When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, people across the world were forced to rethink the way in which they conducted their daily activities. We were told to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus, yet we needed a way to ensure our businesses were not affected, or our classes were not interrupted, or we could still pay our bills on time or get our groceries when required. This is how digital platforms became indispensable in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The education sector was among the earliest to adopt online tools for learning activities. Two years into the pandemic, online classes have become an essential part of the ‘new normal.’ It is no surprise, then, that besides schools and universities, tuition academies have also had to reconsider the way they imparted education to their student.
We speak to Aiman Bashir, founder and CEO of Out-Class, a digital alternative to tuition academies. She explained how multi-modal content is created in-house and this online platform deploys cutting edge tools to ensure students are in control of their learning.
TFT: Why Out-Class? What was the main motivation and inspiration behind launching this platform?
Aiman Bashir: Pakistan has 22.7 million out of school children and 45 million undereducated children under the age of 14. Combined, this number is larger than the total populations of historic superpowers such as England, France and Germany. And this number is not stopping. There are no solutions in the existing brick and mortar setups that can stem this tide of undereducation. All three of founders of Out-Class have always acknowledged and felt the weight of privilege having gone to the best institutions; we want more Pakistanis to have similar opportunities
TFT: What were some of the challenges you faced while setting up Out-Class?
AB: Lots of things. From developing a brand to setting up the tech. Yet, throughout the process, we set incredibly high standards for ourselves, and feel we have delivered a world-class product in record time.
That has been the hallmark of building Out-Class – incredibly high standards. Keeping such high standards all the time means sometimes we have to make difficult choices with work-life balance. But it also means we have won the top Women in Tech national (Standard Chartered WIT) competition, as well as been declared Pakistan’s Number 1 startup in the largest international female tech competition (She Loves Tech Global).
TFT: What is a typical student profile of a user of Out-Class? What are they looking for and how does Out-Class cater to their needs?
AB: The typical Out-Class student is 14 to 17 years old, appearing for the CAIE O levels or the SAT exam within a few months. Soon we will be catering to Matric and Intermediate students as well. Students get to prepare fully for their exams in a matter of 20 to 25 hours through our self-paced lessons. Increasingly, students have started to use us as their daily ‘study buddy.’ They study at school but also revise everything at home using our lessons.
TFT: We noticed that this platform is led by a woman CEO. In your experience, how is a woman’s leadership different from a man’s, particularly in a field where there are already few women leading roles?
AB: Our primary sector is education and we are taking off from the shoulder of giants in this space. Women are behind some of the best educational institutions in Pakistan and I am inspired by the personal stories and professional journeys of several. Leading a startup, however, is a different beast. People are predisposed to believing more in men’s ideas and naturally gravitate towards their leadership. Public support and funding follow the same trends, globally, and especially locally. However, I am so encouraged to see momentum gaining strength in the direction of female entrepreneurship. There is a long way to go, but we have taken a solid start!
TFT: Talk to us about some of the success stories from Out-Class; and what are your future plans with this platform?
AB: We are too young to be celebrating successes, so ask me in a year. Survival and executing on our insanely hard self-imposed deadlines is a good start…but I want you to ask me in a year how far we have come and what milestones we have achieved. We celebrate mini victories every day – a student in Quetta called us to tell us he finally understood Math matrices thanks to our course. A parent in Peshawar messaged us saying she is praying for our success. We look forward to the future with a lot of hope. We want to become a One Stop Shop for all students and professionals in our country. Professional master’s classes, coding in regional languages, soft skill training, and so much more.
For decades, tens of millions of out-of-school children in Pakistan have languished in indifference. Tech provides one possibility to address this challenge of global proportions. We hope to contribute towards solving this challenge, while simultaneously developing digital and real-world learning experiences that will help unleash the true potential of Pakistan’s amazing youth!