Interview with Qasim Aslam, Founder, The History Project
1. What has led you to establish the History Project?
I've always enjoyed solving problems and building sustainable systems around the solutions. Working on alternative educational models was the 5th professional industry that I had ventured into. My penultimate line of work was in a tech sector and while we were creating jobs, I felt that the Pakistani community had a challenge along the lines of intolerance which needed a more direct intervention that was being largely unaddressed by the traditional schooling system. Ergo, in 2016, I finally left the tech company and started Beyond The Classroom Education to work with youth directly. More specifically, BTC was inspired by my experience all the way back in 2001 of attending the Seeds of Peace summer camp where I met students from India, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, US, Afghanistan, and the UK. Thereby, hitting the realization that before we've spent our formative years growing up in a society, humanity has a strong common ground that can be leveraged to highlight the significance of coexistence.
2. Could you tell us about your Beyond The Classrooms (BTC) Accelerated Learning Programs and some of the History Project’s other latest initiatives?
The accelerated learning program is an extra school program that introduces students to the values of critical independent thinking, empathy, collaboration and problem-solving through behavioral activity-based learning. This is generally the first time students have directly engaged with these values. Once this larger base of students have gone through the 5 weeks of programming, they become eligible to apply to change-maker fellowships like Seeds of Peace, Future Leaders Program and Bulandi where they get intensive training on SDGs as they manifest in Pakistan, Human Centred Design, as they design their micro-interventions in response to the local social challenges and can apply for small grants to realize their initiatives.
3. Could you share a story/example of a student who has led their own social action project thanks to the training received by the HistoryProject?
Mariam Ahmad who went through the entire journey started an anti-bullying campaign in school by starting a kickboxing club that was launched not only in her school but also in low-income schools in her city. Additionally, Ali Harris started a teaching club in his school where students from his school designed a peace education curriculum and started teaching in low-income schools within his city.
4. You are also a tech entrepreneur. How would you describe the technology landscape in Pakistan today, and do you hope to incorporate more tech-based/digital learning at the History Project in the future?
That's a rather broad question and needs a fair lot of qualifications.In terms of blending technology with education in Pakistan, I believe companies like Sabaq and Taleemistan are doing a good job in trying to take tech-enabled low-cost educational solutions outside of the metropolis areas, however, blended learning still has a long way to go before it gets meaningful mass adoption.
Beyond the Classroom Education primarily focuses on empowering Pakistanis to solve Pakistani problems. This requires a fair lot of in-person experiential learning and human to human interaction. We might be some time away from figuring out how to replace this bit, apart from some technical skills-based learnings.
5. You are an inspiring storyteller and young historian. What is one popular misconception or false narrative about Pakistan that we need to correct?
Pakistan, like most other nations, has as many good, bad, dangerous, angelic, smart, and good looking people as any other nations. You probably won't get eaten alive in the middle of the street and you'll probably find all the wonderful touristy places, amazing initiatives, great cuisines, and warm hospitality as you'll find in other parts of the world, as you'll find in Pakistan.