Lighting the torch
ACCORDING to the Annual Status of Education Report 2012, only 37 per cent of three-to-five-year-old children are enrolled in pre-schools in rural Pakistan. The enrolment is slightly higher in the urban areas (55 per cent).
This is a serious problem that has profound implications for the goal of ‘education for all’.
Having neglected the education sector for decades, the state is now faced with a huge backlog of out-of-school children the majority of whom have parents with no or little schooling themselves. This, plus poverty, has aggravated the crisis in education for which innovative solutions are now needed.
One approach which many well-meaning social activists and educators have adopted is to encourage the establishment of home schools in areas where many constraints prevent children from attending formal schools. Although home schools have not proved to be an ideal substitute for regular schools, they offer an alternative to the children, who are otherwise left to roam the streets.
The major flaw in many home school systems is that they lack teachers who can teach. Many women running home schools are highly motivated, but that does not compensate for their lack of education and training.
Seen against this backdrop, the Citizen’s Education Development Foundation’s (CEDF) experiment in home schooling has proved to be a success story in some respects.
Set up in 1986 by a physician who cares, Dr Naseem Salahuddin, the foundation was her response to the shock she felt when she saw her maid’s seven-year-old child helping his mother mop the floor. His parents could not afford to educate him. Dr Salahuddin’s immediate instinct was to invite this unfortunate child and the likes of him into her home to teach them how to read and write.
Even today her goal is modest. She and her partners in the CEDF strive for “functional literacy” for all. A secondary aim is to facilitate the education of those children in whom the spark has been ignited. Admission in a regular school is secured and the CEDF sponsors them by bearing the cost of books, stationery and uniforms which can be quite a burden on the poor.
The idea caught on. There were others who were inspired by Dr Salahuddin’s commitment and wanted to open their homes to the children of the underprivileged. More importantly, many poor girls who had nine years of schooling wanted to do the same. When the CEDF was faced with space constraints because not every home could accommodate a class of 20, a bus was acquired and fitted with desks and benches. This gave mobility to the school though today it remains parked on a side lane of Neelum Colony from where enough children come for four two-hourly classes.
What is so striking about the CEDF approach is its cost-effectiveness. The foundation has no overhead costs and is educating 500 children in 16 home schools and four classes in the bus. The major chunk of the expenditure goes on sponsorship of children (600 at present) and the salaries of teachers and rent for classroom space in their homes. Over a span of 25 years, 7,000 children have benefited from this project.
The key to success is the commitment and motivation of the 16 CEDF members who work on a voluntary basis. Their close supervision and mentoring ensure that the teachers work with regularity. They gain from the guidance they receive from their mentors who inject enthusiasm and energy into their protégés.
Take Sumayya, a student of Government Commerce College, whose school is in her third floor home in Gizri. Sumayya is one of the earlier generations of students from Dr Salahuddin’s home school. Her dream to educate herself was remarkable. She was sponsored by CEDF and her results have been brilliant — whether she was at the DHA school in Neelum Colony or in college. She hopes to join the IBA next semester.
For four years Sumayya has been running a home school to earn extra money for her bus fare to commute to college. To learn English she joined the language classes in PACC. Education has given her confidence, self-esteem and sophistication.
The CEDF’s experiment offers a doable model to those concerned about the status of Pakistan’s education. When the state is failing in its duty, one has organisations like the CEDF to thank for providing an opportunity to bright youngsters. Given its modest goals, the CEDF might appear to be deceptively simple for our needs. But it makes education accessible to the small child. It gives the disadvantaged children the love and guidance they need from a teacher who is from their own community but has the advantage of deriving her strength from her mentor — an outsider who is better educated and has the spirit of volunteerism.
The forte of the CEDF model is the element of motivation in its functionaries which is missing in our formal school system. The government employs an army of inspectors to check the working of its schools and another army of monitors to keep an eye on the inspectors. But the staff at both the tiers lack motivation. So uninspired are they that they actually drive away children from school. On the contrary, when teachers like Sumayya are there as role models, they manage to light a spark in many young hearts. A quarter of CEDF’s students go on to enter the formal school system which they otherwise would never have done.