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UNICEF-EU Supported Balochistan Basic Education Program Brings Girls Back to School

By Fatima Shahryar
 
Kachhi District, Balochistan – February 2018: “I stopped going to school last year as there was no washroom, water or electricity in the one I used to attend,” says Sumaira (12), a fourth-grade student at Government Girls Community Model School in the village of Rind Ali. “Made up of only two rooms, the school building was not good at all. As a result, I stayed at home for a full one year.”


Sumaira (12) happily shares her experience of returning to school as a grade four student at the Government Girls Community Model School, Kachhi District, Balochistan.
© UNICEF/Pakistan2018/Fatima Shahryar

“It was then that one day my friend brought me to this school. I loved it instantly. It had classrooms with beautiful wall paintings, a clean washroom and a big playground. I convinced my parents and though it was a bit far from my home, they got me admitted here. I love coming to this school and have become a keen student.”

Government Girls Community Model School (GGCMS) is the only school in district Kachhi that has classes up to eighth grade. The area is dominated by tribal leaders who do not encourage girls’ education. The population of the district is largely poor and depends on cattle farming or daily wage labour.

Rabia Kausar, who is the acting headmistress and also an activist for girls’ education says, “Some of the girls here belong to families that cannot afford buying shoes, uniforms or stationery. To ensure this, I and other teachers of the school, contribute some money every month, which helps us support these children. We believe that education is a basic right and all children should have access to it.”  

Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan. Unfortunately, around 60-70 per cent children in Balochistan the primary and secondary age group are reported to be out of school. More girls than boys are out of school: 78 and 63 per cent respectively. 

Remembering her previous school, Sumaira says, “At my old school, besides studying, we also had to work at our teachers’ homes. We would help them with daily household chores like cleaning, washing utensils etc. It became so difficult that I had to quit school. But here, at my new school, it is so different. Our teachers are like friends and we only study and play.”


Sumaira (12) and Zainab (11) smile as they sit together and learn in a child-friendly environment in the Government Girls Community Model School, Kachhi District, Balochistan.
© UNICEF/Pakistan2018/Fatima Shahryar

To improve the existing education system and provide children an impetus for quality learning, UNICEF with funding support from the European Union, initiated the Balochistan Basic Education Programme (BBEP), in 2016. Being implemented in 11 districts of the province, the programme is led by the Education Department, Balochistan. 

With guidance and in close collaboration with the Secondary Education Department, management committees have been established at different levels to ensure schools are functioning well and children are provided education in a child-friendly environment. These committees include Parent Teacher School Management Committees at the school level, Local Education Councils for several schools in a ‘school cluster’ and a District Education Group.


Sumaira (12) stands next to her teacher, while she assesses her work at the Government Girls Community Model School, Kachhi District, Balochistan.
© UNICEF/Pakistan2018/Fatima Shahryar

“The total number of students in the school last year was 110. It has risen to 225 within a few months,” says Umme Sulait, District Officer Education, Kacchi. “Enrollment of students has increased twofold due to the renovation of school infrastructure and introduction of child-friendly teaching methods. The overall learning environment has improved considerably and students as well as teachers are more confident and happy. All of“We have observed that since the time our students have received training on MHM, they are more self confident and comfortable,” says Rabia Kausar, Headmistress GGCMS  us feel a refreshing and positive change in the right direction.” 

The communities in Balochistan are largely conservative. Women and girls have limited access to basic education, health and other life resources. This is compounded by the number of girls that drop out of school in grades four and five - a time that marks the beginning of menstruation cycle for most of the girls.

“At the time when we received funds for renovating the school infrastructure, we knew we had to exclusively focus on including sanitation facilities and safe drinking water. The presence of a washroom and drinking water alone has encouraged parents, even from the neighbouring villages, to enroll their daughters at GGCMS, Kachhi,” says Umme Sulait. “Seeing these girls return to school gives us a great sense of achievement. Implementation of the BBEP has made it certain that the children of Balochistan have a bright future”


Students of the Government Girls Community Model School, Kachhi District, Balochistan, show their hands after washing them properly with soap as taught by their teachers.
© UNICEF/Pakistan2018/Fatima Shahryar

Currently, 36 per cent of girls drop out of school in grades four and five in Balochistan. To reduce the number, teachers and students of all girls’ schools in the focus districts are being trained on menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Highly qualified trainers are conducting these trainings with BBEP support. Not only are the students taught proper management of menstruation but schools are also provided MHM kits that have all the essentials sanitary supplies. The trainings have been completed in 83 schools so far, and will be continued for the remaining schools in programme districts. 

“We have observed that since the time our students have received training on MHM, they are more self confident and comfortable,” says Rabia Kausar, headmistress GGCMS. “Earlier girls would go on leave and stay absent from school, but for past two months, all girls have been regular. MHM trainings have brought tremendous reduction in absence from school.”

BBEP has numerous examples from communities where rejuvenated schools have proven that good teachers and schools can enroll, teach and retain children. Providing a safe and comfortable environment to children, especially to girls, not only helps them learn better but also improves their chances of contributing to the well-being of society.

The initiative is playing a crucial role in strengthening the quality, performance and management of the education systems in Balochistan. Having impacted the lives of children BBEP has received recognition at the highest level in the Secondary Education Department, Government of Balochistan.
 
“Government Girls Community Model School, Rind Ali, is an example of how community involvement can change schools into fun learning environments for girls and boys”, says Palwasha Jalalzai, Education Specialist, UNICEF. “BBEP is demonstrating pathways to achieve quality education in the province. In addition to school improvement through community engagement, BBEP is reforming learning assessment, real time monitoring and capacity building of the teachers; all coming together at the school level to enable provision of quality education to students across the targeted programme schools. While there are many happy, living stories like that of Sumaira, we aim to see hundreds more in the years to come.”

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