Offering girls education and skills for employability
Accelerated Education Programme (AEP) Centres help girls and boys from underprivileged communities in Punjab access the education and skills they need to pursue higher education and access employment.
BAHAWALPUR, Punjab, Pakistan – 28 February 2021: It is past 11 am and as students play outside, Sadia Akhtar reviews the workbook which she is studying. As the break comes to an end, she watches girls and boys walk back into the classroom which changed her life forever.
For Sadia, it all started at this very centre, the Accelerated Education Programme (AEP) in Basti Syed Muhammad Ali Shah, the small village of Punjab’s Bahawalpur district where she was raised. The nearest public school was almost 4 km away, causing most parents to refuse sending their children to class, especially their daughters, as they feared for their security and their reputation.
To help local children fulfill their right to education, Punjab’s Literacy and Non-Formal Basic Education department opened an Accelerated Education Programme (AEP) Centre in the village with support from UNICEF and the Norwegian Committee for UNICEF in 2018.
Salma Gillani, one of the teachers recruited to teach at the centre, visited the village’s families together with her husband to convince them to enroll their children, particularly their daughters, at the centre. One of the families she visited was Sadia’s. She convinced the girls’ parents to send her to class so she could learn how to read and write.
Not only did the centre enable Sadia to learn how to read and write and complete her basic education, but it also gave her the skills she needed to pursue higher education. Today she is studying for an Intermediate degree from Allama Iqbal Open University.
Thanks to Salma’s support, Sadia has become an inspiration for girls in her village. Following in her mentor’s footsteps, Sadia now encourages girls to enroll at the AEP centre.
Accelerated Education Programme centres like the one in Basti Syed Muhammad Ali Shah help children who have never been to school, or who dropped out, to learn based on an accelerated curriculum.
Thanks to funding from the Norwegian Committee for UNICEF, 240 centres have been created in the most remote and rural areas in six districts of Punjab. So far nearly 16,000 girls and boys aged four to 16 years old have benefited from the programme in the province – far beyond the initial target of 6,500. Moreover, 241 students were able to go back to a formal school after attending classes at one of the centres.
The students benefited from extra-curricular activities such as play-based learning, awareness-raising sessions on health and hygiene or sport activities. Meanwhile, 480 teachers benefited from skills training to improve the quality of teaching, help them learn about early childhood education, help them include girls, and help them create a supportive environment for students with special needs.
To ensure sustainability, the programme involves parents and communities, as well as mothers’ support groups. Their support is critical to ensure that families enrol both girls and boys, and to make sure that students do no drop out.
“Without the centre, I would have remained illiterate like my parents and many people in my community,”
“The centres have been established in areas where children do not have access to the formal school system,” says Zahid Nazir Khan, District Education Officer Literacy in Bahawalpur, one of six districts benefiting from the initiative. “Not only does the project allow girls and boys to learn in locations where this would have been a challenge, but it also inspires girls to ask for an education and acquire the skills they need to become economically independent.”
For Sadia, the programme proved to be life changing.
“Without the centre, I would have remained illiterate like my parents and many people in my community,” says Sadia. “Instead, I was able to fulfill my right to education and to study all the way to university. Now I encourage more girls and boys in my village to enroll so they too can learn.”
The increasing number of girls enrolled at the centre shows how Sadia’s community has started valuing girls’ education. It is also a reminder of how education helps her community build a brighter future.