Creating Learning Opportunities by Going Digital: SABAQ

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Speaking to the Co-founder of SABAQ, Hassan Bin Rizwan,we find out a little more about this unique and interesting project:

What is SABAQ? What inspired you to initiate this project? 

SABAQ is an EdTech initiative that is increasing student engagement and improving learning outcomes through high quality digital content making learning fun and easily accessible to millions.

The idea of Khan Academy has always been so inspiring to me because it goes to show how digital technology can solve a lot of problems that we experience in the education sector. In Pakistan, for instance, one of the biggest problems we face is the access to education. This along with the alarming number of children that are currently out of school is nothing short of a national crisis. SABAQ was founded exactly to counter that, where we leveraged technology to give children who remain out of school access to quality education and create a learning experience that would help build a strong foundation for them.

What is your target audience that can benefit from SABAQ’s online content? 

When we design and develop our digital learning resources, our primary audience is children who are from less privileged learning environments or who have yet to experience one. So students who are currently enrolled in government or low-cost private schools, those run by NGOs and even children who are in non-formal learning environments.

But we don’t want to limit ourselves. Our content is highly contextual and produced in local languages, so practically any student can benefit from SABAQ’s content. Our new series, Alif Say Yay on our YouTube channel is meant to teach the Urdu alphabet to young children, in Pakistan or those part of the Pakistani diaspora.

Tell us about the cool gadget that is the ‘meraSABAQ Tab’?

meraSABAQ is our custom-made, Android-based tablet that comes pre-loaded with the digital learning content for Math, Science and Urdu that our team creates, aligning it meticulously to the National Curriculum. It’s an interesting repertoire of catchy songs, animated lessons, interactive exercises and gamebooks and learning games to give its users an incomparable learning experience that strengthens their engagement while improving their learning outcomes.

Do you think SABAQ can help in improving the current state of education in Pakistan? 

We’re currently facing an education system so flawed that results in 80% of children dropping out before grade 5. So, this is clearly not something that can be resolved quickly or quietly, requiring stakeholders to collectively work to see some change.

We at SABAQ are helping by doing our part, both through our out-of-school intervention through which over 21,000 children, who are currently out of school, study at SABAQ Centers, our non-formal learning centers across Mirpurkhas, Tando Allahyar and Tando Allah Muhammed.

In a similar vein, we’ve partnered with schools managed by the likes of The Citizens Foundation and Punjab Education Foundation among others where SABAQ content is being used to create a blended learning experience for over 30,000 students enrolled in these schools.

In both formats, we’ve observed a remarkable improvement in learning outcomes that pushes us to really challenge ourselves with more creative content and reach out to even more students.

Who came up with the idea of creating the letter formation series of videos ‘Alif Say Yay’? 

While there is an impressive volume of digital content focused on the English alphabet, we didn’t really come across any for Urdu that we felt was engaging or entertaining considering letter formation can be quite a dry topic.

We, as a team decided that this was something that we really wanted to delve into and have a chance in showcasing our strengths. After months of scripting, illustrating and animating – and we have our first full-fledged series! One that we’re really proud of!

Share a moment that made you realize that SABAQ is changing lives of children

It happened during a SABAQ Center observation that I was a part of. Normally, you find that children studying there can be quite shy and don’t say much apart from what you ask them. However, at the end of this lesson, as I was leaving the Center, I felt someone stopping me. I turned around to find a student, Kulsoom, who looked up at me and thanked me. When I asked her why, she said, ‘I’ve been wanting to go to a school since I learnt what a school was. I couldn’t, because the nearest one from my village is around 4 kilometers away that my parents were afraid to send me to. But now, I get to learn which makes me so happy and my parents so proud. So thank you’. For a child to articulate that was validation for me that SABAQ was indeed changing things for children like Kulsoom and it’s something that’s always stuck with me.

Which mediums/channels SABAQ is using to promote itself?

We regularly upload on our YouTube channel meraSABAQ where you can also find the Alif Say Yay series. You can also keep track of all what is going on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We’ve also recently joined the wonderful Patari where you can find SABAQ’s greatest hits in their Kids Compilation. And since we are also home to a very talented game development team, we have launched several games on Play Store and Itunes.

What is the creative process of making digital content for kids at SABAQ?

If only I could do justice in capturing one of our review meetings for you! SABAQ is very fond of its huddles where team members discuss different ideas and get feedback. Anything that is produced is reviewed in a bi-weekly review meeting which is one of my favorite parts of what I do because I really get to experience my team engage. We’re a diverse lot, so there is a lot of valuable input which really helps us elevate our content. We also regularly hold contests within teams to keep things interesting and get lots of creative content as a result.

The feedback isn’t just limited to the SABAQ team. We carry out regular classroom observations and focus groups with teachers to incorporate information from our actual users to create the best version of our content. We also have various groups across social media, like SABAQ Staff Room, where we regularly interact and pick up important cues from the conversations happening.

What is your outreach plan for SABAQ to spread in rural areas of Pakistan? 

In a period of two years, we’ve been able to establish 545 SABAQ Centers that cater exclusively to over 21,000 children across rural Sindh. We’d like to take this up a notch, by making our content accessible to over a 100,000 out-of-school children over the coming year while continuing to work on our school partnerships.

Where do we expect SABAQ to reach in the next 5 years? 

In every child’s hands hopefully!  SABAQ aims to help over one million children learn using its learning resources across Pakistan and abroad.  Our special focus, however, will remain on children with limited opportunities and access to fun and engaging learning resources.

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