Katharina Cavano l Palladium - Nov 24 2023
A Non-Traditional Local Approach is Getting Pakistan's Girls Back to School

In rural areas of Pakistan, nearly 92% of children rely on government schools for education, and too many of them are out of school due to poverty, conflict, access, and inadequate primary school infrastructure. The problem is particularly acute in the Buner and Upper Dir districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which shares borders with Afghanistan and is home to one of the oldest cities in South Asia.

According to some reports, 4.7 million children ages 5-16 in the region do not go to school.

Though the government and donors alike have made efforts to boost enrolment, the absence of schools means that the initiatives are moot. The province has over 30,000 schools, but another 30,000 are needed and it would take at least five years to develop the necessary infrastructure. What’s more, COVID-19 had a severe impact, closing schools for more than a year in an already fragile education system.

Since 2021, NPI EXPAND has worked in Pakistan to implement NPI EXPAND's USAID-funded Human Development Activity. (HDA) to advance locally led development agendas in education, health, and family planning sectors in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province through fifteen local partners. One solution is Accelerated Learning Programs (ALP), or informal education centres.

“The primary goal of the accelerated learning program is to offer students the chance to finish their ALP course at their grade level and then integrate them into the formal school system. This helps them become part of the mainstream educational system, no matter their age,” explains Dr Javeria Swathi, County Team Lead on the program. Initially, the transition of students from ALP centres to formal schools was challenging because of the willingness of school headteachers or other authorities to accept these students, many of whom had crossed over the age limit to attend school.

“Alongside our partners, we worked with the education department to ensure that ALP students could continue their education in government schools upon successful completion of their ALP courses,” she adds. “Every ALP graduate receives a certificate, signed by the relevant District Education Officer.”

Partnering Locally for Success

To address the social and gender barriers in education and out-of-school children’s needs, NPI EXPAND HDA awarded grants to six local partners to enhance access to basic education, with a particular focus on adolescent girls in Buner and Upper Dir. Not only did the program support grantees to equip each ALP centre with teaching and learning material including teaching guides, textbooks, school bags, and stationery for teachers and students, but raised awareness about the centres and helped motivate the local community to enrol students.

Through these grants, the program’s partners have successfully enrolled 10,340 students, 87% of which are girls from the region. Two hundred and seventy-four ALP centres in both districts have become safe havens for girls who have either dropped out after completing primary school or never attended in the first place.

The initiative has also created a sustainable pool of highly skilled educators, including 553 teachers trained on the ALP curriculum by master trainers from the Directorate of Professional Development.

“Careful selection of teachers was a critical aspect of this program to ensure that they belonged to the local community and were deeply invested in the success of the ALP centres,” says Dr Swathi. She shares the example of Haram Bibi, a local teacher who overcame her hearing disability and other challenges to become the first graduate in her family. The ALP curriculum provided her with an opportunity to give back to the girls from her community, and she motivated 30 adolescent girls from her village to enrol in the ALP program, all of whom completed their program and graduated.

“The ALP centres are an example of how fostering collaborative effort, community engagement, and commitment to bring children – especially girls – to school can culminate in a sustainable support mechanism for the education department to ensure that children can continue with their education,” Dr Swathi concludes.

Across both districts, NPI EXPAND has established 274 ALP centres, and Dr Swathi says that nearly all of them have recently received funding from both government and independent foundations that will sustain and expand them beyond the life of the project. They’ll continue providing education to over 7,000 children, the majority of whom are young girls.

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