Communities Build upon UNICEF’s Initiative for Enabling Access to Education in Most Marginalized Communities
By: Fatima Shahryar
RAJANPUR DISTRICT, PAKISTAN; APRIL, 2014 – “People in this village had little idea about the importance of education.” says Hazoor Bakhsh, a highly motivated voluntary teacher at the Non-Formal Basic Education Centre (NFBEC) in Basti Jindani, a village in district Rajanpur of Southern Punjab.
“Earlier, I used to teach occasionally at a local madrassah (place for religious education) where children from the village came for religious education. Pertaining to the work load of helping families with daily work, very few children would stay back for lessons in mathematics and languages that I had to offer. But now, we have this centre and nearly 80 children are enrolled here. For me, having these children in school and having unequivocal support of the entire community, is a huge motivation.”
Hazoor Bakhsh (45), is resident of Basti Jindani, a village located in the heart of vast fields, several miles from the urban setting of Rajanpur city. He received formal education till grade 5 from a local school and later completed his Bachelor’s degree in Education through distant learning from a renowned university.
The community that inhabits the village had no concept of formal learning and education, let alone its benefits. They earn their living through harvesting crops and cattle grazing. The children too, start helping their parents in the fields as soon as they come off age.
The nearest public primary school is at a distance of 10 kilometres from Basti Jandani. The residents have no means of transport and live in economically challenging circumstances, thus cannot afford to pay regular fee for their children’s education.
“We reached this community about four months ago with our community mobilization activities to improve knowledge of the people on education and its importance” explains Mohammad Shahid, District Coordinator, Hayat Foundation, a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) and UNICEF’s implementing partner in the district. “The community was very welcoming and receptive of the ideas and took up the responsibility of further building on the initiative. They participated wholeheartedly and pooled in funds to clean the area and operationalize the space as a non-formal basic education centre.”
NFBECs have been established in the districts D.G Khan, Bahawalpur and Rajanpur, Punjab under the UNICEF supported project ‘Equitable Access to Education for Marginalized Out-of-School Girls’ in close collaboration with the Literacy & Non Formal Basic Education Department and the School Education Department, Government of the Punjab.
The space being used for the NFBEC was a small semi-government unit under occupancy of a local landlord for storing cattle feed. However, after mutual efforts and dialogue with the local authorities, the two-room building was released and returned to the community to be used as an education centre.
With 80 students enrolled within the first month, the NFBEC in Basti Jindani has become a popular and fully functional education space. The community is fully involved and has generated funds to procure some essential furniture. Divided into two groups, children at the centre are taught courses from nursery to grade-3. While there is only one blackboard, Hazoor Bakhsh has painted part of the interior wall black in one of the rooms to be used as the second black board.
Through this project UNICEF aims to enroll 3,950 children from Katchi (Pre-Primary) to grade-3 in 90 formal government schools and increase their level of learning in numeracy and literacy in three selected districts. Furthermore, 1,200 Marginalized Out-of-School Girls are in process of being enrolled in 30 NFBECs to gain a Basic Education Equivalency Certificate in the selected districts. The 30 NFBECs have been set up in close consultation with the Literacy & Non Formal Basic Education Department and with the support and ownership of local communities. As children complete these levels, efforts will be made to mainstream NFBEC students further in formal schools.
“One of the main strategies of the Equitable Access to education for marginalized children in three selected districts is to strengthen the community groups to promote increased school enrollment and retention.” says Sehr Raza Qizilbash - Education Officer UNICEF.
“One of the main strategies of the Equitable Access to education for marginalized children in three selected districts is to strengthen the community groups (School Councils and the Village Education Committees) to promote increased school enrollment and retention.” says Sehr Raza Qizilbash - Education Officer UNICEF. “We were able to trigger the need for education within these marginalized communities and now the communities have taken the lead in ensuring that the NFBECs are fully functional and the children attend the schools. This is what we see as moving towards long term sustainability of these much needed centers.”
The center in Basti Jindani accommodates children from settings across the village. Women of the community now drop their children at the school before they head for the day’s work in the fields. This depicts their willingness to help the center improve and enable better educational services for their children.
“Our earning will be our children’s education and their secure future” says Salma, mother of 9 years old Shahnaz Bibi.
“I love my school and when I grow up, I aspire to become a teacher, I will start a school of my own for children in my village. It will have big class rooms and a huge playground.” Shahnaz, Student Before the establishment of the centre, Shahnaz’s routine included accompanying her mother to the field in the morning and later helping her brother with cattle grazing. Ever since joining the centre, life seems to have taken a positive turn for her. She attends classes regularly and learning is a gleeful experience for her.
“I love my school and when I grow up, I aspire to become a teacher,” says Shahnaz. “I will start a school of my own for children in my village. It will have big class rooms and a huge playground.”