Qatar Foundation (QF) universities alumni Osaama Shehzad and Haroon Yasin both work in the field of education in Pakistan and, over the course of the last year, have attempted new things in their respective occupations with the aim of benefiting a larger number of people.
Shehzad quit his job as a university instructor to join an edtech company, hoping to reach out beyond the 20 students that were in his classroom.
Yasin, who runs a digital learning mobile app called Taleemabad, tried to televise the app's content on local television, but faced delays due to red tape and censorship guidelines.
Then came the Covid-19 pandemic, changing educational landscapes across the globe.
As schools were shut and students asked to start learning from home, the government of Pakistan launched Teleschool, an initiative that broadcasts educational content for K-12 students on national television daily.
For Shehzad and Yasin — who have graduated from Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q) and Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q), respectively — this was a unique opportunity to directly reach students without any middlemen.
The launch of the initiative allowed Taleemabad to fast-track its partnership with Pakistan's federal education ministry and screen its cartoon-style animated videos on television.
Knowledge Platform, the edtech company where Shehzad creates science content for students from Grade 6-12, was also onboarded as one of the several organisations feeding content into the Teleschool channel.
Content worked on by Yasin and Shehzad is now broadcast every day from 8am to 6pm, reaching an audience of 50mn on Pakistan's national television.
The Teleschool initiative is effective in reaching out to communities that have a television but cannot afford an internet connection or a computer.
However, both Shehzad and Yasin agree that broadcasting lessons on TV is not without its challenges.
"It's very different to engage a broadcast audience, compared to a digital or in-app audience," explained Yasin."The viewers can switch the channel at any moment, so you don't want to be too obvious while you are teaching."
Since television is primarily used for entertainment, putting educational content on it pushes the content creators to make it more fun and engaging than they would for other platforms.
"If you [as a child on the receiving end] don't like it, you get to walk out.
That's a dream come true for children because they get to pick what they want.
And it puts the educators in their place," said Yasin."For far too long, we have built classrooms in which students have to stick to 'dead' sessions even if they don't enjoy the lesson."
The one-way communication of television is also a challenge, as it doesn't allow educators to test the skills and knowledge of its recipients, Shehzad points out, adding that Knowledge Platform has created online assessments which they encourage Teleschool audience to take after tuning into lessons, although there is no way to enforce this.
Talking about virtual classrooms in general, Yasin also warned against overusing the "golden word — e-learning" to ensure the boundaries between technology, fun, and learning are not so blurred that students either start resenting them collectively or not doing anything else, such as playing outdoors and spending quality time with the family.
"Edtech companies can be overbearing and we don't want to develop an allergic reaction to e-learning that will be hard to recover from," he said."Let's take our foot off the accelerator for some time, as too much learning is also something that can be a trap for children."