KARACHI: Hope is a dangerous thing for us to have at a time of crisis, but hope-spurring action can be a beautiful thing. When four million young people enter the Pakistani workforce annually, with very limited capacity to absorb them into the economy, it seems impossible. But with a clever game plan, this threat can be turned into an opportunity.
As digital leaders, we have to think in terms of scale and speed. What I am advocating here is not an aspiration to reform our approach to education, but a plan for taking learning out of the classrooms on to the online world. And if that is too big a step for the moment, at least bring technology-enabled blending learning to the classroom.
There are digital revolution sceptics who perhaps haven’t understood that well-executed technology can be unbelievably effective in creating resilience and growth. Even though Pakistan’s ICT readiness score is among the worst in the world, I feel that with a systematic focus on digital learning we can improve faster.
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When over 95% of the country accesses the internet through smartphone on mobile broadband, getting Pakistanis to understand financial literacy basics, for instance, is easier than it has ever been. Provided we unlearn the idea that you need to chalk out and several years of school-based learning to do so. A two-minute video in a local language could do the trick.
Jazz focuses on providing a digital solution suite to its almost 60 million customers. It is the largest digital company in Pakistan and also among one of the largest taxpayers in a country with some of the lowest tariffs.
It is quite evident that we do more than just run a viable business. The company has a vigorous digital sustainability agenda where we have spent over Rs125 million since the launch of Jazz’s sustainability drive under our parent company Veon’s Make Your Mark Programme in 2016.
Over the last two years, we have facilitated instruction to 28,000 young schoolgirls in the Islamabad area, where we converted the public-school curriculum into a digitalised modular methodology using screens and low-cost clickers. Math, Science, English and other subjects were part of the mediation.
The results, in this pilot programme called Jazz Smart Schools (JSS) with the Ministry of Education, were enough to prove that we can transform learners into leaders.
The JSS programme launched in over 75 female high schools in Islamabad Capital Territory took that resource pressure away from an already stretched school administrations and resolved to teach through software programmes that are both engaging and colourful.
We need to desperately create behavioural change in Pakistani parents so that they send children to school under the mandatory education for all children Article-25.
First, however, there has to be a real return on investment for that activity. Communities, especially under-resourced ones, still need to be convinced that children will be better off in school than in the fields, working.
JSS has garnered international acclaim as the proud recipient of the UK-based Corporate Engagement Award. This brought home the message that education reforms need more than just budgetary support to kick-start an already dysfunctional system. Well-designed technical interventions like JSS allow Pakistan’s children to go from zero to one – that is a substantial change.
We are now calling on partners to take this project across the country. Whereas private schools offer hope to parents for an alternative, they mostly charge a premium to replicate more or less the same public-school practices.
The opportunity that blended learning provides the reformers of this country, is that it is completely independent of bureaucratic inertia. All we need is a strong will and the ability to replace hope with a roadmap. Of course, we will need partners to join our vision and contribute and scale.
Education emergencies cost far more than GDP slumps. And to add to our woes, we also suffer from inter-generational social consequences. Worst of all, we create a despondent generation that is sapped of innovation and a drive to learn.
Digital learning doesn’t stop at high schools or colleges even. For transformation to happen, you have to think in terms of the life cycle of the student learning process. Many people think jobs where education ends. Whereas jobs for emerging economies like our own are critical, these jobs may not be where they traditionally have been.
Entrepreneurship is like a job creation plant for every individual who can convert an idea into an institution. Digital Entrepreneurship gives this same endeavour wings.
In the last two years, Jazz in collaboration with Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board (KPITB) powered seven incubation centres called “Durshals” or civic innovation labs in K-P together with the World Bank.
About 35 start-up businesses solving local problems using innovation were incubated and over 100 start-ups were exposed to hackathons where they learned how to pitch ideas, market services and apps, and most importantly how to sustain their business in the long term.
The same programme linked 14,000 young graduates to decent jobs that were mostly in the ICT sector.
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Pakistan’s gig economy is on the verge of a massive leap if the ecosystem is supportive and freelancers can connect to global markets without the challenge of receiving payments. Our engineers have advanced gamification and app development in their repertoire.
The next programme round seeks to go deeper into the communities in cities like Bannu and Swat and simultaneously improve start-up ideas’ quality by including more design thinking education in the pre-incubation stage. It also will train existing public officials on how to think digitally in departments such as tourism.
Three programmes – Youth Employment Programme (YEP), Digital Youth Summit (DYS) and Durshals (Civic innovation labs) – led us to empower about 20,000 Pakistanis in two years alone.
Here’s my elevator pitch: Let blended learning in schools and digital skills entrepreneurship programmes go nationwide in tandem, leaving no student behind. This is how we will convert hope into happiness.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2019.
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