Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Pakistani EdTech and FinTech Startups Win Prizes in International Competitions

Two Pakistani technology startups have recently won recognition in international competitions.  Sabaq, an EdTech startup, has been shortlisted for Siemens Foundation’s global award. Another Pakistani startup Tez Financial Services in FinTech space has been selected as one of the winners of $100,000 Prize at 2019’s Inclusive Fintech 50.  Growing availability of smartphones, tablets and mobile broadband is enabling Pakistani technology entrepreneurs to offer technology-based solutions in multiple fields including education and financial services. These young ambitious entrepreneurs are beginning to attract venture investments from overseas. Tez Financial Services has received $1.1 million seed funding led by Omidyar Network.


Karachi-based Pakistani education technology (EdTech) startup SABAQ has been shortlisted for Siemens Foundation’s global award. The award recognizes and endorses low-cost technologies providing vital services and solutions for daily needs in developing countries. Earlier this year, Sabaq was selected among the Top 6 Global EdTech startups at the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai.

Sabaq Tablet
Sabaq is among 11finalists selected from a 800 submissions from 86 countries.  It will be compete with other finalists for the top 3 spots in Cairo, Egypt next month. The award recognizes low-cost technologies providing vital services and solutions for daily needs in developing regions. Projects submitted are judged on their technical functionality, local adaptability, social impact, team structure, and financial and business sustainability.

SABAQ has partnered with the National Rural Support Program and identified communities where it has set up SABAQ Centers, non-formal learning spaces for out of school students who are taught using the meraSABAQ Tab. This is SABAQ’s custom-made android tablet that features the meraSABAQ app for primary level, each containing digital learning resources for Urdu, Science and Math, developed in-house in accordance with the national curriculum.

Sabaq Foundation is a non-profit organization that offers a tablet app and a website. The meraSabaq is a custom-made tablet designed to be used both by  experienced and new teachers across formal and non-formal learning environments.  Sabaq's website offers online video tutorials with free video lectures for Pakistani students. The website provides tutorials for four main science subjects -- Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry and Biology for secondary school students. The tutorials follow the exact syllabus of respective boards of education for Cambridge, Federal, Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) and Balochistan.

Tez Financial:

Tez Financial Services is a woman-led financial technology startup in Karachi, Pakistan.  It has Visa Everywhere Initiative Women’s Global Award after Worldwide Search. It is the first fully digital financial institution in the country providing financial services to the unbanked/underbanked population via a smartphone app.

Tez FinTech App
Last year, Tez Financial raised $1.1 million in a seed round led by Omidyar Network, the impact investment firm established by Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. Other investors on this round include Accion Venture Lab, the seed-stage investment initiative of global nonprofit Accion; and Planet N. Funds will help the company build its credit portfolio, enhance its mobile technology platform, and secure the company’s NBMFC (Non-Bank Microfinance Company) license.

The Visa Everywhere FinTech competition measures how competing companies leverage their companies’ unique ability to solve or transform consumer and/or commercial payment experiences locally, regionally or globally.

The founders of Tez were previously involved in the creation of Tameer Bank, Easypaisa, and CheckIn Solutions.

Pakistan Telecom Indicators. Source: PTA

Technology Entrepreneurs:

Growing availability of smartphones, tablets and mobile broadband is enabling Pakistani technology entrepreneurs to offer technology-based solutions in multiple fields including education and financial services. As of May 2019, there are over 70 million broadband subscriptions in Pakistan and more than a million new subscribers are are being added every month, according to data from Pakistan Telecommunication Authority  (PTA). These young ambitious entrepreneurs are beginning to attract venture investments from overseas. Tez Financial Services has received $1.1 million seed funding led by Omidyar Network headed by E-Bay founder Pierre Omidyar.


Two Pakistani technology startups have recently won recognition in international competitions.  Sabaq, an EdTech startup, has been shortlisted for Siemens Foundation’s global award. Another Pakistani startup Tez Financial Services in FinTech space has been selected as one of the winners of 2019’s Inclusive Fintech 50. Growing availability of smartphones, tablets and mobile broadband is enabling Pakistani technology entrepreneurs to offer technology-based solutions in multiple fields including education and financial services. These young ambitious entrepreneurs are beginning to attract venture investments from overseas. Tez Financial Services has received $1.1 million seed funding led by Omidyar Network.

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Riaz Haq said...

The share of cash payments worldwide is falling rapidly, from 89% in 2013 to 77% today

High internet use and state support help countries ditch cash
Even within the rich world, the most digitised societies use cash least often

On july 27th, outside Brooklyn’s hipper-than-thou Smorgasburg street-food market, a dozen hungry visitors stand idle amid the barbecue fumes. Rather than queuing for food, they are waiting at a cash machine. Yet inside the market, vendors are trying to wean their customers off cash. Gourmets who use Apple Pay, a mobile-payment service, receive hefty discounts on their purchases. “Apple pays us the difference,” one trader explains.

Most transactions around the world are still conducted in cash. However, its share is falling rapidly, from 89% in 2013 to 77% today. Despite the attention paid to mobile banking in emerging markets, it is rich countries, with high financial inclusion and small informal economies, that have led the trend. Within the rich world, more-digitised societies tend to make fewer cash payments. In Nordic countries like Norway and Denmark, where 97% of people use the internet, around four out of five transactions were already cashless by 2016, according to a recent review chaired by Huw van Steenis of the Bank of England. In contrast, internet penetration in Italy is just 61%, and 85% of transactions there were still handled in cash in 2016.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan: educational app eyes 1m users

An educational app designed to reach refugee and underprivileged children in Pakistan is expected to reach nearly 1 million children across the country by the end of 2020.

Called Taleemabad, the app is available on mobile and computer and offers access to parts of the primary school curriculum (for example English, Urdu and Maths) through a dedicated cartoon series.

The name of the app, meaning ‘Education City’ in Urdu, is a reference to where the co-founders developed the idea for the edtech start-up Orenda, which developed the app: Georgetown University in Qatar, based in the Education City in Doha.

Orenda co-founder Haroon Yasin, who was also recognised as one of the Queen’s Young Leaders in 2018, told The PIE that the app is at present reaching a total of 106,000 users across the country, also in rural parts of Pakistan.

“The biggest achievements of the app are its reach and the fact that it represents a wider vision of sustainability,” he explained.

Over the next couple of years, he added, Orenda is planning to complete the K-5 curriculum offering, which will propel user numbers closer to the 1m mark.

“Students here take the first state examination after the 5th grade and once we have completed a spectrum of content that can teach students towards that exam, we expect our downloads to have neared the 1 million mark, with 20,000 users paying for the premium features,” he added.

The team is also close to signing a partnership with the government of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, whose support will enable Taleemabad to expand its reach – and its curriculum in the Pashto language.

“There is currently no Pashto language learning platform and developing this will enable us to target the province, especially the areas that have suffered due to terrorism,” Yasin said.

“It will also allow us to target users in neighbouring Afghanistan, which has similarly lagged behind in educational outcomes because of conflict.”

In the long term, Orenda aims to expand the curriculum up to year 12 and reach six million children, Yasin said, perfecting content for varying ability level.

The edtech company is also aiming to widen its geographical reach beyond Pakistan, looking at Afghanistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistani team shortlisted for finals of #MIT Challenge. Teach the World Foundation uses #digital games on Android tablets to facilitate self-learning for primary school children. #edtech #DigitalPakistan

A non-profit organization ‘Teach the World Foundation’ (TTWF) got selected for the finals of top American university Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Solve Challenge. Their project, titled Enhancing Literacy and Numeracy (ELAN), focuses on improving education outcomes in developing countries.

The Teach the World Foundation team, led by US-based Pakistanis Shafiq Khan, (CEO & Co-Founder) and Imran Sayeed (Co-Founder), is working in multiple countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Malawi. TTWF works to establish effective and scalable models of literacy and learning by leveraging innovate digital technologies.

MIT Solve is a platform where tech entrepreneurs from all around the world present their ideas to solve pressing global issues. MIT Solve has partnered with the TigerIT Foundation in Bangladesh to create a challenge that “aims to find and support start-ups that will provide quality education, healthcare and employment opportunities” in Bangladesh.

Out of 628 applicants, Teach the World Foundation is one of 15 finalists chosen to present their solutions in Dhaka on the 10th – 11th of December 2019. They stand a chance to win a share of $1.5 million in funding to expand their program in Bangladesh and beyond.

In Bangladesh, TTWF is currently working in the Rohingya Refugee Camps and Dhaka urban slums. They are trying to address the issue of 2.6 million primary grade out of school children in the country alongside problems of quality as most primary-grade students exhibit poor learning outcomes.

The solution provided by TTWF to fight illiteracy is simple and inexpensive and can be implemented anywhere in the world. They use digital games on Android tablets to facilitate self-learning for primary school children. The program is currently operating in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Malawi with positive results.

Teach the World Foundation has done notable work in Pakistan to provide education for all. The vision of the foundation is to help eliminate the educational crisis in the country. TTWF expects that Pakistan’s literacy rate will increase significantly with the use of technology.

Riaz Haq said...

Telenor Accelerator launches #EdTech Innovation program in #Pakistan. It provides curriculum and skill-based #education for school, college and university students, as well as additional courses incl personal development modules, #digital skills & #STEM

Telenor Velocity, the digital startup accelerator by Telenor Pakistan, has introduced its EdTech Innovation programme, to forge alliances with EdTech startups/scaleups. This initiative is launched in response to the closure of educational institutions and offices due to the coronavirus outbreak, Telenor said.
The programme provides curriculum and skill-based education for school, college and university students, as well as additional courses including personal development modules, digital skills, and STEAM (Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) with a special focus on Robotics.

The Telenor Velocity EdTech Cohort has stepped forward to help students shift to online access and added a number of partners for this purpose including K-5 SABAQ Muse, a learning service based on videos, games and ebooks in multiple languages for early grades. The Edaksa service supports STEAM education and helps Pakistani high school students prepare and pass their standardized government exams; while the EDTechWorx content creation and collaborative delivery platform connects learner, educators and the overall industry. The Skills First online academy aims to allow users to develop their skills; while LearnObots aims to develop makers and creators of tomorrow, with a practical learning approach in the domain of Educational Robotics.

Riaz Haq said...

#Digital #Education: The Foundation Of #DigitalPakistan. Digitization of education and moving on to technological education must be the foundation of digital #Pakistan that is compatible with a #technology-led world. #literacy #distancelearning #Covid_19

Pakistan’s oft lauded “strategic position” happens to see us situated in South Asia. Apart from the geopolitical advantage that some claim we inherit because of this location, there is precious little that the world’s most underdeveloped region has to offer. According to a well-researched study by Mahbub ul-Haq published in 1997, “South Asia is fast emerging as the poorest, most-illiterate, the most malnourished, the least gender-sensitive–indeed, the most deprived region in the world.” Over two decades later, much of that still rings true. If we were to just focus on one aspect of the aforementioned quote, as is the scope of this article, education alone hasn’t progressed at a rate one would expect it to. Currently, Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC), with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school.

That represents 44 percent of the total population in this age group. In the 5-9 age group, 5 million children are not enrolled in schools and after primary-school age, the number of OOSC doubles, with 11.4 million adolescents between the ages of 10-14 not receiving formal education. Disparities based on gender, socio-economic status, and geography are significant. In Sindh, 52 percent of the poorest children (58 percent girls) are out of school, and in Balochistan, 78 percent of girls are out of school, as reported by UNICEF.

Regional Benchmarks
With such a dismal background, it is extremely unsettling to note that these statistics only refer to basic education. The world has moved to digital and technological education and skill development, the likes of which the school children of our country have probably never even heard of. Furthermore, if we were to just look East, Bangladesh is one of the top four countries in terms of ‘improvement and remarkable growth’ in digital economy in the last four years, according to Huawei Global Connectivity Index (GCI) 2019. The GCI report was published by Huawei on digital development based on how ICT innovation and ICT applications can grow national economies, and a result of open research into the digital economy with top universities, think tanks, and industry associations.

Bangladesh has come a long way in literacy by efficiently responding to the Basic Literacy Project and by incorporating technology within the education sector. Bangladesh’s literacy rate has risen significantly in the past decade, estimated at 72.76%, according to the latest data from UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). The rate is increasing as the present government is adopting multifaceted programs and it is one of the major reasons that UN Committee for Development Policy (CPD) has promoted Bangladesh to a ‘Developing Country’ status. To realize the plan for Digital Bangladesh, many institutions in the education sector have adopted information technology to engage the attention of students through visual representation of sounds, concepts and pictures alongside interactive activities.

With such an effective digital infrastructure already in place, Bangladesh was in a much better position to implement disaster management strategies to deal with COVID-19 outbreak with respect to education, a far cry from what has happened in Pakistan Online classes, remote and distant learning facilities were much easier to establish in Bangladesh. We, on the other hand, have just started to venture into the world that is digital education.

With the prime minister’s initiative of “Digital Pakistan” we seem to be on the right path, albeit a little too late. We must leverage all that we can from such a scheme for Pakistan to bridge the gap between where other nations stand and where we stand.

Riaz Haq said...

How #EdTech is reshaping the #education landscape in #Pakistan. Most of startups (9/10) have witnessed a 1.5X to 3X increase in users since the #COVID19 #lockdown. $2.65 million has been raised by 6 edtech startups in a total of 8 deals. via @MENAbytes

In a study by Invest2Innovate earlier this year, out of 13 edtech startups that participated, 54 [percent expressed that they were expecting to raise funding despite the pandemic, while 53 percent reported having a cash runway of 6-12 months. Additionally, 77 percent of the edtech startups that participated had also pivoted their business model in some way due to Covid-19 and 85 percent already had an alternative offering for the market according to a survey that was conducted back in March. The majority of the edtech startups surveyed (9/10) for this newsletter reported a 20 percent – 100 percent growth in users during the past 3 months. Similarly, most of these startups (9/10) witnessed a 1.5X to 3X increase in the amount of usage since the lockdown was implemented. See the figure above for details. A combination of these factors makes edtech an exciting and potentially lucrative sector for investors.

Well-funded edtech startups in Asia & comparison with Pakistan

Deal flow data collected previously by i2i shows that a total of $2.65 million has been raised by 6 edtech startups in a total of 8 deals. The highest amount of investment on this list is attributed to the Knowledge Platform which raised around $2 million in 2019. The findings also showed that with the exception of Dot&Line and Knowledge Platform, all investments were raised from either local or international angel investors. Many edtech startups have either won grants, awards, or have partnered with development funds, which are not accounted for in this data. Since the sample size is quite small (while it is still representative of the universe of edtech startups in Pakistan), it’s important to see if the findings hold up with larger sample size.

Analysis of deal flow data of some well-funded edtech startups in Asia shows that China comes out on top in terms of amounts of investments. Startups such as Zhangmen, Dada, KnowBox, VIPKid, iLearning Education Group, and Gaosi Education raised investment that ranged from $140 million to $350 million.

The only two non-Chinese edtech startups that came close to the size of investments raised by Chinese startups in 2019/2020 were Indian BYJU’s ($181 million) and Indonesian Ruangguru ($150 million) – with Byju’s raising twice from different investors in 2019 alone. BYJU’s makes an interesting case study for many startups in South Asia that are trying to raise investment and scale their companies.

While several factors have contributed to the success of the company, one factor that really stands out is their lessons that were created using various board-approved syllabi from different states in India. Roughly 90 percent of the content is evidently common across curricula, which helps it map the same content into varied curricula, making the solution highly scalable.

Similarly, other Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, etc. are also producing a significant number of edtech startups. Many of these have managed to raise substantial amounts in investment over the past few years, particularly in Indonesia.

The Middle East – while not too prolific when it comes to quantity of edtech startups – accounted for two companies that raised a significant amount last year. Noon Academy is one of these startups (based in Saudi Arabia), which raised an investment of $8.6 million in 2019, while another EdTech startup based in Dubai called Almentor raised $4.5 million the same year. See the figure below for details.

Riaz Haq said...

VM Interactive, a #UK-based #digital #technology company, invests $250,000 in seed funding in #Pakistan’s #HealthTech #startup #Covid_19 brings attention to #health sector | The Express Tribune /story/2254458/angel-investors-eye-pakistans-health-start-up

The pandemic has brought healthcare sector to the fore in countries across the world and Pakistan’s health sector is no different. The coronavirus has exposed strengths and weaknesses in the system, which has caught the attention of angel investors.

Since the lockdown was imposed, online businesses enhanced their mark and the country’s health system witnessed a similar trend as well where a few large scale pharmacies initiated home delivery services and doctors set up e-clinics.

The trend of digitisation caught attention of VM Interactive, a UK-based digital technology company, which recently invested $250,000 in seed funding in Pakistan’s health-tech ecosystem through a locally indigenous start-up,

VM interactive Chief Operating Officer Alex Kalavrezos said that having seen Pakistan’s tech industry grow by leaps and bounds, with the government focused on taking it to another level, the chance to invest in it during this time is an opportunity, which should not be missed.

“The recent pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities of healthcare systems around the globe, however, Pakistan is among the few countries that have performed relatively better,” Kalavrezos told The Express Tribune.

This shows that the country has the potential to rival some of the most developed health care systems around the world provided that a robust system is created for healthcare workers to flourish.

According to him, this was one reason why countless doctors and healthcare workers of Pakistani origin excel in western countries where healthcare systems are more developed.

“Having worked closely with the tech fraternity of Pakistan, I am familiar with the wealth of talent available here, so having first-hand knowledge and experience played a major role in convincing our investors,” Alex said.

The UK-based tech company is providing its support in terms of investments and training to the local start-up, which intends to revolutionise the concept of health-tech in Pakistan and counter the menace of fake medicines available widely in the market.

The management of the company plans to work with manufacturers to secure medicines and store them in its own warehouses rather than relying on third party suppliers.

“Medicines are temperature oriented and if a minimum temperature is not maintained, they expire,” said Chief Executive Officer Umaad Sheikh. “Small scale pharmacies do not consider this fact while operating business nor do they empower pharmacists to do so.

The start-up, which began operations in March 2020, received the seed investment last week.

Sheikh projected to receive next round of investment at the end of the year which would be utilised for expansion of company operations in Punjab and the rest of Pakistan.

Nevertheless, there are a handful of difficulties being faced and the company has sought help from the government in this regard.

“The government is working towards improving ease of doing business in Pakistan but to do that, a special zone for online investors should be materialised to cater to the needs of start-ups,” Sheikh said.

He stressed that tech-start-ups were the future and if government made efforts to uplift the ecosystem of this sector, all other sectors will improve alongside.

Currently, tech start-ups face issues in online payment facilities, banking sector paperwork and timely issuance of visas to foreign investors.

“The reason why most tech investors prefer India over Pakistan is the fact that our neighbouring country has a proper ecosystem in place and it facilitates them in all possible manners,” he said. “A little attention by the government in this regard will bring higher amount of tech investors to Pakistan.”

Riaz Haq said...

Beaconhouse introduced educational technology platform into 200 schools
This come as a result of Landmark agreement signed between Beaconhouse and Knowledge platform.

Beaconhouse has introduce education technology platform for 200 schools and over 100,000 students in their school system both in Pakistan and seven other countries. This come as a result of Landmark agreement signed between Beaconhouse and Knowledge platform.

This education technology agreement includes the provision of a customised learning management system, integration with the Google suite of content applications, a community platform to enable teachers to develop educational content, a library of educational content, and an innovation and development partnership to enable the development of world-class digital educational content and new educational products.

Mahboob Mahmood, the founder of Knowledge Platform, noted: “We are thrilled and honoured to serve Beaconhouse through this landmark transaction. In terms of numbers of learners, this may represent the world’s largest education technology deal contracted to date in the private K-12 education sector.”

Mahmood added: “Beaconhouse has 45 years of experience in the provision of quality education of an international standard in Pakistan and overseas, and have achieved an effective scale in operations. Knowledge Platform has been providing e-learning solutions for 20 years across Asia. Our collaboration is already unlocking tremendous education energy into a new blended learning paradigm where teachers and learners work together to enable hybrid learning that is increasingly enjoyable and impactful. Together, we fully expect to transform the learning experience for Beaconhouse teachers and learners and beyond in contributing to the enhancement of education in Pakistan.”

Nassir Kasuri, Executive Director of the Beaconhouse School System, added: “This is the third stage of our 14-month relationship with Knowledge Platform. In September 2019, we invested in the company. In December 2019, Knowledge Platform launched a specialised version of its national curriculum content and platform for our Educators’ partner network. With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the platform was extended to Beaconhouse schools offering the national curriculum. Now, in partnership, we will be offering educational content and technology across our entire school system, including at the CAIE O and A level programmes.”

He further observed: “Technology is enabling education in unprecedented ways. It is now possible to introduce students to collaboration and learning tools that were unthinkable just a few years ago. Moreover, the coronavirus pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of education technology across our school system. Working together, Beaconhouse and Knowledge Platform expect to innovate continuously to provide our students and teachers state-of-the-art 24x7 learning and teaching opportunities.”

Riaz Haq said...

The startup boom in Pakistan

Record levels of funding are pouring into Pakistan-based startups, boosting hopes for a brighter economic outlook for the world’s fifth-most populous country.
Startups have received $85 million in venture capital (VC) funding so far this year, outpacing the $66 million raised in 2020, and venture firms continue to build their war chest.
“A surge in venture capital investment in 2021 augurs well for innovation in the country,” said HBL COO Sagheer Mufti while talking to The Express Tribune.
“In particular, the focus on fintech and partnerships with banks provide immense opportunity for driving consumer choice and ease, employment, financial inclusion and economic growth. HBL’s investment in Finja was in this spirit,” he added.
Fintech companies have received about a fourth of the total VC investment so far this year. They are finding plenty of overseas investors eager to tap the world’s third-largest unbanked population in what is being called a “fintech revolution”.
In Pakistan, 71% of adults do not have a bank account, one of the highest rates in the world.
Islamabad-based fintech SadaPay raised $7.2 million - reportedly the largest seed round ever in the country - for a personal debit card and e-wallet that still awaits regulatory approval.
Trading app KTrade - dubbed the “Robinhood of Pakistan” - raised $4.5 million after amassing 200,000 users since its launch in 2019.
US-based mega-firm Kleiner Perkins made its first investment in the country - a $17 million round for Tajir, a B2B marketplace based in Lahore that enables small business owners to buy from manufacturers and wholesalers.
Another B2B marketplace, Bazaar, raised $6.5 million in seed capital. Abhi raised $2.1 million for its early wage access platform and is headed to Y-Combinator (along with TAG).

Riaz Haq said...

CPEC enters second phase of improving people’s livelihoods.
Smart Classrooms, CPEC project, is growing vigorously in 50 universities across Pakistan.
It is learnt that total of 100 smart classrooms will be built at 50 public universities in 49 cities.

Smart Classrooms, a project under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), is growing vigorously in 50 universities across Pakistan, which may inject new life into Pakistan’s education system in the near future.

According to Chen Chun, project manager from China Railway Signal and Communication Shanghai Engineering Bureau Group Co Ltd, in the smart classrooms, teaching can be realised both offline and online at the same time, overstepping the boundaries of time and space, and interaction between teachers and students will be much more enhanced.

“Moreover, through advanced information and communication technology from China, an intelligent system of data sharing and assessment will be established (in Pakistan),” he added.

“The smart classrooms will improve the accessibility of students from one location to the best teachers located at another place,” Umar Idrees, Pakistani site engineer of the Smart Classroom project told CEN.

It is learnt that a total of 100 smart classrooms will be built in 50 public universities in 49 cities from Hunza in the northernmost to Karachi in the far south, covering all the provinces and regions of Pakistan, which means the state-of-the-art educational resources will be better utilised and distributed over the whole country. It is indeed inspiring for students who currently lack high-quality educational resources in the country.

Chen Chun said the construction of the Smart Classroom project started in September, 2021. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the team had risen to many challenges in equipment and material imports, customs clearance and construction, etc.

“Now all the equipment and materials of the project have arrived at our warehouse in Pakistan. We’re striving to complete the whole project by November,” he added.

As CPEC entered the second phase of improving people’s livelihoods, education has become one of the key areas to develop to help Pakistan alleviate poverty and let more Pakistani people live a better life.

“The Smart Classroom project will benefit the university students in Pakistan, who are the pillar of the state in the future. It will greatly promote the development of higher education in Pakistan, supporting Pakistan to evolve into a knowledge-based economy,” Chen Chun concluded.

Riaz Haq said...

State Bank of Pakistan issues NOCs to five applicants for establishing digital bank

Central bank expects after commencement of operations, digital banks will promote financial inclusion by providing affordable/cost effective digital financial services to unserved and underserved segments

The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on Friday said that it has issued no-objection certificates (NOC) to five applicants for establishing digital banks in the country.

The following are the ones issued the NOC:

I) Easy Paisa DB (Telenor Pakistan B.V & Ali Pay Holding Ltd.),

II) Hugo Bank (Getz Bros & Co., Atlas Consolidated Pte. Ltd. and M & P Pakistan Pvt. Ltd.);

III) KT Bank (Kuda Technologies Ltd., Fatima Fertilizer Ltd. and City School Pvt. Ltd.);

IV) Mashreq Bank (Mashreq Bank UAE); and

V) Raqami (Kuwait Investment Authority through – PKIC and Enertech Holding Co.)

In January 2022, the SBP introduced a licensing and regulatory framework for digital banks.

“The Framework was the first step towards introducing full-fledged digital banks in Pakistan. The digital banks are expected to provide all the banking services through digital means without any need for their customers to visit the bank branches physically,” said the SBP.

Race to digital banking – final round

In response to SBP’s Licensing and Regulatory Framework for digital banks, the central bank received twenty (20) applications from a diverse range of interested players such as commercial banks, microfinance banks, electronic money institutions and Fintech firms by March 31, 2022.

“Further, a number of foreign players including venture capital firms already operating in the digital banking space also expressed their interest to venture into Pakistani market directly or in collaboration with local partners. The five (05) applicants were selected after a thorough and rigorous assessment process as per the requirements of the Framework.

Bank Alfalah launches QR payment solution with SnapRetail

“Applicants were assessed on various parameters that included fitness and propriety, experience and financial strength; business plan; implementation plan; funding and capital plan; IT and cybersecurity strategy and outsourcing arrangements, etc. Further, all the applicants were given the opportunity to present their business case to SBP.

“Going forward, each of these five applicants will incorporate a public limited company with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan. Afterwards, they will approach SBP for In-Principle Approval for demonstrating operational readiness and for commencement of operations under the pilot phase. Subsequently, they will commercially launch their operations after obtaining SBP’s approval.”

The SBP said it expects that after commencement of their operations, these digital banks will promote financial inclusion by providing affordable/cost effective digital financial services including credit access to unserved and underserved segments of the society.

Riaz Haq said...

ChatGPT will transform edtech, educational content creation, say experts at KLF
Panel discussion stresses on need to incorporate AI in curriculums for win-win results

Experts from the technology space in Pakistan agreed that the availability of ChatGPT has transformed edtech and educational content creation.

They also noted that it will prove to be a challenge for educators because students are now becoming prone to using the chatbot for their assignments and homework, making it difficult for teachers to assess the performance of the candidate.

Users say Microsoft’s Bing chatbot gets defensive and testy

Speaking on the second day of 14th Karachi Literature Festival, they stated that artificial intelligence (AI) was set to disrupt the education segment of the world.

The panel discussion, titled ‘Edtech-The New Normal’, stressed the need to reform the curriculum of educational institutions to incorporate new developments in technology so they can utilise it in everyday work. They admitted that technology should act as an enabler for a humans in daily lives.

Knowledge Platform Founder and CEO Mahboob Mahmood said that plagiarism checks are a technical problem with chatbots like ChatGPT.

“We cannot fight ChatGPT with 20th century tools. We will need 21st century technology for that,” he said. “The chatbot, however, promises personalisation of education.”

Pakistan’s edtech startup Out-Class raises $500,000

Speaking on the occasion, Katalyst Labs founder and CEO Jehan Ara stated that Stanford University has taken a lead in combating chatbots and developed Detect GPT to check if an article was generated through a chatbot. According to her, Detect GPT is 95% accurate.

Daraz Pakistan Managing Director Ehsan Saya said that while ChatGPT was personalisation of education, it is light years behind in what it can do. He was of the view that the chatbot will be updated from time to time to offer new services.

Startup ‘MyTutorPod’ used latest tools to ensure maximum productivity during pandemic

Online education in Pakistan

The speakers pointed out opportunities and challenges surrounding online education in Pakistan.

Mahmood highlighted that edtech took off in Pakistan at the outset of Covid-19 and later its popularity retreated.

“Lately, it is witnessing genuine growth because people have become sophisticated while using it,” he said. “We are one to two years away from inflection point of Edtech.”

Pakistan’s edtech startup Maqsad raises $2.1 million in pre-seed funding

Jehan stated that connectivity is a huge issue hindering the growth of Edtech in the country. “Even big cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad see usual disruption in signals and this problem is rampant in small cities.”

She stressed upon addressing connectivity problem on war footing. She also called for improving access to education for people with disabilities.

“The disabled population should also be part of diversity. Next year, KLF should have sign language interpreters in sessions so that hearing impaired people can participate,” she recommented.

She also said that lack of will of people to send their kids to educational institutions was also a problem.

“Some people don’t want to send their sons to schools and force them to earn while they don’t send their daughters because they wear a veil.”

Oxford University Press (OUP) Pakistan Management Director Arshad Saeed Husain stated that such students can utilise edtech and study from home at the time of their convenience.

Edkasa: the startup using TikTok to spark students’ love for learning

He also added that people usually question what is the future of OUP amid rapid rise in edtech, ebooks and online education.

“The answer is that we create content and books are one classification of content. We had ventured into digital education long time back. Digital is the future.”

He underlined that blended approach in education is needed where both print and digital content will be needed to study.

Riaz Haq said...

Internet Startup Maqsad Scores Pakistan’s Biggest Edtech Round

European seed investor Speedinvest leads round by Karachi firm

Company bets on rising demand for after-school tutoring

Pakistan’s Maqsad raised the nation’s largest funding round by an education technology provider, showing that some startups in the nascent market are attracting investors despite a global venture financing slump.
The Karachi-based company raised $2.8 million in an oversubscribed seed round led by Speedinvest GmbH, one of Europe’s largest seed investors, and existing backer Indus Valley Capital, according to co-founder Rooshan Aziz. Stellar Capital, Alter Global and angel investors also participated.

Pakistan’s venture funding was little changed at about $350 million last year, but startups including AdalFi and Truckrr have raised sizable rounds for the market this year. The nation has the world’s fifth-largest population with a high proportion of young people.

“The ecosystem is going through a bit of a shake, but the companies which you know are solving fundamental basic problems, they’ll survive,” Aziz said in an interview. Maqsad’s operations are relatively lean and scalable and its education content always remains relevant, Aziz said.

Education spending in Pakistan is estimated at $37 billion by 2032 with a quarter of this going to after-school academic support, the target market for Maqsad, according to the startup. The mobile-only service targets students on grades nine to twelve and offers cheaper rates than brick-and-mortar tutoring companies. Its services include a feature that allows students to take a photo of a question and receive an answer instantly.

The app has been downloaded more than a million times and it has answered 4 million queries in the past 6 months. The startup can impact millions of students and become one of the most successful businesses in Pakistan, said Philip Specht, a partner at Speedinvest, which has one edtech unicorn in its portfolio.

The startup was founded by high-school friends Taha Ahmed and Aziz, who went to the London School of Economics and worked in the city before returning to Karachi to start the venture. The startup will start monetization in the coming months and may partner with other public and private institutions, Aziz said.

“This is an interesting time for edtech because globally the hype has kind of settled down after Covid,” said Ahmed. “So only serious companies are being funded in this space.”

Riaz Haq said...

How Maqsad’s Mobile Education Can Help More Pakistani Students Learn

Maqsad aims to make education more accessible to 100 million Pakistani students through a learning platform delivered via a mobile app. The platform offers teaching and testing, and can respond to queries. It seeks to disrupt the country’s out-of-school education sector, which largely consists of expensive tuition services that most families can’t afford.


Growing up in Pakistan, high-school friends Rooshan Aziz and Taha Ahmed, the founders of edtech start-up Maqsad, were very conscious of their good fortune. Aziz struggled with dyslexia but his parents were able to afford after-school academic support that enabled him to complete his education. Ahmed, meanwhile, benefited from a series of academic scholarships that gave him a headstart in life.

Fast forward to the Covid-19 pandemic, Aziz and Ahmed were both working in London, and watched with horror as Pakistan tried to move to online learning, but found itself unable to scale up a technology platform capable of supporting large numbers of students. The crisis acted as an impetus to launch Maqsad, which is today announcing a $2.8 million funding round as it reaches 1 million users only six months after its launch.


“Maqsad offers an exceptional after-school learning experience for students at a fraction of the cost of existing alternatives,” Ahmed explains. “Our focus on student problems is at the core of our mission, and we’ve collected feedback from over 20,000 students and teachers across Pakistan to ensure learning outcomes are being achieved.”

Certainly, the company has grown remarkably quickly. Since its launch last year, the Maqsad app has been downloaded more than 1 million times and is consistently ranked as the number one education app in Pakistan on the Google Play Store. The app provides access to high-quality content developed by experienced teachers, but also uses artificial intelligence tools to offer personalised learning.

Aimed initially at students aged 15 to 19 – often preparing for board or university entrance exams – the platform aims to have real impact in a market where student-teacher ratios, at 44:1, are among the highest in the world. Maqsad – the name is the Urdu word for “purpose” – offers a freemium model, enabling students to access a range of features and services at little or no cost. Over time, it plans to offer more content aimed at younger students.

From an investment perspective, the business offers exposure to an education market that is worth $37 billion in Pakistan. While other technology-enabled providers are also targeting the market – including Abwaab and Nearpeer – Maqsad regards its primary competitors as the providers of physical tuition centres. These are unaffordable for many students, it points out, or simply inaccessible for those who do not live in urban locations where such centres are located.

Riaz Haq said...

PM launches ‘Teleschool Pakistan’ for free online education

Teleschool Pakistan is a mobile application developed by the Ministry of Federal Education to provide free online education to students of all grades.

Addressing the ceremony, the prime minister observed that teachers’ training in the country was not up to the mark which was unfortunate and cited his experience in Punjab province.

He said that he had directed for steps to improve the quality of about 40 training centres in the province during his tenure as the chief minister.


Secretary for Federal Education and Professional Training Waseem Ajmal presented an overview of the initiative.

He said digital contents would be created and made available on different medium. A total of six digital channels were being launched for different ages.

He said after the Covid pandemic, 6,000 quality videos were prepared.

Teachers would also be properly trained under the professional development initiative, he added.

Under the initiative, 150 chrome books were being distributed among the students while another 6,000 chrome books would be distributed soon, he added.

Riaz Haq said...

Education Technology in Pakistan | EdTech Hub

EdTech Hub develops and delivers evidence in EdTech. We work in partnership with researchers and stakeholders in-country to find specific, effective solutions to education challenges.

Since 2020, EdTech Hub has been assisting many players in Pakistan’s education sector. Because the education sector in Pakistan is very decentralised, EdTech Hub’s work requires close collaboration with the Government at the federal and provincial levels, as well as local partners, EdTech entrepreneurs and policy think tanks.

More specifically, EdTech Hub works with the Pakistani Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training (MoFEPT), the Federal Directorate of Education (FDE), the FCDO, World Bank, and UNICEF to achieve large-scale impact.

Riaz Haq said...

Pakistan: Technology boosts education reform in remote areas

Education in Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sindh provinces has been hampered by natural disasters, poor infrastructure and remoteness, and further exacerbated by political, economic and security problems.
From WhatsApp groups to biometric fingerprint systems, innovative technology has helped with building and restoring schools and improving teacher retention in these remote regions.
Since 2014, GPE’s support has led to 53,000 previously out-of-school children enrolled in school in Balochistan, and the tracking of educational data in all 29 districts in Sindh.

Supported by a US$34 million GPE grant, the government of Balochistan set up digital profiles to record land transfers and follow school construction, supporting the completion of schools and allowing education officials to track progress.

Large-scale surveys gathered geospatial data, an innovative and cost-effective way to identify abandoned buildings that could be transformed into schools.

Balochistan also established criteria for the selection of school sites, ensuring no other school existed within a 1.5 km radius and that locations enabled at least 20 out-of-school children to attend. This resulted in schools being built in remote areas with the most need.

Since 2015, 700 schools with new or renovated buildings have been completed and more than 100 girls’ primary schools upgraded to secondary. With GPE support, education authorities began to track real-time data in 14,000 schools, including teacher attendance and enrollment.

This has helped with the allocation of funding to locations with the greatest need. Android apps also record the physical infrastructure of schools, providing timely information on the functionality of toilets, drinking water and electricity.

School monitoring using technology
Both provinces use tech solutions to support management and ensure accountability in the education system. In Balochistan, apps keep track of teacher attendance, recording when teachers are within a certain geo-radius of the school; they work offline in more remote areas, uploading information when there is network access.

Through a US$66 million GPE grant, the Sindh province used tech tools to ensure teachers were deployed to the areas where they were most needed. Fingerprint-based biometric and photograph systems supported by GPS coordinates are also able to track teaching hours.

Greater incentive and validation for teachers
In a significant boost to quality learning, GPE supported the recruitment and training of qualified teachers, with emphasis placed on hiring female teachers to increase girls’ enrollment. Since 2015, 1,200 teachers have been recruited in Balochistan after passing the national testing service exam.

Better teaching and consistently open schools have helped increase student enrollment, with over 56,000 more girls enrolling in public elementary, primary and middle schools in Sindh.

Riaz Haq said...

#Pakistan’s Abhi Issues First #Sukuk #Bond for a #Fintech in Region. #Karachi-based startup raised 2 billion rupees ($6.8 million). Demand exceeded expectations with subscriptions reaching twice the anticipated amount. #startup #technology

Pakistan’s financial platform Abhi has raised the first-ever Sukuk bond for a fintech firm in the region, opening a new funding line for startups that have seen a slowdown in venture capital.

The Karachi-based startup raised 2 billion rupees ($6.8 million), an industry first for the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan region, said Omair Ansari, chief executive officer and co-founder. Demand exceeded expectations with subscriptions reaching twice the anticipated amount, he said in an interview.

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Article by Andrew Sharp Photos courtesy of Sabrin Beg May 05, 2023

Lerner College (University of Delware) professors explore how electronic devices impact classrooms in Pakistan

Developing countries like Pakistan are struggling to improve education, the researchers wrote, and their governments tend to use several strategies. One is to supply technology directly to students in an effort to make up for teachers’ shortcomings. The other is costly investment in teacher training, which may not be effective if governments don’t pour substantial resources into the design and support of the project.

This research has important implications for how to improve education in countries facing similar dilemmas.

“Every country, everywhere in the world, has a constrained budget, right?” Lucas said. “That’s why there are economists. And so this is just thinking about how to use those scarce education resources most effectively.”

That’s where the research comes in. The government of Punjab province in Pakistan developed digital teaching material featuring expert teachers, and wanted to know if it would be more effective to give preloaded tablets with the high quality material to each student, or to give one tablet to the teacher along with a display screen so the teacher could present the material. The digital lessons included explainer videos, review questions and more.

Through a connection of Beg’s in Pakistan, the UD pair was brought on board to conduct the study. They examined student performance among classrooms using a randomized controlled trial in which randomly selected schools used the two different kinds of digital lessons, while control schools operated as usual. The government of Punjab provided the technology.

One outcome that surprised Beg and Lucas was the magnitude of the effects. The study found a stark difference between the outcomes of the different approaches to delivering the digital material.

The eLearn classrooms — the ones focused on providing material to teachers — did improve student learning, with students outperforming the control group by a whopping 60%. They were also 5% more likely to pass the standardized test at the end of the academic year.

The students who each got tablets, but whose teachers could not display the content to the class, actually performed 95% worse than the control group.

“Basically, it’s like (these) students almost learned nothing … relative to the control students,” Lucas said.

When each student received a tablet, Beg said, there wasn’t a way for teachers to engage with the technology. “It made it actually maybe harder for the teachers to make it part of their regular classroom teaching, whereas the screens (eLearn Classrooms) did the opposite.”

In other words, “One of the more important takeaways was that teacher engagement seems to be an important ingredient in making technology successful in the classrooms,” Beg said. Also, “It’s not something that will solve all learning crises in developing countries, but that (technology) should be integrated into the classroom.” Appropriately, of course, to avoid the negative effects.

A lot of governments, she said, find technology very promising but don’t know exactly how to integrate it to make it useful.

There’s been a tendency, Lucas said, to bypass teachers using tech or after-school programs that basically create a parallel education system. “But … what this shows is no, these teachers are capable of delivering more learning to their students. And (in this case) the way that this happened was through technology.”

Riaz Haq said...

Covid-19 as a Catalyst for Digital Transformation

Executive Summary
Covid-19 has altered the fundamentals of how societies and economies organised
and operated in an ever-connected world. The pandemic has disrupted and
altered the connectivity in three foundational ways. It changed human-to-human
interaction, it undermined the capacity of individuals and firms to engage in
economic activity, and it reduced the financial connectivity that drives economy.
At the heart of the response to this compromised connectivity were mobile and
internet services. The pandemic required two immediate policy actions. The first
was to tackle infection-enabling behaviour, and the second was to limit infectionenabling connectivity. Furthermore, the pandemic’s impact on livelihoods, on
learning, on healthcare and on transactions of all kinds needed to be mitigated. In
each case, it was the digital realm in which the immediate solutions to the impact
of Covid-19 were found.
Over 160 million Pakistanis experience digital through their mobile phones. The
pandemic has demonstrated how integral mobile phones were in restoring
human, transactional, and financial connectivity, and are now where key
interactions take place. Mobile operativity is enabled by the telecom sector, which
has a crucial role to play in ensuring connectivity and expanding our digital
economy. However, the telecom sector must start to think about connectivity in
terms of value creation. Human, financial and transactional connectivity has the
potential to generate new ideas, services, tools and opportunities for economic
growth if the correct mindset is applied.
The wider impact of the telecom sector’s response to Covid-19, however, is likely
yet to be seen. The pandemic response has laid bare the spectrum of issues that
prevent digital connectivity in Pakistan—a pathway to rapid and sustainable
economic growth and social development. Disparities in digital access cut across
income levels, gender and the rural-urban divide. The quality of digital services
remains inefficient due to low Internet bandwidth, barriers to innovation and a
need for better decision-making capacity at the policy level. Lastly, there is
potential for higher levels of digital adoption, as Pakistan has a relatively high
usage gap where 54% of people who are covered by broadband networks do not
subscribe to broadband services.
How can Pakistan catalyse a digital transformation? The country requires a
coherent policy framework for mobile, internet and the wider telecom sector. One
important aspect of coherence is the establishment of a broader ecosystem in
which telecom can thrive. A key driver of digitalisation is the extent to which
government adopts and adapts digital solutions, especially in its engagement with
citizens. Enhanced engagement, usability and responsiveness of government
through technology is thus crucial for a national digital transformation. The
normative place of digital in Pakistan needs to be affirmed through clear and
comprehensive policy and communication efforts. Technically, Pakistan needs to
prioritise optimising spectrum allocation in a manner that drives economic growth.