Bringing Out-of-School girls Back to Education in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan
Alternative Learning Pathway centres enable children, especially girls, to resume learning, thanks to UNICEF technical support and Japan funding to Education Department
For sixteen-year-old Malaika, getting back to education was like getting back to life.
The adolescent, who comes from a poor family in Jhandi Darsamand village in Hangu, a district of Pakistan’s northeastern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, had stopped going to school after completing her primary education. Inflammation in one of her knees had left her with a limp, forcing her impoverished family to keep her at home as there was no elementary school inside or near the village.
“Not being able to continue studying in elementary school made me very sad. I was not able to run and play with my sibling and would spend most of my time alone. I had almost lost hope of going back to school and live a normal life,” Malaika says.
Malaika’s father, Israr khan, is a daily wager who earns money only when he finds work. With his meagre income, he can barely afford basic expenses for his family.
“I have always been aware the importance of education and always made sure to send all my children to school despite my meagre resources. Malaika’s disability and inability to continue studying broke my heart,” Khan says.
Malaika would never have been able to resume her education, had it not been for a new project supporting non-formal education.
In 2018, with technical assistance from UNICEF and funding from the Government of Japan through the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Pakistan started developing alternate learning opportunities in a bid to help children who had dropped out, or never been to school, resume learning in three provinces -- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Sindh – even if they are overage.
This new programme came as part of the Government’s efforts to tackle the issue of the 23 million children aged between 5 to 16 who are out of school – half of their age group.
In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, where there are more than two million of children out of school – two-thirds of them girls -- the Elementary and Secondary Education Department launched the Alternate Learning Pathways (ALP) programme.
UNICEF supported the Department to develop a complete Service Delivery Mechanism for in the province and created a Project Implementing Unit in September 2020. So far, 90 ALP centres have been set up with JICA funding, out of a total of 380 centres in ten districts which have enabled nearly 11,000 students - 7,000 girls - to resume learning.
In Hangu District, 18 ALPs have been established in existing primary schools for girls and two in villages which did not have a school. Every ALP relies on an eight-member Volunteer Network Forum (VNF) which comprises of parents, community activists and influencers who encourage communities to enroll out-of-school girls.
“Communities in this area are very poor and very conservative and girls’ education has never been a priority. Families tend to marry them early,” says Hashim Khan, Hangu’s Assistant District Education Officer. “When members of the district coordination team first approached villages about sending their daughters to school, they were firmly rebuffed. It took us a lot of perseverance and persuasion to change the age-old mindset towards girls’ education. With time and the opening of ALP centres, we have seen a positive change in attitudes.”
Teachers and ALP Facilitators ensure that children, especially girls, can not only study but also engage in co-curricular activities and adopt social behaviours essential for their healthy mental and physical growth. Following COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, students were taught about key preventive behaviours to reduce virus transmission as soon as the centres reopened.
For Malaika, the programme has been life-changing, as she was able to resume learning in one of these centres.
“Malaika is so happy to have resumed studying that she walks two kilometers each way to get to the ALP centre despite her weak leg,” says Shiroz Bibi, her mother. “She sat at home for five years. We thought that she would never be able to study further. As soon as a VNF member came to our house and told us about the ALP centre, I agreed to enroll Malaika and volunteered to become a VNF member myself.”