Nadeem Hussain’s father moved to Karachi from rural Sindh 25 years ago in search of employment. He found work in a wire factory and took up residence in a slum called Ibrahim Goth. There was no school nearby, public or private, until The Citizens Foundation (TCF) built one in the area.
“My mother had finished primary schooling and she taught me the basics,” says Nadeem. “When the TCF school opened she immediately enrolled me in Class 4 and told me to work hard.” TCF teachers had to convince other parents in the area to put their children in school, he recalls.
Nadeem did exactly what his mother asked, maintaining 1st position throughout his school career. Today he studies at Karachi’s prestigious Institute of Business Administration (IBA). He is set to graduate in a few months with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Sciences and a minor in the Social Sciences.
TCF operates 910 purpose-built schools in 97 cities and towns across Pakistan, with a total enrolment of 126,000. They employ an all-female faculty of 6,300 teachers and encourage girls’ education, striving to make sure at least half of the students in all campuses are girls. Scholarships are available for students from low-income households, with many families paying as little at 10 rupees a month for their children’s education.
The TCF model is pioneering and innovative, offering low-cost high-quality education. This is possible in part by recruiting teachers of high calibre who are invested in the organisation and in the students. The merit-based system of professionally trained teachers, along with regular monitoring and evaluation, ensures that TCF schools far outperform their counterparts in the public sector.
“There’s a big difference between TCF and other public and private schools in underprivileged areas,” says Nadeem. “TCF teachers are highly motivated and dedicated, and they know how to teach.” If a student didn’t understand a concept, the teacher would stay after class and spend time coaching them. “In fact, I have to say, our teachers were outstanding.”
Another unique aspect of the TCF model is the fact that they construct purpose-built schools, creating a safe environment that is conducive to learning. Their schools are designed by architects and contain all essential facilities along with libraries, laboratories and art rooms, to provide a holistic learning experience. While TCF schools follow the curriculum set by the respective provincial boards, they employ modern teaching methods. Finally, by providing scholarships, subsidised books and uniforms, as well as payment plans, TCF helps to make quality education accessible even for families living in extreme poverty.
Nadeem took first position in his Matriculation exams and won a scholarship to complete Intermediate studies at Karachi’s DJ Science College. Thereafter he secured a full scholarship to IBA, which covers tuition and room and board, and provides him with a monthly stipend of 3,000 rupees. Nadeem was also one of 25 Pakistanis chosen for the Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Student Leaders programme on Comparative Public Policy.
The TCF story is not just about providing low-cost, high-quality education; it is about building futures and uplifting communities. There are 25 million children in Pakistan today who do not go to school. What is even more troubling is the fact that low-income families often see no point in investing in their children’s education because they fail to see how learning will pay off in the long term. The greatest achievement of the TCF model is that it demonstrates to families—and to communities—the tangible benefits of educating their children. The TCF system is designed to open a window into the future, providing a path for young people to pursue higher education and creating opportunities for them to become productive members of society.
TCF has to date created more than 9,000 jobs in the communities where they have set up schools. This allows communities to take ownership of the schools and support their work.
“TCF aims to remove barriers of class and privilege, to provide everyone with equal opportunities,” says Nadeem. “At university I study with a girl whose father owns the factory where my father has worked for more than 25 years.” Today TCF students compete with children from the most exclusive private schools in the country.
The TCF story starts with a group of concerned citizens believing they could bring hope to the lives of poor communities, stepping in where the government had failed. It is an example of citizens taking ownership of a critical issue—education—and working collectively to find a solution. The story of TCF’s success demonstrates that nothing is impossible when a group of like-minded individuals decide to pool their resources to become agents of positive change.