How Shoaib’s dream of an education came true

Non-formal education helps polio-affected student realize his potential

Ahmad Jan Nawzadi
Shoaib studies mathematics
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Salman Ahmad
13 March 2020

Khairpur, Sindh, Pakistan - 13 March 2020: Like many adolescents in Pakistan, fourteen-year-old Shoaib always dreamt of going to school and learning how to read and write.

In Pakistan, this dream does not always come true. Nearly 23 million children are out of school – nearly half of school-age children in the South Asian nation. The dream is even more difficult to achieve for children with disabilities like Shoaib, who lost the ability to walk after suffering from polio in his first years of life. Pakistan is one of only two remaining countries in the world with ongoing wild poliovirus transmission, along with Afghanistan.

“As a child, I never thought about my disability until I turned seven,” Shoaib says. “This is when I realized that all the other children of my age were going to school, but I did not. The school was far from home and I could not walk. Realizing that I was not going to be able to study was the most painful moment in my life.”

Shoaib’s father, Shahbaz Dino, was keen to enroll his son in school, but he soon came to realize that he would not be able to carry him to school and back every day.

“I have a full-time job which made it impossible for me to fulfill my responsibility as a father, which is to send my son to school,” Shahbaz tells. “All I could do was to buy him some stationary and help him learn at home. It was not as effective as going to school, but it gave Shoaib some hope.”

"As a child, I never thought about my disability until I turned seven. This is when I realized that all the other children of my age were going to school, but I did not. The school was far from home and I could not walk,"

Shoaib

Shoaib says he was not worried about his disability. He never felt discriminated against at home. He says he has encountered discrimination in his community but ignores it. He was determined and studied hard at home. His only concern was to find a way to learn more as he had dreams that could not be fulfilled without an education.

The hope which his father had kept alive was not in vain. A world of possibilities suddenly emerged when, two years ago, UNICEF supported the opening of a non-formal basic education centre in Shoaib’s Mohallah Nizmani village, in Sindh’s Khairpur District. 

“I was so excited that I could hardly believe the news,” Shoaib tells.” “I asked the teacher, who had come to tell me the good news, to enroll me immediately. I have been coming to the centre ever since and am very happy with how my education has progressed.”

UNICEF has helped the Government establish Non-Formal Basic Education Centres in Sindh and other provinces across Pakistan.

Thanks to generous support from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), UNICEF has helped establish 330 Non-formal Basic Education Centers in Sindh province in 2019-20, in cooperation with the province’s School Education and Literacy Department. A majority of the students enrolled are girls.

The programme helps girls and boys who have never been to school, or dropped out, obtain a primary education in a shorter period of time -- even if they are overage. It particularly targets children and adolescents living in the most vulnerable communities. The latter are fully involved in the project and provide the facilities in which the centres are established. UNICEF provides the teachers with stipends and learning materials such as ‘School in a Box’ and recreational kits.

The centre has made Shoaib’s other dream -- to become an entrepreneur and start his own business -- possible. The adolescent is determined not to let his disability keep him from progressing in life. Once he completes his primary education, he intends to keep studying and enroll at the Economics department at the local university.

“Shoaib is my best student in Mathematics and an inspiration for every student,” says Zohra, Shoaib’s teacher at the non-formal basic education centre.

shoaib tries to solve a math exercise in class
UNICEF/PAKISTAN/Salman Ahmad
Shoaib focuses on solving a Math exercise written on the blackboard at the non-formal education center established by UNICEF in Nizmani Mohallah village thanks to funding from JICA

All the students like Shoaib. The adolescent says that he loves the friendly environment in which he studies.

“I want to deliver to messages to children and their parents,” the adolescent says. “First, I want all parents to vaccinate their children against polio. They should be aware that the disease is not treatable but can easily be prevented through immunization. Second, I want parents to educate their children -- girls and boys.”

Asif Abrar, UNICEF Education Specialist in Sindh, says that education is key to put an end to poverty, child marriage and uplift social and economic development. This is why non-formal education centres play such a crucial role.

For Shoaib, education means a chance at a better life, one in which he will be able to fully display all his abilities.