As Malcolm X once said, “education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Those words have resonated with countless people around the world. The NGO Zindagi Trust has taken on the task of reforming education in Pakistan, a country plagued by corruption and poverty.

According to the World Bank, in 2013 Pakistan had an enrollment rate of 92% when it came to students in primary schools. Unfortunately, that number drops to 38% when enrollment is in regards to secondary schools.

In a nation with a population of 185 million people, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are currently 73.8 million Pakistani children under the age of 18. With 40% of the population lacking adequate schooling, educational reforms are more important than ever.

Zindagi Trust works by reforming public schools, educating working children and lobbying the government to improve education policies. They believe these three foci are the best way to improve children’s education.

Their focus was developed to combat what they assess as the primary failure of the educational system. Most Pakistani children (85%) currently attend public government-run schools. According to Zindagi Trust, these schools are plagued by low teacher attendance, deteriorating buildings, inadequate learning facilities, and a curriculum and teacher culture that lacks any sort of creativity.

Their philosophy is that reforming existing schools is the best business proposition for an education provider because the expensive infrastructure (land, building, fixtures, basic furniture) are already present. By creating a successful model for reform in government schools, they can have more impact than 100 private schools would and save a lot of money that can be used for other projects.

In 2007, they implemented their strategy by taking over a government-run school in Karachi called the SMB Fatima Jinnah Government’s Girls School. It comprised of eight schools on one campus with independent teachers and administrators who were not working together. They honed in on five factors to reform the institution.

Infrastructure Rehabilitation

This included laying down a new football pitch, paving the school grounds and updating the fences and securities measures, providing filtered drinking water taps, and even cleaning out stray animals such as dogs that lived in the classrooms.

Administration Changes

The lack of competent administrators and teachers led to a situation where regulations were not properly being followed and a culture of student neglect was thriving. Zindagi Trust merged all the administrators into one unit, creating rigorous protocols for teacher and student attendance and performance. They also banned outsiders from throwing parties on the then deteriorating football grounds.

Academic Innovation and Planning

Previously, teachers were unorganized and textbooks were outdated. Zindagi Trust implemented modern thought-provoking textbooks and hired academic coordinators for English, mathematics and science to plan syllabi with learning outcomes and timelines, design tests, monitor progress, and observe and train teachers.

Teacher Reforms

To combat the teachers’ culture of inconsistency, Zindagi Trust began monitoring teacher attendance and penalized staff for unreported absences, lateness and shirking duties. This helped to bring consistency to the classrooms and better learning outcomes for students.

Student Affairs

Creativity is one of the greatest strengths of education. Students were given access to facilities they previously had never seen. Learning modules were created to allow students to explore art and sports such as cricket and Taekwondo. The school provides modules for sexual health and abuse awareness. There is even a chess club on campus.

The Zindagi Trust school model has been a success. Students have been successfully completing coursework and the government is currently taking notice. In July of 2011, the Sindh Education Secretary issued a notification approving the School Consolidation Policy that aims to merge adjoining and nearby schools into one campus under one administration, based on the Fatimah Jinnah Girls School model.

Recently, at the Oslo summit on Education and Development, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif committed to the vision of the Oslo leadership and said he shared that vision in educating all Pakistani children. He met with Ms. Malala Yousafzai and spoke about their shared responsibility to provide universal education to their country.

The United States must continue to provide aid to organizations such as the Zindagi Trust as they rebuild the Pakistani education system. Pakistan is a strategic ally to the United States and an established trading partner in the textile industry. The country’s uneducated population is living on pennies which is preventing the nation from becoming larger consumers of American exports. Coupled with their geographical location in regards to Afghanistan, it is in the best interest of the United States to support Pakistanis in receiving education, as they hold the passport to the future relationship between the United States and Pakistan.

– Adnan Khalid

Sources: New Delhi TV, UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank 1, World Bank 2, Zindagi Trust
Photo: Al-Mehran Public School High