Dr. Farrah Arif Founder & CEO – EdTech Worx
EVOLVE: You are a role model for modern educationists and corporate executives. Please share synopsis of your professional journey?
Dr. Farrah Arif: I began as any individual within the industry after completing my MBA in 1998, but soon realized that education is where my passion lies. Starting my journey as a professor at various business schools in Pakistan, a gap for excellence and innovation led me to purse a Ph.D. from University of Cambridge Judge Business School and a certification in corporate training from Harvard Business School. Coming back to Pakistan and teaching at one of the top business schools of the country, Suleman Dawood School of Business, LUMS, I still felt a lack of innovation and modernization in the way things worked.
There was a gap of information between some of the greatest minds in the industry and universities of Pakistan. Making information accessible to all spaces in Pakistan whether universities or corporates is what led to the birth of EDTechWorx in 2018, where I strive to combine education, the industry and innovation all under the same roof and fill the data vacuum that has presented itself.
EVOLVE: EdTech Worxs technology innovates products for futuristic corporates and provide innovative tech solutions. How do you gauge the efficacy and effectiveness of your technology in varied business environments?
Dr. Farrah Arif: For us at EDTechWorx, we believe that technology is essential because of the opportunities it provides for human capital development. These can be gauged with three main components: critical analysis, analytic skills, and people skills. Firstly, for critical analysis, our trainings are held in the physical environment of a room where we present information in real-time, but work is screen-based rather than paper-based as one might find in a traditional space. Secondly, to understand analytical skills better, we make content available for reviewing and skimming before the actual class is to take place. This not only saves time within the classroom but also presents an opportunity for micro-learning, where individuals can test themselves online through gamification and record their scores. Lastly, people skills are honed through the interaction between trainers and participants as it takes place in real-time. As this is all based online, performance can be monitored on a daily, even timely basis.
EVOLVE: Digitization of curriculum courses and providing subject based comprehensive interactive tech books will revolutionize the education system in Pakistan. Will it not widen the gulf between the students from privileged and underprivileged social backgrounds?
Dr. Farrah Arif: When we started, we were told by many that such an initiative would only scratch the surface; that is to say, we would only penetrate within a small subsection of Pakistani universities, namely those which are more established. As of today, EdTechWorx is not limited to only IBA Karachi or LUMS but has also signed contracts with universities such as Islamia
College University in Peshawar and Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan among others. Recognized publishing houses abroad charge approximately $60-$100 for a similar, but we have revolutionized this and made it more accessible by charging a fee of only $6 (1000 PKR).
EVOLVE: As part of your social responsibility, do you have plans to expand your horizon by making your technological education system accessible to every national university rather than limiting it to top national and international universities?
Dr. Farrah Arif: As mentioned previously, we have signed MOUs with universities all over Pakistan. We have made our product available for the masses not only by charging a nominal fee as compared to the international standard but also through the mediums that you can access it on. We believe it is safe to assume that more than half of the Pakistani population in universities possess either a smartphone or a laptop/computer of some kind. EDTechWorx courses and material can be, therefore, accessible through our mobile phone application or our webpage online. We have integrated a total of 8 universities from around Pakistan within the last four months, and plan on a target on 60 in the next six months.
EVOLVE: Is HEC and the Government supporting and patronizing your organization for expanding your spectrum of products and services nationwide?
Dr. Farrah Arif: We are currently in contact with the HEC Chairman, Dr. Tariq Banuri, who has been supportive and a great help in encouraging EDTechWrox to train university professors and students through our digital interactive platform. Moreover, TEVTA Pakistan and its chairperson, Mr. Ali Salman Siddique, have also been excited about our product and have been appreciative of our efforts. In the future, we would like to further work with both institutions in expanding our product on a larger scale to target underprivileged students and universities as well.
EVOLVE: Do professors of the universities receptive to your comprehensive interactive tech books? Did you find any resistance while working closely with them and creating blended learning manuals with course works and corporate case studies etc.?
Dr. Farrah Arif: Any form of innovation always has to face resistance in one way or another. Still, the good thing is that we are fortunate to have managed to penetrate within circles of students and teachers who are innovation-driven. Not only have they been receptive to this technology, they have shown excitement and a drive for engagem ent in their classrooms. In addition, they have shown an interest in taking our product onboard reasonably quickly. However, the problem does come up when universities are hesitant in spending on their students and their education. We have found that very less universities would like to pay from their funds and transfer the costs onto the students, thus making it difficult for us.
EVOLVE: People learn in different ways and varying speeds. How do you ensure everyone under your umbrella is sharpening his/her skills?
Dr. Farrah Arif: One of the critical benefits of technology is that it allows individuals to use it and interact with it at their own pace. Whether you are a busy corporate executive, renowned and highly educated professor using our product, or a student just starting, EDTechWorx allows you to access the product according to your own ability while also tracking your progress. It will enable you to take notes, make adjustments, go back to understand a topic you have forgotten. It is flexible in that sense that anyone, regardless of qualification, can use it.
EVOLVE: How far ED Tech has contributed towards the society and how is it shaping the gleaming future of coming generations?
Dr. Farrah Arif: We have only just started in Pakistan, and it presents an opportunity for us because we now have a chance to develop a technology that will benefit many. Through this initiative, we believe that scale-up can be straightforward and efficient since we have already understood how the product works and interacts within specific environments. Not only this, but the impact will also be higher once we scale up.
EVOLVE: What are the big names in your line of business and what sets you apart from other organizations?
Dr. Farrah Arif: There are edX and Moodle, which provide free access to courses and coursework to students and teachers alike, and there are other initiatives such as Knowledge Platform and Sabaq but all of them are focused on schools and not higher education. What sets us apart from them is that we target the university space of higher education through our academia-industry connections. We believe that the youth needs to be trained so that they can take their experiences and create a high impact HR. Not only this, but most of these firms provide international or worldwide content, whereas we focus on giving local examples from Pakistan to allow industry-driven exercises. EDTechWorx brings to the table not only data learning but also an opportunity for collaboration and engagement. We strive to create an ecosystem from class and grade management. Along with targeting universities, our digital interactive platform targets corporate trainings where we have introduced the concept of blended learning.
This is a style of learning that combines education via online means as well as traditional face-to-face interactions thus providing convenience and transparency from all sides. Though corporate trainings are common, we have revolutionized this process by using digital forms of learning, and customized case studies for organizations all while tracking the progress they make through an interactive dashboard accessible to their HR teams.
EVOLVE: What are the challenges and hurdles in the domains of Design Thinking, Digital Transformation and Consumer Data Analytics in Pakistans corporate world?
Dr. Farrah Arif: Design Thinking, though used by many corporate firms, is perceived as a one-time thing, but what corporates fail to understand is that it is a mindset. You need to integrate it within your strategic planning and use it to build the base of your innovations gradually rather than all at once. Digital Transformation involves moving from paper-based modes of operating to a digitalization of not only operations but also the imbedded culture of an organization. This will help in decreasing costs, increasing the value of engagement, and allowing for the effective collection and use of data.
In the field of Consumer Analytics, we are way behind what others are doing around the world. Companies collect data without knowing exactly what to do with it. There needs to be a strategy to understand firstly, what kind of data needs to be collected, and then think about how it is going to be used, and for what purposes. Though presented individually, all three are linked and only together do they make the impact that is needed to transform the way companies in Pakistan work today and become globally competitive.
EVOLVE: What message would you like to convey to the readers of EVOLVE magazine?
Dr. Farrah Arif: As of today, we are at a crossroads. Progressive ideas and futuristic innovations cannot be developed over decades; time which other states previously had. Our window of opportunity is limited to only 2 to 3 years to build the basis of an emerging tech-driven economy. We, as a nation cannot survive while working with current practices; a cultural transformation is needed on a macro as well as micro level. Therefore, I would urge our people to become creative destructors who can bring change to their circle of influence and deliver the change that we need desperately.