There is no shortage of
criticism of the NGO sector in Pakistan. Stories of mismanagement of funds,
corruption and a failure to deliver whatever goods were promised, abound.
Despite the often negative press there are thousands of organisations large
and small that do deliver the goods, and one of those doing the delivering in
considerable quantity is The Citizens Foundation (TCF).
What they deliver is
education, and they are almost breathtakingly good at it. They now have a
presence in every province, with schools in 83 towns and cities. As of April
2011 there are 730 schools and 102,000 students, with an almost 50/50 gender
ratio. Additionally, by the end of this year they will have about 4,800
adults learning to read and write in 140 centres nationwide. All their
teachers are women, the schools are all built to a high standard and the TCF
owns the land all the schools are built on.
Teacher absenteeism is very
low compared to government and many other private schools, and most of the
schools have a awaiting list of children seeking admission. All of the
teachers have received training and training is ongoing throughout every
teacher’s period of employment. All the schools are located in urban slums
or impoverished rural areas.
For such a large
organisation their office staffing is low — 280 against 5,400 faculty staff
and 2,500 school support staff. The TCF publishes regular newsletters and
their accounts are both transparent and annually audited by a reputable
auditor. So good is their bookkeeping they have won awards for it — most
recently the International Award by the South Asian Federation of Accounts (SAFA).
The organisation has pledged to enrol an additional 10,000 out of school
children in 2012.
Clearly the TCF is a
success. So how do they do it - deliver quality education at a price that
even the very poor are prepared to pay? The answer lies in the pockets of the
Pakistan diaspora and in the vision of the people who set the scheme up in
1995. Organisationally they are one of the few Pakistan NGOs to have a
professional management team coupled with high levels of governance.
This ensures that standards
are maintained and the ethical values of the organisation secured. From the
outset the schools have been co-educational and the curriculum, whilst in
line with whatever local requirements are, is modified and updated regularly
in order to give students the best possible educational experience — a
better experience than many children from much more privileged backgrounds
might get. And all made possible by the generosity of people of Pakistani
One of our unsung strengths
is our generosity, but we often wonder where it is that our money is going
whenever we donate to a seemingly worthy cause. With TCF donors know where
their hard-earned money is going, there are tangible results.
I cast my critical eye over
two TCF schools recently, one of them their maiden project in a desperately
poor part of Karachi, home to Bengali-speaking fisherfolk. I have lost count
of the number of schools I have visited in Pakistan over almost 20 years,
from the deserts of south Punjab to the mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan. It
would be fair to say that I have a well-developed sense of cynicism, and
rarely find that the education being delivered is much beyond mediocre even
in some of the more expensive schools I have seen. But with the TCF — and
this was my first visit to TCF schools - clearly there is something very
different in the works.
Entering from noisome
foetid alleys the school was a point of light. There were green plants
everywhere that looked like somebody actually cared for them (also present in
the second much larger school I visited that day) and the courtyard was
festooned with students artwork. A smiling Principal led the tour. Class
sizes were a little over thirty and the classrooms were light and airy. The
children were confident and seemed happy at their work and the teachers were
attentive, listening to what the children had to say. Textbooks were of
outstanding quality — some of the best I have seen in Pakistan — likewise
the equipment in the classrooms. There was no sense of make-do or second-best
And there was a little pot
on a desk. A pot of ointment to ease the soreness of the hands of the
children who shell shrimps when they are not at their lessons. That little
pot perhaps told me more about the TCF than any annual report or website. It
spoke volumes about caring, of a sense of simple humanity, of kindness, of an
organisation that got the detail right in the context of the big picture. The
quiet success of The Citizens Foundation is something we can all be proud of,
because they really are building a better future.
Education for the masses - All our schools are located in urban slums
and rural areas of Pakistan. These are areas characterized by extreme
poverty, where people neither have the means nor access to quality education.
National presence - We are present in 83 different locations
nationally, with enrollment of 102,000 students
Through the power of quality
education enabling moral, spiritual, and intellectual enlightenment. Creating
opportunities to improve quality of life.
Professional management - We are one of the few non-profit
organizations in Pakistan that are professionally managed by a team of highly
dedicated managers and staff employed on a full-time basis.
High level of governance - We have been assigned a non-profit
organization governance rating of GR8+ by JCR-VIS Credit Rating Co Ltd. These
ratings are based on a scale ranging from GR-1 (lowest) to GR-10 (highest).
The assigned rating denotes a high level of governance in TCF.
Certified by Pakistan Centre for Philanthropy - We have been certified
by the PCP after a detailed desk review, field evaluation and approved by
their Certification Panel. Certification by PCP is a seal for organizations
that exhibit exemplary standards in organizational effectiveness. TCF is
amongst the highest scoring organisations certified by PCP to date.
Purpose built schools - Our schools are designed by reputed firms of
architects and are complete with a library, art room and all essential
facilities such as water, electricity, toilets, play area, furniture etc.
Scholarships & assistance - Scholarship upto 95% may be provided
to all needy students, resulting in many students paying as little Rs 10 per
month. Books and uniforms are heavily subsidized and provided at easy
Co-education system with a balanced gender ratio - Female student
representation in our schools in most cases is 50%.
Comprehensive & dynamic curriculum - Although our schools follow a
curriculum in line with the officially prescribed syllabus by the board of
their respective region, it is suitably modified and regularly updated to
meet the demands of modern-day education. This is done to ensure that
students in TCF schools receive the most up-to-date education available.
Regular quality assessment -€“TCF Education Program is regularly
evaluated through periodic inspections and assessments to ensure that the
quality of education delivery is up to TCF prescribed high standards.
Trained teachers an a dedicated teacher training centre - Education in
our schools is imparted through formally trained teachers, hired strictly on
merit basis. TCF organizes an extensive Pre-Service Training (PRESET) for its
new staff every year. This training is spread over 100 hours of various
modules dealing with child psychology, learning styles, assessment methods
and child-centered teaching strategies. Apart from PRESET, rigorous
In-Service Training (INSET) is conducted every summer to keep our existing
faculty abreast with new trends and pedagogy in teaching.
Complete education under one system - Our students have the
opportunity to obtain complete primary and secondary education (up to Grade
X) under one schooling system, thereby giving them consistency in environment
as well as the quality of education.
No discrimination - Our education program is open to all persons and
communities, regardless of their race, color, creed, religion or location.
Promoting women employment - We only hire female faculty and presently
there are 5, 400 teachers and principals across all our schools.
The education panacea - Through education, TCF aims to transform
children’s lives in many distinct ways -€“better health care, family
planning, and a tolerant and positive attitude towards society.
Courtesy - http://www.thecitizensfoundation.org/
dreams a reality
Sidra Saleem is the only
student in her class at school who has made it to university. She wears a lab
coat, and the confidence she carries herself with hides the years of struggle
she has put in to get into a medical university.
She began her schooling
from kindergarten, when The Citizen Foundation opened a school in the
deprived area of Ibrahim Goth. The experience changed her life. “It was the
first school in the area. The neighbourhood had no roads, and the nearest bus
stop is a 30- minute walk,” she says.
Sidra is the middle child
of her family, and has four siblings. In their own ways, all of them have
done well academically. The oldest is a sister, enrolled in an MBA programme
at Bahria University. Then there is a brother Nadeem Hussain who is currently
at the prestigious Institute of Business Administration and then Sidra, a
first year student at Dow University of Health Sciences. Sidra made it to the
highly competitive Dow purely on merit as did her siblings. The youngest two,
like their older brother and sisters, are also studying at The Citizen
Foundation, and they too dare to dream big.
The younger sister wants to
go to the Lahore University of Management Sciences, and the youngest of the
lot goes a mile ahead — he dreams of Harvard.
If it had not been for the
Citizen Foundation, these children would have never seen their dreams take
When Nadeem completed his
intermediate, he gave the test for the IBA, but he had no idea about the fee
structure, and the scholarship programme at the university. He holds Ishrat
Hussain, the Dean of the IBA, in high esteem, because when TCF contacted him
he was “very cooperative”. Nadeem received admission not only on zero
tuition fees, but the scholarship came with free logistic and transport,
which “no other student at IBA is receiving currently,” he claims. Books
were still a problem, so he applied for the National Talent Hunt Programme at
the IBA which will extend the scholarship to course books and a monthly
stipend as well. Currently, living at the IBA boys’ hostel, he is waiting
for his Bachelors’ to end, after which he says, “I will think of
Sidra, meanwhile, is
grateful to both her parents and her teachers for her success. “The only
reason I was able to get into a medical school was because my parents
supported me and my teachers guided me to proper intermediate colleges,”
Sidra says. The others from her
class either dropped out because of financial pressures, or scored too low in
their intermediate “because of the state of colleges in the city”.
“Often poor families tell
their girls to sit at home, because most colleges are too far away, and there
was no access to public transport in the area. But my father was different.
He would excuse himself from the wire factory he works in, and walk for 30
minutes with me to the bus stop”.
Looking around her
neighbourhood saddens her, “because a lot of talent goes to waste due to
lack of facilities. Ironically, there are students at my university who have
scored 80 percent in their intermediate but fail to impress me. There were
smarter students in my class. They should have been here, not them”.
The family from Ibrahim
Goth is like a lotus in a stagnant pond; they stand out from the rest,
because their children dream and their parents help them live up to their
dreams. Their children walk with confidence and do not hide their humble
background in the affluent crowd they are moving in today, because “it
takes time to settle in”, but then they got where they are on ‘pure
merit’. The Citizens
Foundation School they went to gave them the confidence and opportunity to