Creating a level playing field for students across the country is a daunting challenge. With increasing access to computers and the Internet, however, Pakistan is moving one step closer to democratising learning. eLearn.Punjab, a project of the Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB), aims to revolutionise education by increasing access to interactive learning materials.
“There are many children who go to school but do not have a proper learning environment or adequate facilities,” says Dr Umer Saif, Chairman PITB. “It is our aim to create a level playing field for every child by providing quality learning materials online, and pre-loaded onto computers and tablets.”
Launched in January 2014, the eLearn.Punjab web portal is an interactive learning platform based on the curriculum of the Punjab School Education Board. Textbooks are digitalised and available online, along with videos, simulations, animations and Urdu translations. While the content is designed for students in the Punjab, it can be accessed from anywhere in Pakistan and can benefit students in any part of the country.
The project is the brainchild of Dr Saif, entrepreneur, academic and current Chairman of the PITB. He was one of Time’s World’s Top Young Innovators for the year 2011 and today devotes much of his time to developing innovative technology solutions.
“To get around the problem of connectivity, we are also making CDs,” says Saif. These materials are to be distributed in 4,000 computer labs in schools, and loaded onto 75,000 computers. “We will pre-load the material in tablets as well, which will be distributed to schools,” says Saif, acknowledging that not everyone in this country has Internet access
For the moment, the portal serves Class 9 and 10 students, and the courses on offer are biology, maths, chemistry and physics. Digital textbooks are available for all subjects, along with 4,000 video lectures, 369 interactive simulations and 476 animations that students can access from their computers or mobile devices. Lectures and simulations are embedded into each e-textbook, and links are provided to supplementary material available online. Students can test themselves with assessment sections for every course. There are also discussion forums and users can submit content to crowd source material for the platform.
This type of personalised learning can take place anywhere, at any time, and allows students to gain a richer understanding of the subject. “This is not just for those who are enrolled in school,” Saif explains. “Our materials can be used instead of paying for tuitions, but the portal is also for those who don’t have access to school, or can be used by content creators or staff to supplement their own work.”
The portal is not intended to serve as a substitute for formal education but rather to supplement learning and make educational materials accessible. But there are many students who are forced to drop out of school before completing their Matriculation, and the website allows them to continue their education free of charge.
While the portal currently carries materials for Classes 9 and 10, the project plans to expand its scope in the future, providing the same range of digitalised books and supplementary materials from Class 5 onwards all the way to Class 12.
According to Saif, about 105,000 people logged on to the website on the first day and since then the response has been positive. To assess the effectiveness of the portal and its impact on learning, the PITB is using a mass SMS survey to collect data on learning outcomes from the project
There are about 30 million internet users in the country today, half of whom use mobile devices. The telecommunications and information technology industries have opened up new avenues of access to information and education. The eLearn.Punjab web portal aims to take advantage of these trends to revolutionise access to quality learning materials.