A New Spin on SABAQ Centers

Field Notes is a blog series that delves into the implementation, monitoring and evaluation side of SABAQ. This post looks into the different spaces being used to open up new SABAQ Centers.

What makes SABAQ Centers unique is that they are established in spaces donated by the community, truly demonstrating their desire to have their community educated. These spaces are able to house up to 40 children and rely on sunshine as their source of lighting. It’s often surprising to see that a SABAQ Center was once the edge of a field, considering the charts and the learning aids Facilitators use to infuse life and fun into these spaces. Village Education Committees, run by volunteers, take up management of SABAQ Centers, putting the monthly fee they collect from the students enrolled towards improving them.

However, over the last few months, SABAQ has been working with local authorities to put abandoned government buildings to use by renovating them to open up SABAQ Centers for the communities close by. 53 SABAQ Centers are currently run in 35 such buildings which has garnered interest from governing bodies nearby further strengthening the centers’ sustainability.

In a similar vein, SABAQ Centers are also being established in safe points established by arche noVa, a German non-profit that works primarily in development cooperation and education. For now, two of the eight flooding safe points constructed by arche noVa are being used as SABAQ Centers that consist of two rooms and bathrooms, making these shelter school building of sorts.

Getting There

Field Notes is a blog series that delves into the implementation and monitoring and evaluation side of SABAQ. We explore Community meetings that are held before a SABAQ Center is opened.

SABAQ has, to date, opened up 545 SABAQ Centers with plans of establishing more in the coming months with its implementing partner, the National Rural Support Program. To think that having a new center opened would still elicit such joy. But after all the work that is done to make sure that it does would convince you otherwise.

One would think that the challenge lay in vetting out the community, where factors like the availability of electricity or having a person who has passed at least 8th grade to be among them to take up a position of a facilitator. The real challenge often lies in convincing community members that SABAQ wants to actively partner with them rather than spin an elaborate spiel and leave before real change starts showing.

To assuage any concerns that natives might have regarding SABAQ, our implementation manager holds a community meetings consisting of 15-20 of the community’s main decision makers. Coordinating these meeting can sometimes be hard, but so well worth it at the end.

If you’re ever been worried about making a first impression, try putting yourself in the shoes of our implementation manager, Shahbull, who leads these meetings. ‘It’s not easy facing 20 people who have probably grown up together and speak a language you don’t understand while you’re convincing them to take a chance on you. They’ve had numerous organizations come to them and promise change so why wouldn’t they have reservations about you? It got better by the fiftieth one though!’ he laughs.

‘I go in to make them understand what our mission is and that they are the ones in-charge of their futures. That SABAQ is only successful and will continue to deliver as long as we work together. What it boils down to, at the end of all these meetings, is behavior change.’

SABAQ ensures sustainability over the long term through a model of participation and contribution where SABAQ Centers are simultaneously managed by a Village Education Committee (VEC). Members of these committee voluntarily take up management and oversight as well as ensure financial sustainability. They look after LC operations including keeping track of facilitator and student attendance as well as preventing drop-outs. They also collect a monthly fee from students, investing the money to improve SABAQ Centers.

So far, not only have we been able to open up SABAQ Centers in villages that we faced reluctance initially, we’ve also been successful in establishing 319 VECs. Now tell me if this isn’t reason enough for us to be happy about?

It’s Not Just Students

Field Notes is a blog series that delves into the implementation, monitoring and evaluation side of SABAQ. This post explores employment generation as a result of SABAQ Centers opening up in the communities we operate.

When we started out SABAQ, our focus was on creating learning opportunities for out-of-school children who had never been given a chance to explore their potential. Two years down the line and it’s just not the 21,800 children enrolled in 545 SABAQ Centers that we have to show for.

SABAQ Centers are run by facilitators, who act both as a teacher and a manager of sorts of the Center they teach at. We wanted someone who knew the children and the surroundings nearby. With the National Rural Support Program (NRSP), we trained natives from the community that SABAQ Centers were set up in, creating employment opportunities as well. Becoming a facilitator and contributing to their communities is especiallya source of pride for all of these men and women which only further strengthens their ownership of the Centers they manage

To date, over 630 community members have been trained to become facilitators.

Laying Down the 3D Pipeline

Azeem Ilyas, our Associate Art Director – Animation, talks about a recent training session he conducted to lay the groundwork for when SABAQ goes 3D.

One of the goals we have for the coming year is having lessons animated in 3D to create a more vivid learning experience. Keeping this in mind, I designed a 3D training for my team members in the production department to give them an insight into the basics as well as the technology and techniques used. My main objective, however, was to introduce to them the tools that would speed up the production process. This training was spread over seven days, where we would huddle around after lunch and collectively nerd about 3D!

I started off with the basics as many on my team were not really familiar with the 3D workflow. I wanted them to explore the software we would eventually use. On the second day, we delved into the 3D workflow which starts with 3D modelling. Everyone was asked to create different shapes and objects in the 3D space and use the different options to put in as much detail as they liked. Amal, who has had prior experience in 3D modelling led this session, making sure to outline every step on the way.

On the third day, we focused on texture and adding details to our models that would take them a step ahead. Kumail, our Art Director, led this session and brought an interactive element by having the team add texture to an ordinary box over the course of this session. On the fourth day, we explored the Rigging and Skinning Process which is essential before the 3D models are animated. It’s the equivalent of giving the model a skeleton so that its movement appear as seamless as possible when animated. After a little demonstration, everyone was asked to rig a character that they had previously designed.

The fifth and sixth day focused on bringing characters to life by adding their personalities and emotions. This was the trickiest since it has to be done in the most subtle way possible. After working on an interactive demonstration, everybody was given pre-rigged characters on whom they were to practice. The training drew towards a close by having a session on creating a mood for different settings through lighting.

Not only was this training such a great way to bond with my team members but it also taught me about my strengths as a trainer. This training covered the fundamentals of 3D production and allowed its participants to explore their interest in the production process which they can practice until they master it. As an organization that is always looking to do bigger and better, these trainings are imperative if we are to achieve the goals we set as an organization and for ourselves.

Making Early Years’ Classrooms More Engaging with Digital Content

‘Introducing a new teaching method is bound to be met with resistance, and this is something that is felt at every level, especially primary where set standards are seen as the basis of a strong foundation. The trick is to be relentless and model it the best way to encourage adoption.’

With over 15 years of experience under her belt in curriculum development and technology integration in classrooms at some of the best schools in Pakistan, Hina decided it was time for a change and instead focus on what all could be done to remedy the extremely low level of student engagement and poor learning outcomes in low-income and historically disadvantaged students. Working briefly as a consultant for the Sindh Reading Program and getting firsthand experience in the problems that plagued low-income students, she decided to join SABAQ, where she wanted to distinguish herself in helping create a digital learning platform that was solely focused on primary-level learning.

Heading our digital curriculum design, Hina is a firm believer in introducing technology in earlier grades to help foster a more confident student who uses logic and reason to understand concepts and apply them more soundly. Technology allows for more vivid visuals and standardized outcomes that are extremely important especially in language acquisition with elements like phonics. This way, a child can listen to the same output over time and be able to get instant feedback by recording himself and comparing.

Every child is a unique combination of skills that affect learning. EdTech allows for a greater degree of personalization that results in stronger engagement creating an experience that is bound to have better retention and more sound assessment. Integrating technology also blurs the limitation on where and when the ‘learning’ can take place. This is especially important for students that SABAQ caters to, who often lack basic infrastructure making their tablet device their primary source of learning.

Technology can play a significant role in creating an immersive environment that can positively impact learning gains while empowering both student and teacher. With SABAQ, Hina has been able to lead a team of curriculum developers who are coming up with innovative ways to explain basic concepts that can be built over time using a blended learning experience that includes tablets and various hands-on activities among other things. This content is then taken to our partner schools where periodic training sessions are held to seamlessly integrate technology to create a learning environment that students have never experienced before. Hina hopes to concentrate her efforts on developing digital creative spaces that are open-source and capitalize on younger students’ motivation to explore, experience and discover and encourage them to become strong and independent learners.

SABAQ kay Funkaar!

A little competition and a chance to show off our skills is a combination always welcomed at SABAQ. And that’s exactly what we did at SABAQ Kay Funkaar. The production team was set with the challenge of representing SABAQ in either illustrated or animated form and given a week to come up with whatever they chose, alongside their regular workload.

Let’s not ever groan about our workload ever again because what our production team manage to pull off in a week is amazing with 4 entries submitted in the animation category and 6 in the illustrated. Each submission was explained, from Komal’s mythical take on SABAQ stories to Ghufran’s interesting take on SABAQ as a learning adventure.

In the end, it was Azeem who won in the animation category with a game preview of SABAQ Mania, SABAQ’s take on Mario Cart. Ashraf wowed us all as he took first place with his incredibly detailed poster if SABAQ were to ever come up with a big screen production.

Our entries have put all sorts of ideas in our heads, a game or a movie – We here at SABAQ can dream

The Elephant, the Giraffe and the Mouse

Bholu and Totu are flying a Kite. They are best friends. Bholu is a pudgy grey elephant and Totu is a tiny white mouse with shrewd eyes. The wind blows harder and the kite gets stuck up in a tall oak tree. Totu is just too small to get this kite back. Bholu is tall but not tall enough. If only there was someone taller.

Enter Zarafoo: dark, broody giraffe, moping around in his jacket, boots and a Pushto hat. Zarafoo’s is their friend and being a giraffe is also the tallest. Zarafoo can’t help rubbing it in as he plucks the kite with ease from the tree and saves the day. But this is forgotten in a minute as they lose themselves playing with the kite.

These three wonderful characters were created to solve a very important question:

What would be the best way to teach the little kindergartners the concept of height?

But it wasn’t just this singular question that they solved. There were so many more. These characters were later used in stories to introduce mathematical concepts among like size, weight, length, temperature among others. These three friends got so much love in the classrooms that they became somewhat like SABAQ’s darlings, and started getting regularly featured in other subjects like Urdu and General Knowledge.

This trio is not the brainchild of one, but of a group of very talented writers and illustrators. Stories that explained concepts yet managed to keep the child engaged through and through with vivid colors and delightful sounds, all presented on a tablet that just added on to the novelty. Keeping in mind that it is the audience for whom we create, we focused on basic shapes with solid colors.

Since these stories deal with explaining a concept, clarity of expression is emphasized throughout, whether it is the artwork or the tone or the concept explained. But that doesn’t mean we don’t get to have fun with our characters. They are brought to life through comedy, sometimes through fantasy to make reading and learning from a memorable experience.

While creating them has been quite the experience, we at SABAQ can’t wait to see these characters in motion as we work on animating them. Just imagine the trio tottering about on our screens, something that we’re looking forward to!

Training to Achieve More Together

Field Notes is a blog series that delves into the implementation and monitoring and evaluation side of SABAQ. The first entry deals with impact in terms of participants trained to integrate digital technology to create sound learning environments.

While the word ‘training’ evokes frenzy and a flurry of stationary at the SABAQ HQ, the thing that makes up for it seeing our participants respond and seeing it come through in subsequent observations.
To create an effective learning experience for both out in-school and out-of school students, we conduct trainings to help integrate technology in a learning environment. For our out-of-school intervention, SABAQ Learning Centers, across rural Sindh, we are partnering up with the National Rural Support Program to train facilitators. NRSP is also helping us integrate our content across Punjab Education Fund (PEF) schools across Punjab. SABAQ is also collaborating with The Citizens Foundation (TCF) to introduce digital technology in 30 selected schools.

The graph below summarizes SABAQ’s intervention to date in terms of participants trained to seamlessly integrate digital technology to lead an engaged classroom:

Jointly organized, these trainings are meant to enhance capacity of teachers in the formal learning format (schools) and facilitators in the non-formal learning format (Learning Centers) to improve learning gains using meraSABAQ tablets in their classes.The graph below summarizes the gender split of participants over a four month (June to September) period:


Members of the production team visited the National Design Conference in Pakistan, a first-of-its-kind convention of local creatives with a staggering speaker lineup of creative giants. Komal, Assistant Manager – Production, recaps her experience at the ND2C.

The 2-day event comprised mainly of guest lectures and workshops. Speakers spoke about beauty, branding with meaning, user interface, and how to make all of the above widely accessible to end users.

Notable design speakers included

Lara Hanlon, an Irish UI designer currently working at IBM
Debbie Millman, host of Design Matters
Stefan Stagmeister, one half of the internationally renowned design firm, Stagmeister and Walsh.
Upon speaking to them, all three of the above expressed interest in SABAQ and offered to assist with its overall design. Stefan Stagmeister even offered to connect us to people in Japan, China and Mexico working on similar education apps.

Local design speakers included the fantastic Shehzil Malik and Samya Arif, two Pakistani artists who have changed the game with the authentic local color and flavor that bursts out of their work. They spread it through art and music. Shehzil indicated that we should all try to extract something from the environment around us to give our final product something unique. Samya also spoke about the importance of collaborating with people who have purpose.

A lot of the talks were centered on advertising, branding and marketing, reminding us of the increasingly urgent need to bring knowledge of SABAQ to the masses. It re-iterated of how necessary it is to build a brand image, to attract the right kind of clientele and the right kind of talent and collaborators to then make a name in the industry. We were also lucky enough to meet some very interesting illustrators who were eager to collaborate with.

At the end of the day, for me personally, a lot of the takeaway was related to how SABAQ can thrive as an organization. The key to success, is well, passion. We already have so many things the speakers talked about- our work has beauty, meaning, function, and is of social significance. The last magic ingredient is passion.

It is important that every single one of us at SABAQ think beyond merely doing our jobs. We need to think of what we are creating, and how we can make it matter. We already know that through us, hundreds and thousands of children will grow up starry-eyed, laughing and learning over the lessons we have crafted for them, full of our art and music and teaching. But we need to take our thinking even further. Each of us has to wonder what he can do better, what ideas he can put forth, and how the end product can be made stronger.

At the end of the day, we have the opportunity to leave behind an astonishing legacy for Pakistan. If our vision and passion is directed correctly, we can go above and beyond anything currently happening in local education.

However, if we do not show the necessary commitment, we will be merely more digital noise. I implore all my colleagues to go beyond doing their jobs, and I hope our heads make our vision widely known within the organization and across Pakistan.

My Journey With SABAQ

This post was written by Fahmina Arshad, who is currently a Senior Content Specialist at SABAQ

My journey with SABAQ started in 2015 as an Academic Resource. Little did I know how wonderful this would be as I think about it nearly two years later.

I have spent over 20 years in education working with different schools in various capacities. I was fairly certain that SABAQ would also be something very similar to my previous experiences. But SABAQ is something that still manages to surprise me sometimes. I give credit to its founders that allowed me to really stretch my imagination while changing the way I thought about our nation’s younger generations.

I started out with writing out lesson and corresponding lesson plans for children in kindergarten and grade 1. I was comfortable as it was something that I had had a lot of experience in. But slowly it wasn’t just lessons I was developing, as I delved into writing more complex stories and poems while also composing songs, working with an actual composer! Not only did I discover a lot of my writing ability, but also discovered that I had a knack for voice acting as I put on voices for the characters that I created.I couldn’t imagine the response I would get from children on all that I was creating. Nothing could make me happier than knowing and seeing how much my work was enjoyed!

Along with flexing my creative muscle, I was also able to grow as a trainer. Sure, I had had experience with training teachers before but my experience as a trainer with SABAQ was so different. I was now training teachers in remote areas teaching in environments different from the ones I had taught in.

My experiences, before and with SABAQ, have allowed me to become a more secure and informed educator, confident in my ability to make an actual change in the classrooms that SABAQ is present in. I have also over this course really developed my strengths as a creative writer, something that I had always wanted to explore.

For me, SABAQ is such a wonderful place where we really get to experience our imagination coming to life. Where we see the characters we create on paper to seeing them animated across our screen and entertaining and teaching kids that lack access to quality learning resources. For all that, I am truly proud to be a part of SABAQ.

SABAQ is an award-winning EdTech company on a mission to make learning seriously fun. We turn rigorous, curriculum-aligned primary-grade lessons into a fun and engaging digital world that ignites kids’ passion for learning.


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