Founder/ CEO: Saad | Co-founder: Maryam Khan
StartUp.pk brings you the stories, challenges and innovative strategies adopted by startups as they grapple with the multiple challenges of survival and success.
StartUp.pk had a very interactive discussion with Saad and Maryam, the founders of AlFalah who want to make education accessible and affordable in Pakistan, focusing especially on girls’ education. We discussed their insights and learning from their journey so far.
A driving force for any Startup is the core mission behind it and the mission behind AlFalah is educating the girl child. Out of the more than 22 million children who do not go to school, 70% are girls. It is sad that even today many parents are unwilling to give their girls the opportunity to get education. They cite many reasons for their reluctance including accessibility and affordability as well as societal and cultural issues. Alfalah wants to bring solutions that address these challenges and wishes to create a positive mindset to encourage parents to educate their girls.
Saad told StartUp.pk that girls are typically raised with a mindset that the main objective in life for girls should be getting married and raising children. From a very early age, the girls are taught that they don’t need an education because they won’t ever have to leave their homes as their fathers and later on their husbands will cater to their needs.
What motivated you to launch AlFalah?
Saad: I have watched women close to me experiencing similar problems, I felt very strongly about this and decided to bring forward solutions that can make access to education easier for the girl child. Our co-founder has a really inspiring story of her own, which also keeps me motivated in pursuing this mission.
Co-founder of AlFalah- Maryam Khan shares her story:
Maryam: I myself didn’t get the opportunity to get the professional education that I wanted to have. We did not have financial issues but the mindset was there, my first priority was expected to be marriage. I was fortunate that I got the opportunity to start teaching children at the early age of 16 in Saudi Arabia. I was passionate about teaching, and sometimes I used to do it even without any financial incentives. I was also lucky to be able to pursue my education after getting married so I completed my MBA while teaching and later worked in a bank.
To get some insights on how they plan to operate, this discussion was followed by a short question/answer session with the aim of assisting aspiring startUps who are facing similar issues as AlFalah.
We see that the startups which succeed need to be very focused and committed, how would you rate your commitment?
You can judge my commitment by the fact that I left my well paying job as a brand manager and have fully committed 100% of my time and efforts to my startup. I am very passionate to make something great out of AlFalah so that i can contribute to the betterment of society in whatever capacity I can.”
Explain your business plan and how are you going to follow it?
We are targeting those children who are out of school due to financial constraints. We will reach out to these children and connect them through the Alfalah platform. Currently we are planning to use an existing video conference platform where our students gather and connect with teachers. However, in the longer run we will build our own application or website like Udemy. We are placing a lot of emphasis on ensuring a quality education and we will be deploying our specially designed quality control system very soon.
In Accelerated learning, the curriculum is designed differently, because when you target children of different age and different aptitudes, the classroom dynamics change. The learning pace of these children will also be different. This is a technically challenging field, how will you handle that?
Saad: We have divided our dynamics under three different levels. First is for fast learners, these are the children who are quick at picking concepts and develop good understanding in less time. Second are average students, who have normal learning speed. In the third level we have slow learners, who take their time in understanding concepts and need more effort from the teacher’s side. These children are than connected with appropriate teachers according to their learning needs.
What are the challenges that you are currently facing, or have overcome?
Saad: Awareness is one of the biggest issues that we are facing right now because people still don’t know about us. Even if we reach out to parents and tell them about AlFalah. It is specially difficult to convince the parents of working children as the parents prefer to have the immediate financial benefits from their child’s labor today rather than the possible income after the child’s education and job many years later. Going to these parents and convincing them is both costly and difficult. Another major challenge that we face is lack of technology available to our target children. In many cases these children come from very poor backgrounds and don’t have access to smartphones and good internet. Even If they have a smartphone we will still have to provide them with proper training as to how to use the application. It is also very difficult to build trust in communities as most of the parents are afraid of getting their girl child educated because of societal pressure and prevailing mindsets.
Teacher salaries are generally on the lower side, how will you ensure that your teachers provide quality education on the Alfalah Platform?
Saad: We believe that a good teacher is the core element of a good education system. Therefore, primarily we are going to design training sessions for the teachers who join AlFalah. These training sessions will help them in upgrading their teaching methods. To further ensure the quality, our team will also closely monitor the performance of our teachers by occasionally joining the classes.
After teachers, curriculum is the second most important ingredient of a quality education system, hence we took our time to find a unique curriculum. This curriculum has been designed by Spectrum Publishers with special focus on Pakistan and our own culture because we want our students to develop a better understanding of their nation and societal customs. For the earlier classes, we will focus on only 3 core subjects in the beginning. However, in these subjects we have also merged some elements of the other subjects to provide a broader understanding. In the longer run we will also try to increase the financial incentives for the teachers, this money will probably come from another core product that we are about to launch. We also intend to launch a program through which companies can provide access to the AlFalah Platform to educate the children of their lower paid employees.
In your opinion, what things need to be changed at the policy level to facilitate Ed-tech startups?
Maryam: We have come a long way as fast as Curriculum is concerned, but when we talk about teachers, most of them still lack proper training. Also many teachers are actually not very passionate about teaching since generally this is not a well paying job. It is very important for teachers and students to be equally motivated to ensure quality education. When we hire a teacher, we make sure that they are the right fit for this extremely important responsibility.
Any final thoughts that you’d like to share?
Saad: It is very important for all of us to come on on one page to improve our education system. It is our collective responsibility. Education should be treated as a basic necessity and not a luxury. Every child has the right to get a proper education, let’s all of us play our part in ensuring that every Pakiatani child gets this right.