You’ve probably already heard of Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity. Education Technology or EdTech startups have been revolutionizing the way we learn, taking in-class learning straight to your devices and giving individuals access to quality education which in the past was not possible. Think about it: you can now take courses from MIT, Harvard, Stanford and other renowned institutions while sitting on your sofa at home.
Now, of course, there are challenges associated with EdTech because the fundamental process of learning is quite different. But change is always associated with challenges; that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing.
One Education Startup in Lahore worthy of attention is NearPeer
Started with the purpose of bringing the materials students have studied in class, to their screens wherever they are, in an affordable and easy to use manner, NearPeer is the brainchild of Ammar Ali Ayub and Shahrukh Swati who are senior year Economics students at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). They started this venture along with Muhammad Hassan Raza only a few months ago and are currently incubated at the LUMS Center for Entrepreneurship.
“After lectures and classroom activities are over, students in colleges usually sit together with their peers to prepare for exams and tests. The idea with NearPeer was to introduce a virtual peer who has been a student of the course that a student is looking to study for. All you have to do is purchase access to the course, wherever you are and start your very own study session with your NearPeer”, explained Ammar, the CEO.
An interesting model, NearPeer uses students who have studied the course or have been teaching assistants to those courses as the ‘peers’ who teach those courses on the website. Now, because of this very reason, the pilot run for this EdTech startup in Lahore hasn’t been such a smooth sailing at LUMS.
There has been a lot of criticism on NearPeer for putting a price tag on education.
Source: Waqar Ahmed
Students on public forums at LUMS have criticized the company for not only commercializing the ‘group study’ aspect of learning outside of the class but also using people who have been students and/or teaching assistants of the courses. They say, as teaching assistants or past students, these people have had access to test materials and past exams that they will be able to incorporate in their lectures at NearPeer, thereby benefiting only those who have purchased an access to those lectures and giving them an unfair advantage because past materials are often repeated.
If a ‘NearPeer’ is benefiting students more than an official college professor there is a cause for concern. But it’s definitely not NearPeer.
In response to criticisms leveled against their teachers turning out to be helpful to students who purchase NearPeer access, the founders said that if students are deriving more benefit from a peer on their website than from an actual professor, then there are questions these students need to seriously think about, regarding the quality of learning they are obtaining from their classes.
The aim of NearPeer is to make learning easy and personal.
Shahurkh Swati, the Chief Management Officer and Co-founder, explained that they are testing their model and are always open to constructive criticism because the ultimate aim for them is to make learning easier, as none of them found course lectures to be easy until they took help from their peers. With their company they aim to bring these very peers to students wherever they are.
“We invite all those who have concerns with our model to come discuss it with us and to help us understand what could be a better model, because while publicly many may have derided us but our subscriptions have spiked since the criticisms and students are approaching us to personally thank us for helping them prepare for tests and exams that they otherwise thought they’d be failing”.
Education has become a booming industry in Pakistan in recent years, with teachers capitalizing on tuition and remedial classes instead of focusing on teaching within the official classrooms.
With NearPeer bringing that model online, when they do decide to scale the model to other colleges and universities in Pakistan, the founders need to be introspective about the ethics of their business.
At the same time, as the internet is now the central force of all public discourse, it is important to realize that criticism for the sake criticism can never resolve problems. Unless substantial steps are taken to ensure that those causing grievances are stopped from their actions, nothing changes.
Do you think this educational startup in Lahore is a step toward better learning for you?
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