Educating at grassroots levels
Prof Anita Ghulam Ali may be 70+, frail and suffering from ailments, but she works with great devotion and immense energy when she is serving a cause that is uppermost in her mind – education.
She was once the Minister of Education in the Government but when she was asked to sign a paper ordering the transfer of 200 teachers she refused categorically because they were being sent to places where they could facilitate some government policies with which she didn’t agree. The only alternative left for her was to resign.
As a frequent visitor to the SEF (Sindh Education Foundation) of which Anita is the founder and the managing director, I have felt that she is an inspiring leader for all her lieutenants display the same kind of dedication and commitment their mentor has shown over so many years.
Last week the SEF organised the launch event for establishing 185 primary schools under Phase 3 of ‘Promoting Private Schooling in Rural Sindh (PPRS) Project’. In the first two phases as many as 300 schools were set up.
This was in addition to the adopt-a-government school programme about which much has been written in the past. Suffice it to say that about 50,000 students, enrolled in 227 government schools in the province, have benefited from this scheme.
In the PPRS project, entrepreneurs are invited to set up schools in remote areas of rural Sindh. No fee is charged from the parents of children who are enrolled there. The people, managing the schools, are paid at the rate of Rs 350 per month. SEF also spends something like Rs 35,000 per annum on the training of each teacher. They are provided with teaching aids. The students, more than half of whom are female, come from different ethnic communities.
In the Thar district, where there is a substantial population of Hindus, the number of Hindu students is higher than Muslim students, in quite a few schools. All pupils are given free books and school bags. They are also given the coverage of health care. The curriculum is thinly based on the one set by the government. Needless to say, it is enriched and tailored out to the needs of the hour.
The funding comes from the World Bank and is routed through the Government of Sindh. SEF keeps a tab on the functioning of every school through its monitoring teams, based in the sub-offices which are located in 10 districts of Sindh.
SEF insists that the entrepreneurs appoint at least one female teacher, though ideally they would like to have all female staff. I guess because experience has shown that they are generally more committed than their male counterparts.
Now, who are the entrepreneurs? They are local people, preferably the landlords, who either have their own buildings or are in a position to invest in constructing school premises. It is mandatory to have at least 1600 square feet open, well demarcated space. In case of existing buildings a space of 8 square feet per child is an essential requirement. The classrooms have to be well lit and properly ventilated.
One hopes some philanthropic organisations will step in to provide lunches to the students from impoverished remote areas, just as Aman Foundation is doing in the case of about five schools run by the Khuda Ki Basti Project in Karachi.
The writer, who jointly authored the bestselling ‘Tales of Two Cities’ with Kuldip Nayar and more recently compiled and created ‘Mehdi Hasan: The Man and his Music’ writes and lectures on music, literature and culture. He also reviews books and pens travelogues and humorous pieces, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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