“Society can’t wait. It’s sad there are so many entrepreneurs, business successes and venture capitalists who give no thought to society.” – Lexie Wesler
The latest findings in UNESCO’s report reveals that almost 5.5 million children in Pakistan are out of school which is the second highest number in the world after Nigeria. Moreover, Pakistan has highest number of illiterate adults in the world after India and China. However, the reality is that even children who are going to schools are not acquiring the quality education. Our education system is manufacturing products rather than leaders who can think out of box and solve the prevailing issues in Pakistan. Entrepreneurs like Zulqarnain Jameel are going beyond their capacity to eradicate illiteracy within the country.
Zulqarnain Jameel is a student of Masters of Innovative Technologies in Education (MS-ITE) at SEECS, NUST. He and his team are working hard to replace the traditional teaching methodology in Pakistan with game based learning methods and interactive mobile applications. The Tent School System has started its journey through imparting quality education to a small group of children in slum areas of Islamabad.
A graduate from FAST University, Zulqarnain worked for 1.5 years as Software Development Officer at Telenor. Despite having a decent job, he left it for following his passion for education even though his colleagues discouraged him. He, then, took admission in newly introduced program of MS-ITE at NUST last year and that is when the idea of The Tent School was born.
“Our main idea was to open the school through a tent setup at slum areas in Islamabad. However, when we went there, we got support from influential elders of the area and they provided us with an empty space for educating their children. This was unexpected and we did not feel the need to use the tent which still remains packed in my car.”
Before I go any further, you should see this video of children from Islamabad slum who are trying to use their knowledge learned at The Tent School System to make automatic bicycles. This video inspired me and hopefully it will inspire you.
“During my MS, I learned about new learning theories in education which we are using in The Tent School System. A particular one is “constructivist theory of learning” in which you enquire from the student about a certain topic. This is done to provoke their curiosity with questions so much so that they start thinking on their own about a certain topic.”
While explaining the modern methods of learning, he said, “Basically, this theory says that if you are teaching a group of students, you should not solve the problem for them rather let them solve it through their prior knowledge. The teacher should not snub a child or in other words limit their thinking capabilities. For example, if we are teaching a topic on sound then we ask questions such as where does the sound come from. What are the sources of sound? How our ears hear sound? Why doesn’t the sun produce the sound? They try to answer these questions, then ask more questions and the loop continues. This provokes their thinking and act as a mental exercise for the brain.”
The Tent School System has currently 25 students from ages between 3-12 years old who are taught according to the national curriculum of Pakistan. When I asked about how he manages different age groups, he told me about self-based learning model, “We make groups of students regardless of their age or class, assign them tasks and whichever group completes the task first, their members are dispersed into other groups so that they can learn from each other.”
According to Zulqarnain, their teaching methods are definitely showing signs of improvement as one of the students was able to complete first grade course in two months. The Tent School System is also using tablet based applications for subjects such as Mathematics and English. Zulqarnain along with another developer are building these learning applications for students.
“The idea is to use universal learning method which means that different types of learners typically learn using three senses: Visual, Auditory and Touch which can be improved using technology as an educational aid. Children use tablet based applications in the class to answer the questions we ask them. Right now, we do not have enough resources to provide a tablet to every student or in groups which is why there is a single tablet attached to the board in the front of the class.”
Zulqarnain believes that our current school system limit a child’s creativity and thinking ability. He says, “Schools should enable everyone to think freely and express their ideas openly. When a child is about 3-4 years of age, he gets curious about every little thing around him and then we put him in school. Teachers at school start telling the child what to do and what not to do and here is when we limit their creativity and thinking ability.”
The Tent School System is currently short of both resources and finances as they are lagging behind on operational cost which Zulqarnain fulfils from his own pocket. More technological resources will help them record children responses to questions which can then be evaluated in real time. This evaluation could then help a teacher understand the thinking patterns of students whether it is converging or diverging from a certain concept. The information can help in adjusting the teaching methods for better academic output from children. However, they need to do alot of paper work because of the lack of resources.
The future milestone of the school is to eradicate illiteracy from Pakistan by 2020. Zulqarnain plans to expand their school in slum areas of other cities soon along with introducing fellowship programs for teachers, collaboration with schools and building parent – teacher association for parents to make them understand about importance of education for their children.
Zulaqarnain thinks entrepreneurship will get Pakistan out of many problems and he wants this message to be conveyed to readers, “Stop blaming the situation in Pakistan and do whatever you can in your capacity to improve the situation. We need more entrepreneurs who can think outside the box and provide better solutions to problems in Pakistan. If you can’t change the situation, you can at least support those who are trying to make Pakistan a better place instead of discouraging them. Don’t spread hopelessness among people.”
The Tent School System is looking for volunteers who are passionate and can spare a few hours for the cause. Interested people can contact them at their Facebook page.