Non-formal education centres help out-of-school girls learn in Pakistan’s Punjab

With funds from UNICEF Norway and assistance from UNICEF Pakistan, Govt. of Punjab is expanding accelerated learning opportunities for out-of-school girls

A. Sami Malik
Malook Akram
UNICEF/Pakistan/Sami Malik
20 April 2022

Bahawalpur, Southern Punjab, Pakistan – 8 April 2022: “Education has given me the confidence to fulfil my dreams,” says 16-year-old Malook Akram.

Driven by her ambition to become a teacher, Malook is enthusiastically pursuing her education at the Accelerated Education Programme (AEP) centre in Basti Jhabail, Bahawalpur district of Punjab province in Pakistan.

She was enrolled in the centre four years ago and will be completing her primary education very soon.

The AEP centre was set up in 2015 by the Literacy and Non-Formal Basic Education (LNFBE) Department, Punjab with funding from the Norwegian National Committee for UNICEF, and technical assistance from UNICEF Pakistan.

Access to quality learning at the centre, has made it easy for Malook and many other girls of the village to follow their dreams through attaining education. Many of them had never been enrolled in a school ever before.  

Born as the second child to Muhammad Akram, a local farmer, and his wife Salma, Malook is one of their six children. Akram and Salma were not keen on sending their children to school. They thought it wasn’t important as boys are to work in the fields and girls should stay home to help with household chores.

“My father, while working in the fields used to see boys and girls going to the centre carrying their school bags,” Malook explains how her parent’s views changed towards education. “My parents would often discuss about other families in the village that had enrolled their children in the AEP centre but decided to send us to school only when teacher Razia visited our house and convinced them.”

Girls walk through the fields carrying UNICEF school bags
UNICEF/Pakistan/Sami Malik
Going to the AEP Basti Jhabail, girls walk through the fields carrying UNICEF school bags.

Razia Latif is the teacher and the lifeline behind AEP centre, Basti Jhabail. When the LNFBE Department approached the village community for opening a centre in Basti Jhabail, Razia volunteered her house to be used as the centre and offered her services as a teacher. With a bachelor’s degree in education, she has always been a staunch advocate for educating girls.  

“Every girl in our village is keen to learn but most of them stayed away from education for different reasons,” explains Razia.  Some never got enrolled due to their parent’s conservative views about education or the school being too far. Some who did enroll, dropped out before completing the primary level. And some were married off at an early age. I was fortunate to complete my education which motivated me to impart education to younger generations.”  

In 2018,  LNFBE Department Punjab and UNICEF expanded the programme by setting up 240 AEP centres in six districts of Punjab, where the number of out-of-school girls was particularly high. 

“It wasn’t easy to begin with”, Razia recalls. “There was no public school in our village for girls and there still is not. The community was not inclined to send their daughters all the way to the school in the city. When the AEP centre was established in Basti Jhabail, I took upon myself to approach and convince community members to enroll their girls. I would teach in the morning and move from house to house in the afternoon identifying out-of-school girls and persuading their parents. Gradually, the community’s views on girls’ education started to change.”

Razia visiting Malook’s house
UNICEF/Pakistan/Sami Malik
During the school closure due to COVID19 pandemic, Razia would often visit Malook’s house to give her assignments and help with her lessons so that her learning process would continue.

Currently, there are 80 children enrolled in the AEP, Basti Jhabail, of which 50 are girls. There are two teachers in the centre and students are spilt into two groups – one group has children of age 4 and 5, and the other group has children and adolescents between age 6 to 16 years. 

The younger children are between 4 to 5 years of age and the older are between 5 to 16 years. Students are pursuing a 48-month programme which would enable them to complete primary education.

Overall, there are 240 AEP centers operating in six districts of Punjab with around 10,000 children enrolled. Nearly 60 percent are girls. A total of 480 teachers are working in these centres who have received capacity building and skills development training which has resulted in improved teaching and learning practices.

The Programme is providing easy access to education for out-of-school children and adolescents, particularly girls, leading to their transition and mainstreaming to lower secondary grades in public schools. 

Razia Latif and another teacher conduct lessons
UNICEF/Pakistan/Sami Malik
Razia Latif and another teacher conduct lessons in AEP Basti Jhabail, Bahawalpur district, Sindh province.

Child friendly learning methodology has been adapted in the AEP centres. It features play-based curricular and extra-curricular activities, sports and engaging in dialogue to promote values of co-existence, trust and respect for diversity among students. Community engagement is an integral element of the AEP to generate an overall positive attitude towards girl’s education.

“My parents are now very supportive and involved in our education,” says Malook. “My younger brother is also enrolled in the centre and like my elder sister, we too intend to continue our studies after completing primary education.”

“Malook and many other adolescent girls enrolled in 240 AEPs/ALPS are a source inspiration,” says Rubina Nadeem, Education Specialist UNICEF. “The opportunity to access education has been possible due to the generous support from UNICEF Norway through which these centres have been established in marginalized areas of South Punjab. The assistance has been of utmost significance during COVID-19 pandemic as students were reached out with learning material that helped them to continue learning during school closures. The scaling up of this ALPs/AEPs model could be a game changer for enrollment of out-of-school children, and especially for adolescent girls.”

Malook’s parents, Akram and Salma
UNICEF/Pakistan/Sami Malik
Malook’s parents, Akram and Salma sit with her in their courtyard as she works through her lessons. They are very supportive and keen about their children getting education to fulfil their dreams.