A cherished chance of going to school

Alternate Learning Programme centres are enabling children like Shehnaz to gain access to education

Adresh Laghari
Shahnaz writing on the blackboard in her classroom

15 October 2018

Lasbela, Balochistan - October 2018: In Balochistan’s rural universe – a barren land with patches of green bushes and population pockets living in scattered houses -- schools are a rarity. And even when there is one, parents are often reluctant to let their daughters leave home and go to school.

One girl was luckier than the others. Samira managed to become a teacher after a long, difficult journey in life. Her sisters were not given the opportunity to study but they struggled so their younger sister – Samira -- could. Their commitment seems to have given Samira an endless supply of energy as she teaches at Haji Azeem Kalmati Alternate Learning Programme (ALP) centre.

Parents living in conservative communities are often reluctant to send their daughters on long journeys to school. This is why UNICEF and partners have developed such ALP centres. Located at the heart of villages, they offer more flexible hours than a formal school. This means that students can study accelerated curriculum and still have time to go and engage in child labour for boys, and take care of younger siblings for girls. This is a decisive factor when it comes to convincing parents of sending their children to school.

Samira is very passionate about her job at the centre, where she uses the modern, child-friendly teaching techniques she was taught as part of the programme. Instead of rote learning, she uses playful techniques to help students remember their lessons in English, Urdu language, mathematics and science. She also teaches extra-curricular subjects such as how to maintain good hygiene and adequate sanitation.

Samira teaches her class
Samira, trained with modern teaching techniques, conducts classes at the UNICEF-supported Haji Azeem Kalmati Alternative Learning Programme (ALP) center in Winder district, Baluchistan province, Pakistan.

Samira is personally involved in the performance of each of her students. One of them is 13-year-old Shehnaz Aziz, who is writing English sentences on the blackboard under Samira’s watchful gaze.

“With her beautiful hands, Shehnaz has turned my dream of becoming a well-known teacher a reality,” Samira says.

"I had never seen a school before I came here. Now, I am the one teaching my father how to write his name."

Shehnaz, student of ALP

Shehnaz has been studying in the centre for more than two years. She was among the first three students to enrol and is now preparing the exam to pass the primary school certificate.

Shehnaz’ father, Aziz, is an electrician and the only man in the village to have installed an electrical water pump at home. He says he did it so his children would not spend too much time and energy fetching water from the well in the village. They no longer must go and fetch water three or four times a day – a single trip is now enough.

“I am not educated but I am glad to know the importance of education,” says Aziz. “I cannot think of a reason not to send my children to school,” he adds.

Shehnaz says that she is given less chores at home so she can do her homework. She says that going to school is a daily celebration because she gets to spend time with her friends and to learn new things every day.

Shahnaz and her brother fetching water from a well in their village
Shehnaz and her brother fetching water from the well near their village. Thanks to the water pump installed at home by Shehnaz’ father, they only have to make the trip once a day.

The centre is one of many established or expanded thanks to USD $5 million (40 million NOK) which were generously donated by Norwegian citizens through the Norwegian National Committee for UNICEF. In 2017, UNICEF Norway collected donations from citizens all over the country to help educate children around the world, with a focus on students living in areas with few educational infrastructures. Haakon, the Crown Prince of Norway, presided the annual event in keeping with a royal tradition dating back to 1974.

The centres are being installed or expanded in partnership with the authorities of Balochistan, one of the four provinces in Pakistan.

Shehnaz is proud to report that her grades are among the top three in the class she shares with 13 other students.

Alternative learning programmes, a route to education

“I keep asking myself questions about what I have learnt at school during the day, so I can memorize my lessons better. I do this all the time, even when fetching water,” Shehnaz says. “My friends and my brother get annoyed because I spend so much time studying, but I want to keep learning more and more.”

Alternative learning programmes provide a route to education for the children who are excluded, such as those living in impoverished agricultural communities. The key to success is the involvement of local partners and community members, which help build ownership and sustainability. This also makes it easier to convince parents to send their daughters -- and sons -- to the centres.

Shahnaz and her sisters smiling at their home
Shehnnaz shares a moment of joy with her sisters in their home. All the children around Shehnaz are now going to school.

Many children across Pakistan still don’t have the chance of an education. Nearly 23 million Pakistani children aged 5-16 – half of school-age children – do not go to school. Most of them are girls. In Balochistan, 70 percent of children do not go to school and only one girl out of five (20 percent) is enrolled in school.

For Shehnaz, the centre is a cherished opportunity to learn and build a better future. She hopes that other children will be as lucky as she is.

“I cannot imagine a life where all the children in the area could not have the chance to go to school,” she says. “I hope many others will be given the opportunity to learn.”