Helping Adolescent Girls Transition to Post-Primary Education in Pakistan
With support from Japan and JICA, UNICEF supports the many adolescent girls who lack opportunities to pursue their education beyond primary and elementary school
GHOTKI, SINDH, Pakistan - 16 December 2022: For many adolescent girls in Pakistan, going to school remains a major challenge. 16-year-old Firdous Bhutto is no exception.
“I went to school when I was younger,” the adolescent tells. “But as I grew up, I had to drop out -- not once, but twice.”
Firdous lives in Qadirpur, a small, underprivileged village of only 40 houses located in Ghotki, a rural district of Pakistan’s southeast Sindh province.
Firdous first went to school as a little girl. But as she grew older, she found herself the only child in the village who was still going. She says it felt odd and isolated her from her cousins and friends, who were all staying at home.
Soon she missed school and enrolled in a different educational facility located in a village across the road from hers. However, she had to walk through a market on her way to school, prompting people in her community to gossip that she was walking alone through areas filled with men. Firdous herself did not feel comfortable being in a village that she did not know, and she ended up dropping out again.
Once more, she found herself out of school.
Things changed after UNICEF opened a Non-formal Basic Education Centre (NFBEC) in her village as part of a programme led by Sindh’s Education Department with technical support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
A total of 150 centers have been established in Ghotki and Khairpur, two districts of Sindh, thanks to support from the people and the Government of Japan. For girls like Firdous, it represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Nearly 5,000 children study at the centers, 60 percent of them girls.
Non-formal education programmes help children who dropped out, or have never been to school, study an accelerated curriculum and graduate from primary school.
But once they graduated, many students, especially girls, find it difficult to continue onward. After completing her primary education, Firdous was not able to continue learning.
Determined to keep busy, she enrolled in a private entrepreneurship course where she learnt how to use a smartphone, create a curriculum vitae (CV), and set life goals.
“I enjoyed the goal setting session the most. It helped me understand that to achieve anything in life, my first and only goal must be getting an education. What other goal could be more important than this anyway?” she asks.
Once the course ended, Firdous was left worrying whether she would ever be able to move onward to secondary education.
To help students like her transition to secondary education, UNICEF developing a curriculum called “Package D” to cover grades 6 to 8 with technical advice from JICA. Post-primary education classes started opening, including in Firdous’ village, where she became one of 40 students to avail themselves of the opportunity.
“Firdous has always wanted to follow in her uncle’s footsteps,” says her mother, 35-year-old Sughra. “He teaches at the center and is one of the few people in our village who got an education.”
“In our community, it is not unusual to send girls to school,” Sughra adds. “Firdous’ father and I wanted to fulfill her dream of an education. We will always support her. Education gives you wisdom and enables you to live a better life with better opportunities. The world is changing, and it is important for girls to be knowledgeable too,” she adds.
Rabia Ashraf, a Social Organizer at UNICEF’s implementing partner Indus Resource Center (IRC), says that despite the challenges girls face to study, seeing them succeed despite the odds gives her hope.
“Right now, we have difficulties finding a regular female teacher for the center,” she says. “When I see girls like Firdous who are resolute to study past primary and who are able to do so thanks to this programme, it gives me hope that change is taking place at last. Soon girls like her will graduate, serve as role models and lead other girls in the village towards a better life and a brighter future.”