Fear of dropping out of school lingers for 15-year-old Rimsha

Youth Skills in South Asia

UNICEF Pakistan
Rimsha, an adolescent girl, leads two younger girls down a dirt road by hand. They are wearing matching blue and white uniforms. A brick shelter and larger building with beige plaster walls is in the background.
UNICEF Pakistan/2019/Zaidi
26 September 2019

Lahore, Pakistan – It took 13 years for Rimsha to step inside of a classroom.

“It was only when we moved to a slum on the outskirts of Lahore that I got my first taste of school,” Rimsha said. “Before then, we lived in a village where work was considered more important than studying.”

Until she turned 13, Rimsha was just one of 8.6 million girls in Pakistan who were not in primary school. The country has the world’s second-highest number of out of school children, with 22.8 million – 44 per cent of the total population – currently out of school.

For Rimsha, that all changed when she began attending classes at the Accelerated Learning Programme Centre in Lahore. These centres, which are supported by UNICEF, help out-of- school children catch up with their peers in the classroom. The hope is that, eventually, these children will gain the education needed able to enter the formal school system.

“My teacher said I can complete my education faster and cover two classes in a year if I work hard enough,” Rimsha said. “And you know what? I think I can do it. It will be tough, but I can always give it a try.”

Rimsha smiles at the camera in class. Part of another girl's face is visible behind her.
UNICEF Pakistan/2019/Zaidi
Rimsha smiles at the Accelerated Learning Programme Centre.

Still, the thought of dropping out terrifies Rimsha. Her father drives rented vehicles to transport wholesale grocery items, and her mother works as a maid for a nearby family. Even with Rimsha helping out after school, the family barely earns enough to make ends meet. Though she’s been going to school for two years now, Rimsha often has to skip class to work with her mother.

“I discussed it with my parents, and they promised to support me as much as they can,” Rimsha said. “Every day, when I return from school, my dad fetches water for me. He asks me about my day and tells me to rest before I leave for work. But after an entire month, I earn just 1,000 rupees ($6) cleaning and washing clothes for a family in our neighbourhood. I worry that eventually, I will have to take up additional work to earn more and help my family, which means I will have to stop going to school.”

Rimsha is also worried about transitioning from primary to secondary school. The latter is far from their home, making it risky for Rimsha to walk there alone. And because her dad works at night, it would be impossible for Rimsha to get a ride to school.

“I want to continue learning, but sometimes I fear I may have to quit – maybe after grade five,” Rimsha said.

Rimsha and her friend look over their shoulders to smile at the camera. In the blurred background are children sitting and a puppet theatre.
UNICEF Pakistan/2019/Zaidi
Rimsha poses with a friend at the Accelerated Learning Programme Centre. The girls are attending a puppet theatre, a form of educational entertainment offered by the programme that gives children a chance to engage in extra-curricular activities.