Learn Smart Pakistan Edforum 2015: Quality Education for All
What will the sustainable development goals really mean for education?
Learn Smart Pakistan’s 2015 Education Forum was more than your typical conference. Not only did it engage key stakeholders in thought provoking and critical discussions about the dire state of education in Pakistan, it also established a clear commitment to provide quality education to the country’s youth. With more than 250 attendees convening from across the nation, from organizations like Acumen and DFID to teachers, administrators, policymakers and more, the education forum was a noticeable success.
Education in the country continues to be a challenge, especially in regards to dissemination of content, ability to incorporate innovative methods of teaching into archaic structures of pedagogy, and keeping up with modern demands.
Learn Smart Pakistan was designed to address some of these challenges by introducing curriculum-driven digital content supported by low-cost, scalable technology that can strengthen learning both in and out of the classroom. The education forum was just one of many activities, including online student learning competitions and teacher boot camps, which fell under the Learn Smart Pakistan initiative. The goal of the forum was to ignite a holistic dialogue about the future of education that extended across multiple verticals such as public policy, education, technology, economics and so forth. The agenda included panel discussions, keynote presentations and demonstrations from different industry leaders to help shed light on the current challenges and examine how we can overcome these challenges in order to improve the education system for future generations.
Talhah Khan, Knowledge Platform’s Country Manager and CTO, kicked-off the event by introducing how education technology can “change the pedagogical approaches in areas of teaching and learning and make traditional learning environments more student-enabling.” Talhah and his team manage the software used for Learn Smart Pakistan, a learning management system called ‘Ultrabot’ that boasts over 3 million online users and has supported over 18,000 e-learning courses to date.
Understanding the shared limitations and lack of infrastructure common across schools in Pakistan, Knowledge Platform designed an LMS that works both online and offline, allowing teachers to download content and collect student data without Internet connection. By using similar types of technology solutions in the classroom, teachers can shift their focus to activities that allow for a higher level of interaction with students.
Tahir Mushtaq, HR Ministry of IT & Telecommunications, provided valuable input from the perspective of a Government agency, further emphasizing the importance of scalable, low-cost and accessible technology when thinking about the “shift from conventional teaching to digitally-integrated teaching.”
The audience was introduced to a variety of innovative EdTech solutions through interactive demonstrations in which audience members were able to use the technologies themselves. Mosharraf Zaidi of Alif Ailaan, for example, moderated an interactive quiz on the state of ‘Education in Pakistan’ allowing participants to respond to questions, loaded on a learning system, in real-time using hand-held devices. In addition to quizzes and online assessments, audience members were also able to play with education games developed for both in and out-of-classroom use. Wadood Ahmed, Knowledge Platform’s Director of Games, discussed the importance of EdGames and the impact they can have on skill practice and improved learning. Education games combine learning objectives with challenges and competitive elements that help make a subject more exciting or provide a different way to tackle a problem. Mind Tussle, a mobile game geared towards strengthening one’s basic arithmetic, developed by Wadood and his team was launched at the forum for the first time.
Integrating technology with the education system is by no means the only answer to Pakistan’s education problem. Moreover, the types of technology used and ways in which these technologies are integrated into structures of education should not be overlooked. The panel discussion took an in-depth look at how exactly technology can be successfully integrated into education, as well as other external variables that influence the discourse on EdTech. Athar Osama, Founder of Pakistan Innovation Foundation, provided an overview of the current EdTech landscape, while Michael Foley, CEO of Telenor Apps, emphasized the importance of government properly investing in education. All panelists agreed that the potential for EdTech to improve the quality of learning and teaching in Pakistan is huge, however, it is important to keep in mind that “technology itself does not enhance learning. It depends on how technology is designed and implemented, how teachers are supported to use it, how learning outcomes are measured and what communities are in place to support it” stated Helen Kamal, Director of Ilm Ideas II. Only a correctly designed technology-based education solution, Helen exclaimed, can possibly improve the quality of education.
The panelists also discussed how improving the quality of education, not just access, is imperative for both public and private sectors. Haider Ali Daud Khan, President and CEO of Bigger Picture Consulting, touched on what type of incentives are needed to unite the public and private sector towards a shared goal of bringing quality education to Pakistan.
Experienced teachers and principals acknowledged how much engagement, enrollment and learning outcomes had improved since implementing technology in their classrooms. Naeem Zafar from the Planning Commission wrapped up the discussion confirming the belief that improving the quality of education using ICT is not easy to do, but it is absolutely necessary and “requires all aspects of the education system conform to this vision of e-learning, including teacher training and support, textbooks and other supplies, pedagogic methods, classroom management, and resource allocation among others. A deeper discussion of classroom relevance and how the different aspects of an education system must operate and fit together to yield quality education is necessary.”
The forum concluded with an Award Ceremony for the Learn Smart Pakistan Digital Challenge. This was the second year of Learn Smart Pakistan’s Summer Digital Challenge. Hira Zainab, Manager of Learning Solutions, worked on the challenge during both years and saw participation grow 7.9 times in comparison with the 2014 digital challenge, a clear indication of the need and interest in such initiatives.
Yusra Nadir from Sideeqe Public School, winner of LSP’s Digital Challenge 2015, delivered an enthusiastic speech thanking LSP and the platform it provided her, “the people behind this challenge need not be so modest. They deserve all the credit they are getting and more. For organizing this amazingly constructive and interesting challenge, making mine and many student’s summers more productive, for trying to improve the standard of education in this country and for trying to introduce new ways of learning through technology.”
Students and teachers were awarded iPads, Tablets and certificates as a token of appreciation for their participation and acknowledgement of their success.