Sabaq Foundation aims for free tuition for Pakistani students

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Iqbal Mustafa Khan is the Chairman of Sabaq Foundation Trust, an online free-for-all education portal, and President of Alachisoft, a San Ramon California based Software Company. Iqbal is an Indiana University, Bloomington, USA graduate in Computer Sciences, with 27 years of IT industry experience. He has an ambition to eliminate tuition mafia from Pakistan through his initiative Sabaq Foundation – a curriculum based online educational video portal. He believes that if parents have alternative to the tuition centers in the form of video lectures of better quality, they would prefer this way of imparting knowledge. In a recent interview with Technology Times, Iqbal Mustafa sheds light about his initiative Sabaq Foundation Trust its aims and objectives.


You are an IT professional, why did you decide to start online education?


Iqbal Mustafa Khan: When I came back to Pakistan in 2011, I had an ambition to do something in the field of education though as you said that Im an IT professional. In fact, my mother was a government primary school teacher who had always been a source of inspiration for me. My aunt was also a principal in a government school in Golra area, near Islamabad. Both of them pursuaded me to excel in the education sector. So having a background of information technology I got inspired by the Khan Academy in US. This Academy was founded by Salman Khan, a Bangladeshi American. Millions of people rank it as the number one online educational academy and inspired me to initiate a same project in my mother land.


What is your mission that you try to accomplish?


When I started my career, I had a sole mission which was to eradicate tuition mafia because I think the education system had reached a stage where a lot of people could not afford to pay much money for their children to get off-school education. Teachers normally do pay full attention to their teaching assignments. So I planned to establish world class teaching resources in the form of online video lectures for Pakistani students in Urdu from the platform of “Sabaq Foundation Trust”. Main purpose of this initiative is to make an average student gain knowledge free of cost. We have now made available everything relating to education on our website free of cost. This is a great opportunity for millions of students who otherwise are unable to make progress and get good grades.


Brief us about your initiative “Sabaq Foundation?


I founded “Sabaq Foundation Trust” in 2012, after realizing that there was a severe shortage of quality teachers in Pakistan. This problem looks bigger especially when you go to rural areas of our country. So our mission is to educate students from grade 5 through 12 covering the syllabus of both local and Cambridge text books. Once we achieve this goal, we will see how we can expand further. In this way every student will have an opportunity to access free online videos even at home. These videos are also available in DVDs which we plan to launch soon. The DVDs have no copyright restrictions, so anyone can copy and distribute them. I believe in this way we can improve the level of education in the country. We encourage copying of our content because our mission to spread knowledge, not to confine it within copyright boundaries.


Its a general perception that if a person can access internet s/he can understand English. Why did you choose Urdu as a medium of Sabaq Foundation videos”?


Actually, if we see the demographics of Pakistan, there are 90 per cent students who cannot speak English. In English medium schools, teachers use English terminologies as per the directives from the government, but in other schools, teachers explain concepts in Urdu as that is the language students feel most comfortable with. Urdu is the most prevalent and widely understood language in Pakistan. Hence, I thought to introduce our lectures in Urdu to ensure our reach to the majority of students.


Video lectures are one way communication, what attracts students to your website?


The whole idea is to ensure proper knowledge to students and of course it is not possible for a teacher of a class of about 30 students to pay individual attention to every student. Our video lectures provide the best available solution in that case. It has also been observed that since majority of parents have no time or are unable to focus on their childrens education at home, they send them to different tuition centers. But if you have the resources like video lectures students can easily get guidance repeatedly till the time they fully understand academic theories, which is not possible in a conventional class room. I believe proper learning is not possible with one lecture as it needs repeated and focused exercise. Having chosen the curriculum, we have taken five education boards; federal and four provincial capital educational boards. We have also covered Math syllabus for O Level Cambridge board. We have prepared videos of every topic and every subject for the guidance of students. So there is an open choice for students available on our website www.sabaq.pk to select videos according to the education board they belong to; they can have topics, exercises, concept lectures and videos of their choice.


In your opinion, what is the main issue with Pakistans education system?


This is an open ended question; there are so many issues. In fact, the problem that we are seeing right now is that in Pakistan the education is not the focused area of government while citizens have a special priority to this important sector. There are a lot of education institutions in the private sector which are making a lot of money in the name of quality education. No doubt, people want to spend money on education but this is unfortunate that the government is not willing to allocate adequate funds to this sector. As a result, you dont have the required salary package, infrastructure, qualified teachers. The learning quality in government schools is very low, while in private sector there are small numbers of institutions where quality teaching exists. If we talk about the overall situation of education in the country much is needed to be done in this sector. So the problem is critical but unfortunately the government is not in the mood to resolve this crises. If we want to make progress and come at par with the developed nations, we need to reshuffle our priorities with special focus on education.


How would you move forward against tuition centers in Pakistan?


If you see the history of tuition centers in Pakistan it is only about 30 years old. Before that there was no concept of tuition. The main reason was that teachers used to concentrate on transferring their knowledge to the students; they used to take it as a mission without any financial consideration. But this trend has now changed; the lucrative tuition industry encourages the teachers to use the school-going students as a bait for after-school tuition. One remedy in my opinion would be that the same teacher should not be allowed to teach the same students in after-school tuition classes.


Therefore, once parents get to know of an alternative to tuition in the form of free video lectures that are of the better quality, they would definitely prefer them. Even those parents who find it hard to pay for the tuition of their children are very much convinced about the significance of video lectures. But in the case of rich parents, they do send their children for tuition and pay more for it. So you cannot stop this trend. If students have some time out of the classroom in their school, then there is no need for tuition, but this is not a common practice on part of teachers. Students have always faced problems in one way or the other.


How do you make your videos relevant for Pakistani students?


In fact it is already culturally relevant. First of all, it is the only content which is completely mapped for the Pakistani students. All the contents have been done in Urdu, so they are only for the local students. The translation in Urdu is a hard task, but we have done it for better understanding of the students. Similarly, we have all the teachers who have got education in Pakistan; they speak in a way which is completely understandable for students. But in the case of English lecture, we have also done its Urdu version, which can be helpful especially for students in rural areas in improving the English language.


Based upon your experience, which subject is most demanding for tuition?


Mathematics is the most difficult subject and almost every student demands it besides other science subjects like chemistry, biology and physics. English is also the most important subject especially at the matric level but people normally do not demand tuition for it.


How do you judge that how much knowledge students get from your online video lectures?


We do it through sampling procedure, because we cannot judge this through examining all cases individually. But we do review this judgment on a regular basis. There are so many reviews like teachers review, staff review and then the final expert review. We also keep track of the location, age and number of students visiting our website and keep assessing our ranking. But keep in mind that there is only 10 to 20 per cent internet coverage in Pakistan, so we are also working on other mediums like DVDs. This is our major initiative to prepare lecture videos against a very nominal price for the students for the whole academic year. Besides, we are working to convince the government to include these DVDs in the syllabus. We are sure that this would be done as the government is showing interest in this initiative. We are also in regular contact with private schools through enhancing interaction for the introduction of video lectures system there. So in this way we are working on multiple options at the same time to popularize this way of giving knowledge to students and training to teachers.


Anything you would like to add about media?


Yes, media has emerged as a powerful instrument to develop public opinion as well as spread information to every segment of the society. The government should propagate this medium to at least ensure education to all.


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