Changing the lives
of our children
belief in educating all
education at an affordable price
garage to the rest of their lives
the future of thousands
In the absence of political will and vision, bringing government schools at par with their counterparts in the private sector may seem an impossible task. However, organisations such as Zindagi Trust and Book Group are working hard to prove us wrong
By Rabia Ali
With a twinkle in her eyes and some magic in her fingers, Suman Asghar gently eases her brush to create vibrant strokes in the spacious art room at her school. All around her, children are relishing the simple task of giving life to their dreams and their imagination. There are colourful birds, flowers and airplanes. In this class, there is no compulsion to draw what is given. There is freedom and creativity in the air.
But things were not this way always. Two years ago, Suman's school - the SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School, was a regular "Peela school" - dour teachers, outdated books and crumbling walls. But things changed for the better in 2007 when two private entities - the Zindagi Trust and the Book Group adopted the school and went in to transform the lives of the 2,300 girls studying here.
Laraib, a tenth grade student and a member of the Student Council tells Kolachi, "I love it here." There are many girls like Laraib who say they never want to leave this island of creativity and education - even after completing their studies. "I want to return here as a teacher," she adds. Over here, there are facilities that most private schools can't offer. "Life here is simply beautiful."
But a lot of hard work goes into creating this atmosphere. Hameedah Sayani, the Project Coordinator of the school tells Kolachi about the long journey. "The first step was to merge all the seven schools that were running in this building and give it under the command of one principal."
After securing a notification from the Sindh government to adopt the school, administrative changes came into place on November 2007. The two-shift system was done away with to make way for a single morning shift. The number of children was also rationalised so that classes were sized evenly. In some classes there were as many as 100 pupils. Now there are not more than 40.
"We decided to give every Saturday off and began new academic session from August," adds Sayani, and explained that emphasis was placed on attendance, which has risen to 85 per cent. Gradually, Sayani and her team started to effect academic changes. Books on phonics were introduced, along with those produced by the Book Group. The Book Group's specialty has been to produce quality books in Urdu for junior classes.
Curriculum was modified after government approval for a more interactive mode of learning. Pupils now do not take exams until the Seventh grade. Learning modules have been introduced. Girls now get classes in subjects as diverse as pottery, rollerblading, photography, rowing and Tae Kwon Do. A school that was once dilapidated and neglected now has a well resourced library, a state of the art computer lab, a practical science laboratory and even an Audio Visual room.
"The school used to be in a very bad state before," recalls Rabia Yousuf, in charge of the junior section. "Dogs would roam in the premises and the grounds were used for weddings. Most students, hailing from lower income families, were not serious about their studies. Parents could not wait to get them to work instead of study."
But now, things have changed. "The children are learning new things and becoming aware of a whole new world," continues Yousuf. "Their parents are much more willing to send them to school now. They have faith in the future"
But Sayani and her team want to do more. Recently, a breakfast programme was initiated where 120 children, all from the Kindergarten section, now receive their first meal of the day free of cost. "We want to increase the number of students, but lack of funds are a concern," says Sayani. "We would like to add another computer lab, but already the monthly expenditure of the school comes to between Rs1.2 million and Rs1.3 million."
In the final analysis, Hameedah Sayani comments optimistically that things will get better: "We often underestimate our children. They are very smart, hardworking and eager to learn. They should never be discriminated against and our education should be all encompassing. Then we will really see the results."
Why 'adopt' a school?
The SMB Fatima Jinnah Government Girls School is the first undertaking of the Zindagi Trust and the Book Group under the 'Government Schools Reforms' programme. This programme is designed to reform curriculum taught at government schools and to promote quality education, with a focus on extra curricula activities.
Speaking to Kolachi, singer and founder of the Zindagi Trust, Shehzad Roy, explained the concept behind the adoption of the school. "What my team wants to do is to reform four or five public schools to serve as centres of excellence and as role models." Roy says that the ultimate aim is to raise standard of public education by replicating this model.
He notes that only the government can bring the massive changes the education sector greatly needs. "What we all need to understand is that no NGO can reform the system. We can only create exemplary models which the government can follow, but the changes in the education system can only be brought about by the government."
Roy says that his aim is to work on government schools that have some infrastructure. "From where I see it, these schools need the most help, as sub-standard education is destructive and can destroy creativity. We have been successful in shifting the paradigm in this school, and I believe that when the paradigm shifts, the changes take place cannot be stopped by anyone."
A great believer in equality among all students, Roy is adamant that students from the lower income strata of society should be given equal or greater opportunities and facilities. "I want to reduce the class difference that exists between people, especially among students. I want all children to be thinking individuals, with their own concepts, views and opinions. I want to nourish and bring out the talent hidden in them."
Committed to reforming the syllabus taught in the government schools, Roy says, "In our government school, not even a single government book is taught until the eighth grade. We have to force change in the policies, and will continue to do so."
Shining stars of the SMB School
Muqaddas Batool, a 13-year-old studying at the SMB School, couldn't believe her ears when she heard her name being called out as the winner of the Art Prize (Junior Level) at the 10th International Schools Educational Olympiad held in January this year . "I was shocked. My school was the only government school participating in the competition that had 104 schools."
The theme was to paint one's biggest dream. Batool painted her vision to help the poor and needy. She won the award for this. "My parents were extremely proud of me. So was my school." Batool's interest for art grew more after the art room at her school was created. "I love spending time here and often get lost in the colourful ambience of the room. I cherish each and every moment that I spend here."
Another high achiever of the school is Neelum Altaf, a tenth grade student who made her school proud by participating in The Asian Schools Rowing Championship in Sri Lanka, bagging second place. "I started rowing in 2008 when the school introduced rowing classes at the Karachi Boat Club," she says. In January 2009, there was a competition and all top schools of the metropolis, such as Karachi Grammar School and The Lyceum School took part. "We did very well in the competition and won a bronze. Later in the year, we were ecstatic when our names were announced for a competition to be held in Sri Lanka in July. I was selected as the captain of my school's team. During our summer vacations, we trained a lot and worked quite hard."
Despite difficulty in getting family permission, Neelum Altaf finally made it to Sri Lanka. "It was unbelievable. There were 21 schools from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka participating in the competition, and out of them, we stood second."
Continuing she says, "I am very grateful to the Zindagi Trust and the Book Group for bring reforms in the schools. Now the younger students in the school are bi-lingual too. It's like the whole world has changed."
Every morning, Dr Shams Abbasi, 84, arrives in a wheelchair at Aquil's Kids Academy in Qasimabad, a suburb of Hyderabad. She is at hand to personally receive each boy and girl that attends this school
By Jan Khaskheli
The daughter of Qazi Abdul Qayuum, 'Apa Abbasi' was born on January 10, 1924. Formerly Director of the Bureau of Curriculum, Dr Abbasi has a long list of degrees in the field of education. She started her career as a secondary school teacher and went on to become the Principal of a government high school - the Zubaida Government College for Women in Hyderabad. This was the only college for women in Sindh at the time. Dr Abbasi eventually went on to become the Director of Education.
An author of 22 books in both English and Sindhi, Dr Abbasi remains committed to her cause of educating girls from poor families. But her focus is not only on girls but children as a whole.
She established a school in Hyderabad in memory of her late son, Aquil and named it after him. Today the Aquil's Kids Academy attracts a large number of children from all over Hyderabad. A total of 720 students are enrolled here, with separate classes for boys and girls. This segregation, says Dr Abbasi, has meant that many parents agreed to send their daughters to the school. It is a small price to pay.
The Apa Shams Abbasi Library and a spacious auditorium are two of the attractions of the school. A majority of the teachers here are female. Besides providing the children with a sound education, the school celebrates all the national days with enthusiasm, and encourages professionalism in its students and urges them to excel at what they do, be it the desire of becoming politician, play sports, or write.
This is shown in the path Dr Abbasi's former students have taken, many of whom have become well-known, such as Dr Hameeda Khuhro, former Sindh Education Minister, and Mahtab Akbar Rashdi, former Provincial Secretary as well as Maryam Noohani, a former Director of Colleges.
There is a long list of many of Dr Abbasi's other students who are either working in various professions or have retired from higher offices, mostly in the field of education.
From the onset of her career, Dr Abbasi's goal was to educate girls from rural areas. She took this up as a challenge with the belief that this was the only way to bring change in a society dominated by a feudal system. Her mother was her inspiration, having educated all her daughters, despite opposition from both her family and her community.
Dr Abbasi fondly recalls the highlights of her career, in particular the time when a girl whose parents were staunchly against the idea wrote to her asking for her help in attaining higher education. At the time, Dr Abbasi was the principal of Zubaida Government College. She convinced the girl's parents to allow her to continue studying, who agreed on the condition that Dr Abbasi herself supervised the girl's education. Dr Abbasi agreed and brought the girl home, and today, that girl is happily settled after completing her education.
Dr Abbasi's career is filled with several such stories. She has changed many lives. During the course of her mission to promote education, she has also travelled extensively to represent Pakistan, from Australia to America and nearly everywhere in between, including London, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Iran, Turkey, Russia, China, Germany, Kenya, Japan, Italy, Saudi Arabia, and India. The walls of her office at her school are an inspiration to both teachers and students, filled with awards in recognition of her work, and a testament to a dream come true.
The Quaid-e-Azam Public School (QAPS) has been offering a commendable quality of education for the past thirteen years. Providing students with all the necessary facilities, QAPS caters to all segments of society, without bias or discrimination. The school has helped many families give their children an education they would otherwise only dream of
By Rafay Mahmood
"I belong to a village of Balochistan - Zehri Khazdar. As the eldest, my father wants me to study and be a teacher. I live in a hostel at Quaid-e-Azam Public School (QAPS) and can't imagine life studying anywhere else. When I grow up I'm going to serve my country by making education available for everyone," - Aurangzeb, a student of seventh grade and one of the many beneficiaries of the QAPS.
Located in the Darsano Chano Village in the outskirts of Malir in Karachi, the Quaid-e-Azam Public School (QAPS) currently has 650 students. Many of these students come here from remote parts of Sindh and Balochistan.
The classes start from Prep and go up to Higher Secondary School Certificate (HSC). "The motto of QAPS has always been to provide access to education for all and that is why our patron Nisar Ally Effendi, the grandson of K.B. Effendi, chose this location so that people from lower income groups in the outskirts of the city can send their children," Syed Altaf, administrative officer QAPS told Kolachi.
The most appreciable fact about the efforts put in by QAPS is that the students get the facilities of a high quality school with minimal fees. Admission fees ranges from Rs4,000 to Rs8,000 and monthly tuitions from Rs700 to Rs1,200. This is in keeping with the tradition of the Sindh Madressah Board (SMB). This Board has historically played an important role in establishing reputable educational institutions and has laid the foundation of various schools since its establishment.
The fees might sound a little high for very low income groups but one looks at the facilities being offered, that doubt disappears. Coordinator of QAPS Fouzia Khan told Kolachi that the school is equipped with its own Information Technology lab, Arts and Science room as well as a stitching room. For students coming from far-flung areas of Balochistan, Sindh and the Punjab, a fully functional hostel facility is available, including a dining mess.
The students are also equipped with multi purpose rooms that have indoor games as well as standardised labs for every technical science. Although the location is away from Karachi, buses pick students from Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Malir, Gulshan- e-Hadeed and other towns in the vicinity. "There are no favourites in this system. Children of MPAs rub shoulders with poor kids from villages of Sindh and Balochistan. Everyone pays the same fees. Everyone eats the same food and sleeps in similar beds," she adds. Apart from the minimal fees that the parents have to pay, deserving students are also given merit and need based scholarships. These are awarded by the academic council at QAPS. "Students from QAPS have gone to NED University of Engineering and Technology, Baqai Medical College, Karachi University and many other renowned institutes," Altaf informed.
At the same time, the school continues to change and adapt to the needs of the time. "Once we had a student who had done her Intermediate with A-One grade and she wanted us to bear the expenses for her medical education, which is quite a lot. Following this, Effendi and his team decided to create an institute of Homeopathy and Medical Sciences so that students from the school would not have to go elsewhere. This institute has been functioning since 2008."
Although the amount of social work done for the students in interior Sindh is immense, the institute has been running on the funds given by Effendi's friends and the donations they bring in. The government has largely been absent. "It was only in the time of former Chief Minister, Sindh, Arbab Ghulam Rahim that we got a fund of Rs0.5 million from the government. No one has ever taken interest in QAPS since then," the administrator told Kolachi.
But that has not stopped QAPS moving from one strength to another. In this, the dreams of hundreds of people coming from areas that promise them little or no education end up getting quality education at a cost they can afford.
When Shabina Mustafa decided to set up The Garage School (TGS) in November 1999, she had no idea it would do so well. Dedicated to the memory of her late husband, Flight Lieutenant Syed Safi Mustafa, the school was a life-long dream that materialised when her maid's daughter was refused admission in a local school
By Samina Perozani
"Initially, I started teaching the girl myself in my garage," Shabina Mustafa told Kolachi. Later, however, when people from her maid's neighbourhood found out, 13 children came to get enrolled. Today, says Mutafa, the school, located in Clifton, has formal education classes in the morning shift, with 150 students. "We also have informal and vocational classes in the afternoon and at night," she explains.
According to Mustafa, the TGS is focused on changing the lives of the inhabitants of Neelum Colony and Shah Rasool Colony, both of which lie in Clifton, by empowering children through education – both vocational and otherwise.
Setting up the school, however, was a challenge. There was little equipment, the premises was inadequate and funds minimum – problems that were eventually resolved through generous donations made by philanthropists in the city. Of course, the real challenge was ensuring that the education the children received did not go to waste. This is why a sponsorship programme was initiated in which a patron would sponsor 10 or so children and send them to formal schools, ensuring that the education they acquired in the garage would change their lives.
For the students of the school, there has been many a success story. There is, for example, Anil Singh, who studied at the TGS and later enrolled in the BBA programme at the Bahria College. Having graduated from the college, Singh now not only has a job, but is earning enough to support his family. It is this desire for change, says Mustafa that encourages parents to send their children to the TGS. "They really want to try and make a difference in the lives of their children," she adds.
As well as this, the economic opportunity – provided via the vocational programme at the school – is yet another reason for parents to consider sending their children there. Mustafa stresses that one of the aims of the TGS is to provide education that is not limited to textbooks. "Since most of the children who come here are from low-income groups, they do not know much about health, hygiene, and a proper diet," she said. Thus, Mustafa along with the teachers at the school, have tried to inculcate good hygiene habits in the children and teach both them and their parents about foods that are a source of nutrition. Milk and cookies are provided on a regular basis.
As with most such endeavours, the school provides education free of cost. However, to discourage them from playing truant, there is a two-rupee absentee fine for a child missing a day of school.
More so, unlike several other schools, the TGS does not discriminate on the basis of religion. As Mustafa says, "Everyone is equal here, no matter what their background. At my school, everyone is a human being, regardless of their religion or race."
By Samia Saleem
For many in Karachi, getting admission in a leading business school may not be as big a feat as it was for Anum Fatima, daughter of a driver living in Yousuf Goth, Karachi. Being the sole bread-earner for the family, it was difficult for her father to support the whole family let alone support his daughters' study. However, Anum not only got admission in the Institute of Business Management (IoBM), a leading business school, but was also the only one in her family to study above grade 10.
The story of Durdana Rehman from Roranwala and Saba Hameed from Lahore is also similar. They also achieved academic excellence. Durdana got admission in one of the most prestigious medical colleges of Lahore, the Fatima Jinnah Medical College, and Saba Hameed secured the third position in Lahore Intermediate Board. All of these zealous students coming from the lowest rung of society with poor socio-economic backgrounds are held by a common thread: their school.
The schools of these young girls are part of the same organisation: The Citizen's Foundation (TCF). This is a non–profit organisation and was established by like-minded visionaries in 1996 in Karachi. Since then it has reached a landmark of having 600 operational school-units in 63 different locations countrywide and has a total number of 80,000 students. All of the TCF schools are situated in the urban-slums and under-privileged rural areas of Pakistan providing education to the young and bright minds there. Every school unit is built on the same pattern having state-of-the-art buildings with a playground, library, labs and other recreational facilities.
The reason why we see these bright stars such as Anum, Durdana and Saba emerging in society despite all social and economic odds, is that the TCF has taken full care of the emotional and psychological needs of their students. The curriculum is continuously reviewed and advanced and teachers are regularly trained to keep abreast with the changing system and needs.
Among the under-developed areas where these schools are operating, men are often given more privilege and priority over women. A milestone achieved by the foundation was gender parity whereby there is a 50:50 male-female student ratio. Such a commendable ratio of male-female literacy can hope to end gender biases in the rural slums while lessening the 72 per cent female illiteracy in the country, say TCF teachers and parents.
"If my daughter gets a decent education she will be able to stand up in society and not become a woman like me," says a sad mother of a female student studying in grade seven. For people like her, the TCF has changed lives by giving them hope for a better future for their children which they can't afford due to lack of resources.
The foundation also boasts of having a teaching staff of 4,150 all female faculty members, thereby creating jobs for females and ensuring that it does not impede people in sending their daughters to schools because of male staff. "We not only get to work in a secure and protected environment but also get chances of personal growth and development," said a school teacher who comes from an urban-slum area and otherwise would not have been allowed to work. Being a philanthropic organisation, the TCF has many achievements to its credit like creating jobs, giving women their due share in society and imparting education to under privileged children.
As the gates of the TCF schools open every day, the light on the bright faces of the children and hope in the hearts of their parents, speak of not just a better future for them but also for Pakistan as a whole!
Jugnoo -- lighting up lives
The TCF started 'Jugnoo' - an Adult Literacy programme in collaboration with New Century Education (NCE), and a local food manufacturing company in 2005. It is specifically aimed at tutoring adult students, their families and the school's domestic staff to read and write in Urdu and do simple mathematical calculations. Teachers are especially hired and trained to teach the adults enrolled in Jugnoo programme, which is well into its third year now. The TCF and NCE teams hold motivational sessions with the TCF students to pursue their families and other relatives to attend this programme which has received a tremendously positive response.