“Every day, I would look at all these problems from a distance and feel miserable about it…until one day, I challenged myself with a simple question: WHAT ARE YOU GONNA DO ABOUT IT?”
So in 2011, when Teach For Pakistan called out to young passionate individuals to be a part of the movement, I dove right in. I spent two years in an under-resourced government school where I was teaching about 220 girls from grade 6 through grade 9…every day, trying to understand why our system was collapsing. And once I was knee-deep into that mess of an education system, there was NO looking back.
Let’s take a little glimpse at this: This is Naseem.The first thing you should know about Naseem is that she is extremely smart…she’s curious and full of this contagious energy. And given her intelligence, her spark… She can be anything she wants to be…she has everything it takes to become a scientist…however, in Pakistan, it’s far more likely that she’ll never get there.You know why?
Because Naseemgoes to a school where books look like this
And teachers don’t always show up to teach.
It is much more likely that she belongs to the millions of children aged 5-16yrs who cannot do simple arithmetic or read a simple sentence in any language.
Or maybe she will be one of every two children in Pakistan who drop out even before reaching class 5. Naseem’s story is much more important than mine, because it is the reality for millions of children in Pakistan.
Today, Pakistan has the second largest number of out-of-school children in the world.1/3rd of these out-of-school children…have never seen the insides of a classroom. But the 2/3rds of them that have, have chosen to drop-out or are taken out by their parents because there’s literally NO BENEFIT that they’re getting from going to school.For the vast majority of Pakistani school going children, school is just a waste of time.
So why does this matter so much? What bad are these children doing to us? We have bigger problems to solve like extremism, poverty, deteriorating economy and the ever rising unemployment…right? We need to fix them first, and then we’ll think about education?Well, agreed. These are all massive problems and the kind that can’t be ignored…but they all exist because of this one big evil – they are mere implications of the lack of education. They’re symptoms.
If we want to improve the economy – we need to educate people.If we really want to empower the youth and women, end terrorism and increase tolerance – we should worry about educating our masses.
But what kind of education are we talking about? The kind where we’re shepherding children into schools to rote learn a pile of subpar textbooks? Or do we want to focus on making these students independent learners by developing critical thinking skills and character building?
This is where the Reading Room Project comes in…where my small team and I…are working day and night to build that ultimate solution, and contextualize it to the needs of an average Pakistani primary school student…We build internet-enabled learning environments for students in under-privileged schools.(Problems, limitations – we know them well…)The world is not changing…it has already changed! Why should the reality be any different for these children?
This is only a tiny sample of what’s out there – you haveopen courseware from ivy league universities, self paced games for every type of learner, Tutorials galorethe number of things you can now actually learn online is pretty limitless.
But if you don’t have an internet connection or the necessary supportive infrastructure, you can never see it.
We sift through the MESS of existing educational content – find the best stuff. Painstakingly curate and organize it…
Into modular pathways. Digestible chunks that make it easy for the students can learn any subject.
Children need a supportive environment in which to explore and practice the content they need and love. So we build it. Connected computer labs where students come in before and after school. Moderated by facilitators who are not teachers but guides. They troubleshoot, encourage, motivate. Theyre the cheerleaders.
This is Naseem, following one of these modular pathways for a lesson.
This is another student practicing a math concept she had just learned.In this gamified environment, students learn through play and practice, without stigma or shame.The focus is on concept mastery, critical thinking and ownership of learning.Which results in real learning, for life.
This has changed. They now use computers and the web largely with fluency.
To debug code
To make things like this
To use the internet to search for, translate and learn about the things they love.
This – is future learning.We want to scale this impact all over Pakistan.
We’re a potential turnkey solution
What I learned from the trip in the US can hardly be summarized here for you all…but it instilled the sense of urgency in me…that the world is up there…we need to catch up…and we need to act FAST.I’ll end with the same question that changed my life…that YES, there are huge problems….but what are we gonna do about it?
1. Banking on Youth: Pakistan’s
February 8th, 2014
How did I get here?
What is it that I do?
Why do I do it?
3. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO
4. Image: Alif Ailaan Facebook page
5. Image: Alif Ailaan Facebook page
6. Image: Express Tribune
Statistics: UNESCO Report on
Global Primary Education, 2014