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Education innovation in Pakistan

Thank you for all your comments on my last blog and your support for our work. In it I wrote about our innovative Education Fund for Sindh (EFS) programme. Since then EFS has supported 6,000 out of school children to attend their local private school. Half of these children are being taught in after school classes so they can join the mainstream school next year. A big push will start in September in an attempt to triple this figure.

Children at the Deaf Reach School trying to teach me sign language. Picture: Asyia/DFID
Children at the Deaf Reach School trying to teach me sign language. Picture: Asyia/DFID

Another programme my team is working on is the innovation fund, Ilm-ideas (ilm means knowledge in Urdu). This is providing funding for innovative projects developed by people working in Pakistan to address some of the practical challenges that children here face in trying to get an education. Set up in early 2012, the programme has received nearly 700 applications, 40 of which have been selected for funding through an open call for proposals and a robust selection methodology. Funds are given on a 3 point scale: 1. To test the concept; 2. Prove the concept and 3. To scale up. Currently, the Ilm Ideas fund is benefiting nearly 30,000 children.

Funded programmes include creating online resources to help teach deaf children how to communicate by developing Pakistan Sign Language. When I visited the Deaf Reach School, who are leading this work, the sense of enjoyment from the children was captivating. When judging quality of education, 1 indicator is just to look and talk to the children. Look at the picture: the smiles, the engagement, the confidence to interact with adults. The children, of course, not only learn sign language but also learn to read in Urdu and English as well. Teachers teach with skill and passion and as a result children love being in school and their learning thrives. I am convinced teachers who teach hearing children could learn from these teachers about teaching literacy well. A view endorsed by a recent article in the Guardian.

Another Ilm-Ideas programme involves setting up community based learning centres for out-of-school girls, to give them a second chance to go to school. Why should getting married or having children stop you from learning? And what a good example to set your children about lifelong learning.

A girl attending a school, with her baby, after having dropped out of primary school. Picture: Sindh Radiant Organisation

Last month I was on an Ilm-Ideas panel to consider which ideas should be supported to scale up further. Winners for scaling up programmes included an online mathematics programme being installed in existing computer labs in Punjab. The software was mapped to Pakistan’s national curriculum and linked to teachers’ scheme of work. Initial findings show good gains in learning and more use of the computer labs by a wider range of pupils.

Another programme approved for scaling up is the School Assessment for School Improvement by ITA. The idea is to evaluate several aspects of a school and provide clear recommendations for development on areas such as financial capability, quality of teaching and learning. The true innovation is then the linking up of schools with providers who can assist them in addressing the areas for improvement.

Another winner is Ilm on Wheels, which uses a specially adapted Internet-enabled van to travel to far flung areas and teach mathematics via web-link. A teacher in Islamabad is able to teach children in a village in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Low cost tablets are then used to immediately assess learning outcomes. Findings are shared with teachers who are given specific tasks to use with their pupils. Ilm on Wheels have, for the scale up, extended the programme to literacy as well. Children also use the tablets to play educational games. Needless to say this has been a big hit with children and teachers alike. The van returns every fortnight. The potential for this model to not only bring technology to children who may otherwise never experience it but also as a mechanism to coach teachers is substantial.

Ilm on Wheels van arriving at a school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Picture: TeleTaleem

Sometimes we get innovations which really shouldn’t be innovations but sadly are. One grantee received funding for opening a school for girls in the afternoon in the same building as the school for boys which runs in the morning. We funded this and it worked. Now it’s time for a conversation with the provincial government to adopt this ‘innovation’ on a much wider scale.

We were lucky to have Charlie Leadbeater, an innovation expert who has written about innovation in education, come to Pakistan and work with the Ilm-ideas team to refine their model. This created a shift in what the fund intends to do: not just call for proposals and disperse grants but to actively work to generate innovation and provide support to innovators. This includes supporting education experts to refine their business model and business experts to strengthen their technical education expertise.  It is also about Ilm-Ideas being a centre of innovation in Pakistan. It has already partnered with DFID funded Centre for Education Innovation which is a global platform to identify, analyse and connect non-state innovations.

Well done to the Ilm-ideas team - over a year ago this programme did not exist. Now it is harnessing innovation in Pakistan to improve life chances of children and young people and we are scaling it up. Innovations proven to work in Pakistan could have application beyond Pakistan. I wish Ilm-ideas every success in its journey towards being an innovation hub.

We want more tech and non-tech innovators to help design new ways of educating children. I want to see more innovation in teaching literacy, to encourage, for example, budding app designers to develop something to teach Urdu using hand held technology or mobiles or video or cheap computers. More widely, do you think you can mentor the innovators? Refine their business model? Help develop their technical skills? If so, do contact the Ilm-ideas team.

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  1. Comment by Naheed posted on

    'educate the mothers and you educate the generations....'
    Its good to see the work that's being done

  2. Comment by Nusrat Khan posted on

    Education of child and specialy children with special needs is more challanging in our country, my field is hearing impaired i am trying my best to promot Pakistan sign Language,by providing training courses in,In Service TeachersTraining college of Special Education,Punjab and University of Mangement Science.In my view we are giving education to deaf only on roit basis, in the result they become a product with a paper (certificate) but of no use,there is great need to improve syllabus,teaching instruction skills,and provide standerd signe languge training for educators.

  3. Comment by Shawn Syed posted on

    These are excellent updates and work that makes me proud. Kudos to DFID and to you. Progress is a beautiful thing!

  4. Comment by Education innovation in Pakistan « FESF posted on

    [...] school next year. A big push will start in September in an attempt to triple this figure. – Read full article here ← Educating the hearing-impaired in PakistanLike this post?0 (function () { var po = [...]

  5. Comment by Rabia posted on

    Dear Asyia

    We are an international organization and working in Pakistan for past 60 years. we have big capacity building and education program in Pakistan. I was interested to know about your program and see if there is any possibility for partnership and collaboration. We are present in all 4 provinces of Pakistan.


  6. Comment by Ghulam Mustafa Babar posted on

    Strenthening the Quality of the Teaching Workforce:-


    One of the main objectives is to improve systems and policcies that support both pre-service and in-service teachers, to accomplish to this objective working closely to develop a teacher certification and licensing framwork, aimed at enhancing teaching as a profession and ensuring that qualified teachers are deployed to all school.
    In recent years, a number of countries have adopted a teacher certification and licensure schem as a measure of ensuring the quality of those entering and remaining in the teaching workforece. By defination teacher licensing is " the quasi-legal process that confirms the suitability a candidate to teach"
    A teacher license can be subject-specific or school level-specific and can be permanent or for a specific time period. And the most common purpose of teacher licdnsing is the provision of proof of the quality and professional standing of the person holding the license.

  7. Comment by Nauman Ahmed posted on

    Nice to see that people like you in Pakistan working to provide education to needy children. I want to say that you also need to work Special Education School in Karachi which can really help those who can't help themselves.

  8. Comment by Farha posted on

    Dear Asiya
    I just read your blog about Education Innovation in Pakistan. Great work ! Keep it up !
    I am a researcher basd in UK studying the impact of technological innovations for education in Pakistan. Would it be possible for you to provide the details of the programmes that you (or your organisation) have started in Pakistan and any data or evidence that you have collected about the impact of these innovations for the people.
    Thank you

  9. Comment by Sohail posted on

    Respected Asiya
    I am a researcher based M.phil studies .would it be possible for you to provide the project for my research work
    waiting anxiously for your encouraging response in this regard