‘We are here to disrupt the tuition academy mindset.’
Out-Class is an ed-tech platform which is the realization of a lifelong dream of three friends, to impart high-quality education to the children of Pakistan. BR Research recently sat down with the CEO and co-founder of Out-Class, Aiman Bashir to discuss the scope of ed-tech in Pakistan as well as her journey in starting the platform that she and her team envision to create scalable impact.
Aiman is a LUMS MBA with over 8 years of corporate experience at World Bank, Nestle, and Coke. Following are the edited transcripts of the conversation BR Research had with her:
BR Research: One opportunity that has emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic is ed-tech. What has been the philosophy behind Out-Class?
Aiman Bashir: It is true lockdowns and school closures have massively increased the need for ed-tech. But we conceived of Out-Class before the pandemic and think it’s a long-term solution to Pakistan’s education needs. We think that access to “anywhere, anytime” quality education, will be one of the biggest liberators for Pakistan’s burgeoning population.
Established in 2020, Out-Class ® is an ed-tech platform that provides a high-quality alternative to tuition academies from the comfort of students’ homes, and with the convenience of their own schedule. We want to be the “Netflix of educational and professional courses.” It is a world class digital platform, designed to give access to students in Pakistan, and globally, to pre-recorded, purpose-built quality lessons that provide end-to-end learning.
BRR: Ed-tech for whom and to what end is possible? What grade-level is your target?
AB: While we have started with O Levels & SAT exam preparation, we plan on expanding vertically to all grades. In the next two years, Out-Class will be every student's best friend and mentor. From diagnostic testing to college application help, and from coding in regional languages to industry masterclasses from Pakistan's top talent, Out-Class will become a one-stop-shop for students and young professionals.
This is also to say if you combine ed-tech with determination and love, the possibilities are endless.
BRR: What is the general ed-tech model that startups in Pakistan are following: B2B, B2G, or B2C?
AB: All three of these models are working quite successfully in Pakistan. Given that educations should touch every child in the world, in brute numbers, Pakistan is the fifth largest market for ed-tech. Our view is that it will take all these models if we are to chip away at the gargantuan task ahead of us.
Our own model also includes all three. While many of our clients come to us directly through word of mouth, we have also partnered with several leading schools of the country, and hopefully when the government calls on us to serve, they will find us yearning to do everything we can for the country.
BRR: What then is the unique appeal of Out-Class? How do you distinguish yourself you’re your competitors?
AB: Out-Class is the first to offer Pre-Recorded Crash courses for O Level students in Pakistan. There are no hidden costs. Students get a one-year access and can use our courses to cover the entire syllabus whenever they want, in under 25 hours per subject.
We are also the first to completely develop our own content in-house and our teaching style is informed by the latest research on the neuroscience of learning. We have developed our lectures keeping in mind the 6-minute attention span of today’s generation. Our content is anything but boring. You can find maps showing the Prophet’s (pbuh) migration to Madina in Islamiyat, and video animations to show chemical reactions in Chemistry, to name a few.
Our instructors are handpicked from the world’s best institutions, some having world distinctions and others having years of teaching experience at Pakistan’s top schools. No single institution offers a similar blend of faculty in one place.
Out-Class is also cognizant of every parent’s pain point - the ongoing expense of tuition academies, paying in thousands, month on month, per subject. Our courses are one-third the price, you get a year-long access, and parents can always see what their child is learning.
BRR: Does this mean ed-tech is the future of education in Pakistan? How do you judge the overall status and development of ed-tech? And do you think that Pakistan is well equipped and ready to shift to online education?
AB: While Pakistan is one of the biggest markets in the world, digital and internet penetration along with device ownership remain limited when compared to even other developing countries. A lot of work is being done to facilitate a more formalized, digital economy, and the effects are being felt everywhere. Ed-tech in Pakistan is the long game. While many are entering the market today because they feel the opportunity is ripe, having any real impact as a business or an institution will require sustained stamina, constant innovation, and above all, immense passion.
The current pandemic situation notwithstanding, we don’t foresee a “shift” per se. We take a very holistic view of education of which we feel academics is a part. So, at best we hope to play a supplemental role to educational institutions, helping them make academic acquisition more efficient, engaging, and relevant to students’ lives. We will also be adding free professional mentoring videos such as interviewing, recruiting, and presentation skills.
BRR: What are the factors of concern and challenges that you face and how do you propose to fix them?
AB: The biggest startup challenge was developing the content, finding, and signing on world-class teachers, and then getting all the recordings done. We’ve mastered these. The challenge ahead is convincing educational institutions that we are a supplement not a substitute. We are here to disrupt the tuition academy mindset. Parents and students believe they need a little bit extra help to get A’s, we are that help. We work in partnership with schools to provide the assurance parents need that their child has the world’s best resources available at all times.
BRR: What should be or has been the government's role in assisting ed-tech startups?
AB: We have currently not had an opportunity to work with the government and the nature of our work doesn’t require us to deal with many entities. However, we have certainly not had any issues and have received nothing but encouragement from all government agencies who have made us aware of their knowledge of us. We are incredibly grateful for that.
BRR: in terms of fund-raising, are global VCs interested to pour capital in this segment in Pakistan? Indian online education platforms have raised $4 billion in the last five years (2016-2020). and Indian ed-tech startups received a total investment of $2.22 billion in 2020 alone, compared to $553 million in 2019. Any figures for Pakistan?
AB: Global VC, private equity firms, local groups, and global ed-tech players are all interested in pouring human and financial capital into this segment in Pakistan. We fully expect this trend to continue to grow quite rapidly. Our experience in this regard, within days of launch, has been incredibly positive.
BRR: Have you sought, or are you seeking funding?
AB: We have the privilege of being mid-career professionals with international careers and starting Out-Class was a life-changing decision not a career opportunity for us. We have therefore started it with our own capital. While we are grateful for the interest and offers of both professional funds and our personal network around the world, we will only seek funding when we feel we have truly serviced a dire need in the market, and that Out-Class has established a place in the market with a long, permanent future.
BRR: Do you think that COVID-19 pandemic is a tipping point for technology in Pakistan?
AB: Yes. Technology went from being an aid or niche solution to being mankind’s savior during this pandemic. We think a lot of behavior changes that happened during COVID-19 will be fairly permanent. There are some incredible tech startups in Pakistan that will define the future.
BRR: Yet the biggest hurdle for ed-tech could be the end of the pandemic. What prospects do you see particularly for the ed-tech segment post-pandemic? How can the startups survive post-pandemic?
AB: Ed-Tech was here long before the pandemic and is here to stay. The accelerating adoption during the pandemic has perhaps leapfrogged Pakistan a few years into the future. We compare it to signing up for email the first time if you are comfortable with letters, and then forgetting you used to physically go to mailboxes and post offices to drop off letters.
BRR: What are your plans going forward including your post-pandemic strategy?
AB: Out-Class will become a one-stop-shop for students from all corners of the world - Gen Z’s best friend. We want people to come to us anytime there is a skill or insight they are looking for: industry primers, interview strategies, college admissions, professional courses. We are just getting started!