School Garee: Harnessing mobile technology to bring math and literacy content to the hardest to reach

Ms Erum Burki, Mr Imran Zualkernan and Ms Shirin Lutfeali | Presentation (PDF)

Save the Children, American University of Sharjah



Children in government schools in Pakistan struggle with learning basic literacy and numeracy concepts. Many government schools are remote, resources limited and teachers are ill-prepared to teach in ways that are relevant and effective. Teacher-centric pedagogies make learning stilted and unproductive. Consequently, a large proportion of children come away with a shallow understanding of the core competencies in math and language; they do not build the strong foundation necessary to succeed in upper grades. 

In 2011, Save the Children launched its innovative approach to working with schools, teachers and communities on improving students’ reading outcomes using their Literacy Boost methodology. In Literacy Boost, students are assessed to gauge what knowledge they already have, teachers are supported to teach children to read through a series of skill based teacher training sessions, and communities are shown ways that they can support literacy at home. The Literacy Boost methodology maps onto the local curriculum and teachers work in small groups to incorporate reading strategies into their lesson plans. Save the Children staff, along with the relevant Ministry of Education staff observe teachers in their classroom and provide mentoring and support to help teachers reflect and improve on their practice. Results from the first year of Literacy Boost implementation in Khyber Pakthunkhwa (KP) province showed that children, particularly girls and those from the most impoverished backgrounds, significantly outperformed their peers in non-intervention schools in key measures like fluency, word recognition and comprehension. 

TeleTaleem, a social enterprise based in Islamabad, provides advanced learning solutions especially targeted to the developing world. TeleTaleem recognizes the challenges that face Pakistani school teachers, particularly women, in teaching within the government school system. Government sponsored trainings are limited and are often based far away from the school site, with many female teachers unable to be away from home for that many days. Leveraging their strong relationships with local government, and innovative use of technology and localized content, TeleTaleem piloted a successful teacher training project in KP province targeting Grade 4 and 5 Math teachers. Their School Garee (Garee means Van in Urdu) uses satellite technology to remotely deliver just-in-time, live professional development to teachers in remote areas. A key component of the model is the use of wireless Android tablets to track and monitor students’ progress. 

TeleTaleem and Save the Children have partnered to combine Save the Children’s Literacy and Numeracy Boost teacher training content and TeleTaleem’s technological platform to conduct a pilot for early grades Language and Math teachers in 46 primary schools in KP province. Teachers will be also provided with on-site support visits by project staff. Additionally, teachers will use wireless tablets to conduct formative assessments on students to gauge impact on student learning outcomes. This presentation will show how mobile technology can support teachers in remote areas with content that is authentic and of high quality. We will share preliminary results from baselines conducted in 2013, share lessons learned and highlight the successes and challenges of the project.



Erum Burki is the Director of Education at Save the Children Pakistan. She holds a Master in Business Administration (MBA) in Banking and Finance from Lahore School of Economics (LSE) and a Master degree in Economics from the University of Western Australia (UWA), for which she received distinction awards for Topics in Applied Econometrics, Topics in Econometric Theory and Topics in Economic Development. 

Erum's extensive background in education began as the coordinator of USAID's Early Childhood Education project in Islamabad. In this role, she worked on research, evaluations and documentation of the Early Childhood methodology in Pakistan. Erum joined Save the Children in 2006 and has been heading the Education sector where she was involved in the development and effective roll out of the education Thematic Programme Plan in Pakistan. She has also been a co-lead on the the Education Cluster with UNICEF in Pakistan since 2009. 

Erum has published many research articles, which include:

‘Militants Target Education to Terrorize’ selected by Columbia University to be presented at a conference they were hosting in 2010, ‘Why Invest in Early Childhood Education’ published in 2003 in Children's Resources International and 2003 Children’s Resources International (CRI): Published an article on Economics of Early Childhood. 

Mr Imran Zualkernan holds a BS and a PhD from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, United States. He did post-doctoral studies at the Carlson School of Management and at the Center for Research in Learning, Perception and Cognition. Mr Zualkernan has a diverse exposure in education, learning technologies, knowledge-based systems and management science. He has worked on organizational learning issues for multiple divisions of IBM including Owego, York Town, Rochester and East Fishkill, United States.  Mr Zualkernan has over 15 year of teaching experience. He has taught at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, and at the American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and an adjunct faculty at the Arizona State University. His research publications span education, cognitive science, management science and computer science and engineering.  He has over 125 papers in refereed workshops, conferences and journals. He has been a recipient of the global IBM Faculty Research award in 2006 and 2009 for his research in just-in-time and game-based learning. Mr Zualkernan has also been involved in start-up technology companies in senior management positions in Pakistan and Singapore (founding CEO and CTO). 



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