal government’s initiative to launch the educational transmission by offering our learning videos for free so they can serve the people of Pakistan,” said Hassan Bin Rizwan, co-founder of SABAQ, which developed the educational app Muse.
Rizwan said SABAQ and reputable educational organisations recently formed the Ilm Association aiming to gather all Pakistan-based EdTech companies under one roof and to serve as a credible platform to mobilise the private sector and encourage public-private partnerships to deliver solutions in such critical times.
“We didn’t do it for recognition. We all did it as our duty to the nation. We’re happy our work is helping kids learn in these tough times.” Replying to a question, he said the EdTech firms would discuss sustainable arrangements with the government later, as the signing of a formal agreement between them and Teleschool was pending due to the current lockdown.
“However, we have shared our content in good faith and on verbal commitment, with the aim to educate the masses, which has been our mission since the very beginning.”
“I was quite surprised that the government was launching an initiative, and that too very early on,” said Sabeena Abbasi, content manager at Orenda Project, which developed the educational app Taleemabad.
“Umbreen, a representative of the Federal Directorate of Education, played a crucial part in bringing together all the content developers, officials of the ministry and the broadcast folks, and Teleschool seems like the most efficient way of reaching the masses at this crucial time.”
Sabeena lauded the Ministry of Federal Education & Professional Training for “taking prompt action, swiftly engaging different stakeholders and launching a wonderful initiative” after the closure of educational institutions.
“And companies like ours immediately responded and provided our content for free. This initiative was executed within two weeks! I think this fast-paced partnership truly reflects how we can transform our country using in-house resources.”
She said that to keep Teleschool on air or to stop its transmission depended entirely on the government, but since it was a great initiative, it should definitely continue even after the current crisis was over.
“Unfortunately, we still have over two million out-of-school children in Pakistan, and in this category, we rank second in the world,” said Sabeena. In a country where poverty is high and infrastructure is weak, initiatives like Teleschool play a significant role in bridging this gap, she added.
She also stressed thinking about transforming the traditional and divided school system in the country and how technology could be used in bringing that change.
“We will provide our company’s content for TV consumption for free until July,” said Talhah Munir Khan, Knowledge Platform’s CEO for Pakistan. “This is based on the current situation, and we may extend it if schools don’t open by July, but our content for TV consumption is not free forever.”
Khan said that since 2014, his firm had been giving free access to content on their platform, where 220,000 students were registered to access thousands of high-quality animated videos, 32,000 questions, and 600 games and activities.
He said that developing high-quality digital content was a specialised field and took a lot of time.
Even governments like Punjab have spent a lot of money on initiatives like eLearn.Punjab, but they could not do anything more than creating digital books, which are not that effective, he added.
Khan said that although television is a powerful medium, it’s one-way, with no just-in-time content, and it’s also relatively weak when it comes to instructing the viewers. He suggested improving this through e-learning apps and websites with the same videos but also with additional tests and games.
The digital assessments allow both in-school and out-of-school children to know about their learning gaps, he said, giving the example of his company’s online platform Learn Smart Pakistan (LSP), where assessment is the most-used feature.
He also said that the parts of the country that don’t receive TV signals can benefit from other resources like the LSP app, through which one can download videos and tests for using them without the internet.
As for Teleschool’s long-term viability, he believes an educational TV channel can’t run without advertisements, so either the government continues bearing all the costs or a donor can chip in.
“We’re very happy with the Teleschool initiative. This can be a game changer for Pakistan,” said Sabaq Foundation founder Iqbal Mustafa Khan. “In fact, we feel the government needs two such channels so one can be dedicated to grades 9 to 12 and the other to KG to grade 8.”
But even one channel is better than none, he admitted. He said that every video for grade 9 through grade 12 and almost 70 to 80 per cent of all the content being used by Teleschool is theirs. “For KG to grade 8, around 50 per cent of the content is ours.”
Khan said Teleschool is a broadcast solution that’s very good for reaching the masses and exposing them to general educational ideas. And over time, with repetition, students will pick up a lot of useful concepts, he added.
“Providing access to a large number of students, Teleschool is only a start. But the channels itself is incomplete. Students need either online or offline access to e-learning material to follow up on their studies so their concepts can be strengthened.”
Khan spent most of his life in the US and moved back to Pakistan in 2011. He then started the Sabaq Foundation, which he funds through his IT export business. He and his wife Asma have been working on the non-profit as a Sadqa-e-Jaria (charity with eternal reward) project.
Reiterating that the government has done an excellent job with the launch of Teleschool, Khan said they still need to work on digitisation to reach more and more kids in remote areas, those out of school and child labourers.
He pointed out that online solutions providing free videos and practice tests can be the best option. He said the e-learning industry can provide valuable video lectures and tests to students through their websites.
He stressed that the EdTech industry needs more attention and government funding because majority of the students can’t afford to pay the firms that charge fees for their content. But with proper funding, EdTech can revolutionise education in Pakistan, he said.
He also pointed out that since e-learning requires at least a smartphone, tablet, laptop or computer, another challenge is providing high-speed internet, which is inaccessible to majority of the people in the country.
This is where the government should step in, he said, to provide various offline e-learning solutions to educational institutions after they reopen and even now while the pandemic continues.