Educated Cat of an Educated Household

Alleviating poverty through creating demand for education: A Post Guttenberg model

Opening Questions:

Can the concepts of education be divorced from the language it is taught in? Are all languages equipped to prepare students for the modern world? Should an attempt be made to create a new language of communication that is based on pictograms or gestures based on universally recognizable symbols? Can this “new” language be used to
communicate complex concepts requiring deductive reasoning? Can such a language be communicated orally?

Taking the case of Pakistan – Can Urdu be acceptable to all as a medium of building literacy? Or should regional languages be used for such a purpose?

Is literacy the goal? What does literacy achieve? What level of literacy is necessary to be a performing citizen in the modern world? And if the end goal is to make performing citizens in the modern world – do we need l iteracy? Cant content be created that explains how things work in an interactive way (through gesture based computing) needing no inputs in reading and writing?

Who would such content be targeted to?

Pakistan’s rural poor including adults and children. According to the Millenium Development Report 2010 universal primary literacy is still a long way off.

Out-of-school children by wealth quintile and area of residence, girls and boys, 42 countries, 2000/2008 (Percentage)

The data clearly shows that the poorest people in the rural areas are most likely to be left behind. Pakistan?s figure of 17% below the poverty line is also in line with global left behind numbers.

So, we are talking to the rural poor, approximately 30 to 35 million of them. With an average household size of 7, we are talking about approximately 7 million households. Truly the bottom of the pyramid.

From Education to “Understanding”

We suggest a change in paradigm from the classical education in school model to one based on “understanding”. This means accepting knowledge dissemination based on oral tradition, which is still prevalent in Pakistan today. Guttenberg came and Guttenberg left (called the Guttenberg Parenthesis) but Pakistan is still an oral culture. (The Guttenberg parenthesis is defined by Prof. L. O. Sauerberg of the University of Southern Denmark, as the period between 1600 and 2000 when the western world moved from a world based on orality to that of the written and printed word, and now the oral period is returning, in the form of convergence of forms that reflect the oral tradition).

Specially in rural areas even standard education is based on “rote” which is oral in nature.

The child learns to speak without learning how to read, and hence all learning begins in an oral state, the question is why this has to change as the child enters school. We suggest a new model to drive the education system. It’s a system called understanding rather than literacy or education.

Prevalent models assume that schooling is the only way to educate a child and that education is the only goal. When the goal post of understanding is crossed, a need for literacy is created and a demand for education is set in motion. One of the major reason for the high drop out rates in the rural poor is that they don?t understand what education can do for them.

The Question of Urdu

In 1948, Mr Jinnah insisted that urdu be made the national language of Pakistan resulting in a gradual ghettoisation of urdu into a language representing the ?urdu speaking? mohajirs. Each area of Pakistan except for some urban areas of Sindh has its own dialect or regional language. It seems that to get people on the literacy train, the logical way would be to develop curriculum in regional languages. India has been doing this successfully since 1947.

The Arabic script which Urdu follows is not conducive to phonetic teaching as multiple characters have the same sound, and hence to face the post Guttenberg world of this century, the answer seems to be in Romanising the script, making it easier to teach, and also making teaching English much easier.

Oral Storytelling in Pakistan: The story of the Daastaan.

Daastaan forms the back-bone of the oral storytelling tradition in Pakistan, and in the Indo-Pak subcontinent as a whole. The Daastaan originates from Persia and earlier from Arabia. In the pre-Guttenberg era, all long duration stories were oral. Tilm-e-Hoshruba, which originates from the Arabic oral story – The Adventures of Amir Hamza and a Thousand and One Nights are examples.

The Quran is also memorized verbatim in Muslim societies, and this re-inforces the oral culture, even though memorization is through text. Village story tellers and village theater performers all accentuate the oral tradition. “Mushairas” – poetry readings and singings are held regularly all over Pakistan too.

With this centuries old background, it is difficult to see how any other paradigm can easily take root.

Delivery Mechanism

The technology to deliver this content is based on the work by Dr. Pranav Mistry of MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group. Dr. Pranav proposed the use of simple web cams and projectors to create interfaces based on gestures. “SixthSense” is a wearable gestural interface that augments the physical world around us with digital information and lets us use natural hand gestures to interact with that information” (

A toaster sized device with an LCD screen and a set-top box with an installed web-cam motion detection device. Power will be supplied through solar-cell mounted on the roof of the hut. Content will be delivered through GPRS or Wi-max/3G networks. Wireless networks can ensure current content is delivered to the target homes.


Focusing on understanding rather than simply literacy, the format will be multi-media using animation and encouraging people to interact through
gestures – using the web-cam motion sensor.

Some of the themes that can be covered in this content are:

  1. Basic health ? maternal issues ? family planning
  2. Agricultural updates
  3. Technology ? how things work ? motorcycles, cars,?trctors, mobile phones
  4. Government and how it works
  5. Human rights
  6. Advantages of formal?education ? marketing of?education as an idea
  7. The world today ? from flags to countries
  8. Pakistan – the state

CSR and Related Benefits:

a. Telemedicine:
Once the system is in place, a telemedicine system can be setup in every home, and also diseases can be identified and epidemics tracked before they spread using simple gesture based commands and the web cam system

b. Micro-Finance Link
It is proposed that the product be deployed through a micro-finance initiative and using CBOs and other NGOs already on the ground, as implementation partners.

c. Connecting to Company CSR Budgets
Telecom companies in particular and other companies in general will be pitched units to be deployed and in this way, CSR can be used as a means to poverty alleviation.

The ideas discussed in this article are largely the product of discussions and R&D conducted by the Tuesday Digital and POSTAMAZERS team comprising Irfan Kheiri, Ahmed Ansari and Salman Abedin.

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Author Information

Salman Abedin is a faculty member at SZABIST and is a part of an initiative at POSTAMAZERS to develop educational content that is relevant to Pakistan.

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