Provide a one-line summary of your solution.
SENF is an online learning platform connecting institutions, educators, and learners in a single learning environment for accessing courses, digital meetings, etc
What specific problem are you trying to solve?
In late 2022, Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers ordered a ban on tertiary university education for Afghan women, as announced by the country’s ministry of higher education. This news devastated the young women and girls who aspire to access further education and careers with the goals of living their own fulfilling and independent lives. This radical and deeply saddening news once again halts Afghanistan’s progression and development of the country, which has been a common trend of setbacks that was mainly attributed to the war. Since the new Taliban administration in Afghanistan, there has been slew of restrictions enforced on Women including access to education.
Afghan youth especially girls need education as Afghanistan has been going through decades of war and education is the only way through which the Afghan specially the women will have a future. Moreover, education can allow the Afghan students to not only help their family in the future but also contribute to the development of their community.
UNICEF quoted “Keeping girls out of secondary school costs Afghanistan 2.5% of its annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP)”, showing the immense importance that women have on economic development that the country crucially needs. Economics aside, access to education is a fundamental basic human right that all backgrounds should be able to have access to.
Education in Afghanistan also faces no shortage of barriers that has led to the stagnant education system, from security reasons and war to shortage of schools and transportation.
What is your solution?
SENF is an online platform that aims to bring the education at the hands of the students of Afghanistan. This is Afghanistan’s first educational platform to help facilitate the sharing of education and harness the potential digital online learning that was shown in the pandemic. Many of the world’s knowledge on the internet is not available in the local languages of Pashto and Dari, not only do we provide education that is translated to such languages but also empower Afghan educators to share their content with a wider student group.
Institutions can create their own learning environments and invite their students onto the platform. Within each learning environment, teachers can post their own lecture recordings, share content and post assignments. By doing so, women who have been barred physical access to in person education and follow so on the internet. Not only for women but even men who have their own barriers to education. Another key feature is that students can join live video calls on our platform to attend lectures or class discussions. There is a whiteboard feature that allows students to also use it as a tool for their classroom learning.
We have a worldwide team of connections from the US, Belgium and Asia, where we want to also partner a local institution in Afghanistan with a professor/teacher in another university abroad. This valuable exchange can enrich the programs for Afghan students that may have never connected with foreigners.
A partial amount of the profits will also be reinvested in Afghan youths to provide SENF educational scholarships through our partnerships with external organisations.
SENF is not only restricted for institutional use but also the same content, depending on the publisher, can allow access for the general public for those who are eager to learn.
Who does your solution serve? In what ways will the solution impact their lives?
The solution aligns with SDG 4: Quality Education, with the aims to provide general education for people in Afghanistan. Girls previously enrolled in school have expressed heartbreak, anger and despair from this form of gender discrimination. We want to provide quality education for the girls who have been barred from schooling.
UNICEF estimated 3.7 million children are out-of-school in Afghanistan, with 60% of them being girls. Without education for young women, employment is impossible, as well as a lack of female role models to instil hope for girls. Economists and leaders have emphasised the immense multi fold beneficial effects for the wider society and economic development from girl’s education, including but not limited to better quality of life, better health for girls and prosperity.
For all, education is not simply accessible even for men, especially quality education and teachers in rural areas. The Taliban administration has also worsened the banking crisis and is complicating external funding for education which in turn reduces infrastructure investment and safer schooling environments, especially disproportionately affecting rural students. Though the Taliban has allowed female doctors, teachers, and various civil servants to continue working. However, without the ability to gain higher education there would be a shortage of educated individuals working in crucial areas of society. By using online learning, boys and girls can learn from teachers in Afghanistan and courses provided from foreign institutions. Later allowing individuals to pursue their ideal career and future, thus contributing to the development of Afghanistan.
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Born and raised in Afghanistan, I have personally lived through this experience. My mother is illiterate with her limited access to formal education. In Afghanistan, with our long standing connection in the community our team has established many key partnerships with stakeholders that are crucial for our successes (elaborated in the next question). I have been in contact with my friends(girls) from high school in Afghanistan who emphasized the importance of our project SENF. Most of them said at least one member of their family has access to the internet and are willing to provide education for their sisters and daughters no matter how difficult it might be.
Our team is made up of majority Afghan young adults that have personally been through the educational system and have the immense motivation to improve.
Regarding education, we want to make a contract with data providers to ensure our website with the sim card would be automatically accessed even without wifi. This means that using the website would not charge the students but instead would be covered by us.
What steps have you taken to understand the needs of the population you want to serve?
We have consulted with local girls through our community in Jalalabad and Kabul through phone calls, interviewing about the impact on their life from the educational ban, learning about what they wish to gain out of education and ideas of features on our website.
We are also in direct contact with the head of the university and institutions, namely Bamal institution and Ariana university . They were also extremely distraught for dismissing their female students and are extremely eager to provide online education for such girls.
The pilot location, Bamal institution, currently requires girls to arrive at the location to pick up a weekly flashdrive of the recorded classes. This involves students manually to visit on site which has its physical, social and security barriers. They have expressed their interest in adopting a more instantaneous and simple method to be able to access education.
Which aspects of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?Improving learning opportunities and outcomes for learners across their lifetimes, from early childhood on (Learning)
What is your solution’s stage of development?Pilot: An organization deploying a tested product, service, or business model in at least one community
In what city, town, or region is your solution team located?Jalalabad, Afghanistan
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
What makes your solution innovative?
There are no other e-learning platforms in Afghanistan, with such a platform students wouldn’t need to risk their security and spend time to go pick up their weekly flash drives. Girls can attend classes online under the educational ban in secondary schools and universities. Rural children can find classes created by world renowned universities even outside of Afghanistan, where many in their lifetime may never have the opportunity to explore foreign countries.
What are your impact goals for the next year, and how will you achieve them?
More students - 90% of university and tertiary educational institutions in Kabul and Nangarhar Province. My hometown is in Jalalabad, Nangarhar where our team has deep connections with the head of the largest university in Jalalabad.
More classes - We aim for 100+ enrollment courses/degrees offered on the platform, whether this was to be made by Afghan teachers or external institutions. We will incentivise Afghan universities to upload content with the opportunity to connect them to our group of distinguished external universities. We also want to incentivise students through our dedicated SENF scholarships and fund for students and teachers.
More involvement for foreign institutions - Involving at least 3 major universities to also provide courses for students in Afghanistan. We already have 3 potential universities in the US, Europe and Asia as our teams are spearheaded by university students from the aforementioned universities.
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
We wanted to keep the technology simple and accessible for people in Afghanistan. The learning platform is on the internet, where we professors can video call with the internet and upload with a simple camera. On the technical side, the app is coded with php and mysql for the backend of the platform, as well as flutter for the frontend. To facilitate the video calls, we use bigbluebutton which is open source and allows us to quickly scale up and host video conferences and calls on our own servers, thus we get to pay less than we would if we were using a third party provider.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
How many people does your solution currently serve, and how many do you plan to serve in the next year? If you haven’t yet launched your solution, tell us how many people you plan to serve in the next year.
1000+ users - Bamal institution has agreed to pilot the project with their student body exceeding more than 1000 students. https://www.facebook.com/Bamalskillup
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year?
Internet penetration - With Afghanistan’s limited and lacking internet infrastructure, not all households have access to the internet. Afghanistan's internet penetration rate stood at 22.9 percent of the total population at the start of 2022. To counteract this, the next big step for our organisation is to sign the contract with the local data provider to ensure our platform can be accessed without the internet as long as the user is using the internet provider.
Digital literacy - Another added challenge is the limited digital literacy among the population especially the limited access to technology from poverty, lacking internet infrastructure, etc. This can make learning on a digital platform more challenging at the start. With this, we want to use simple technology for our platform, having our website accessed on a website and using calling services that various tertiary educations are using. We will also make tutorial videos in the mother tongue to teach how to use the various features on the platform.
How many people work on your solution team?
How long have you been working on your solution?
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
We are working with professors from Ariana University in Afghanistan, as they are the ones who have given us feedback on our website. Ariana University will likely be the first university where we will be launching the website in.
We have partnered with Bamal institute in Kabul who is using our platform to provide online classes to their students (they used to give the recording of the online class on a flash drive to their female students). They have more than 10,000 students which can provide a high amount of data and feedback to improve on our app. Bamal institution also already provides recorded classes which can be simply uploaded on our platform.
What is your business model?
All institutions need to pay a small subscription that is extremely affordable compared to other similar websites that provide online courses. The funds will be used to maintain the servers to host the platform but also reinvested into scholarships in school, as part of the SENF Scholarship. We are also exploring the possibility of placing advertisements on the website as another source of revenue.
We are working towards building a partnership with local internet providers, where they can give a discounted price to the students (not in scholarship) who use SENF and we can provide them with more customers and users.
SENF provides great incentives and value for local schools and universities in Afghanistan, namely the efficiency and usefulness of an online platform to facilitate their learning.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We identified two key revenue sources - subscription and advertisements. We believe subscription services would be the best way for financial sustainability as it is directly proportional to the variable costs that arise from more users. Through our extensive connections in Afghanistan and given that this platform is first of its kind in the region, we believe that the website will be adopted easily.