Story 05 - 17 February 2014 – Developments In Literacy Network: Taking Learning To Remote Areas

Creating a programme that not only educates children but also engages entire communities is a challenge that non-governmental organisations have often attempted but rarely succeeded in doing. One organisation, Developments in Literacy (DIL), has managed to make this happen, tapping into the good will and resources of the Pakistanis living abroad and within the country.

“It is very heartening to see people in the US, UK, Canada, Dubai, Hong Kong, Pakistan and many other countries, setting up forums and organising events to raise awareness as well as funds for making education accessible, especially in rural areas of Pakistan” Jennifer Bennett, Executive Director of the DIL Network. “Around 80-90 per cent of our funding that goes directly to beneficiaries comes from the diaspora and the local philanthropists.”

DIL believes that no child in Pakistan, no matter how poor or underprivileged, should be denied access to quality education. All children should have equal opportunity to reach their full potential and contribute toward the socio-economic betterment of their communities.

Today, DIL Pakistan runs 121 schools in three provinces, catering to 19,176 students in the underserved areas of Pakistan. Their theory of change is based on the idea of empowering underprivileged children, especially girls. Literacy among Pakistani women is very low, at just 38 per cent. DIL schools aim to address this problem, making sure that at least 65 per cent of their students are girls.

The student-centred model at DIL schools offers a holistic system of education that includes curriculum enhancement, computer labs, libraries, reading programmes and extra-curricular activities, all aimed at enriching the learning experience. “There is a focus on quality in our education,” says Bennett, “and what is unique is our model of management and monitoring to ensure the sustainability of our programmes.”

The DIL Pakistan runs a total of nine projects which include schools but also gateway initiatives like vocational training, internship placements and skills development programmes. Bennett says that DIL makes an effort to work with the communities where their schools are located. “We engage with communities to form sustainable systems. We involve the youth, even if they don’t attend our schools. We do this through our gateway programmes that offer essential life skills.”

DIL pride themselves on teacher training, which forms a critical part of their overall model. So far DIL has imparted 36,771 cumulative trainings to teachers, who not only acquire the technical skills required to be effective teachers but also learn the wider philosophy that underpins DIL’s engagement with the communities in which they work.

Anjum Sojhro’s story is typical. Her family lives in Sojhro Chandio, a small village in Sindh. They sent Anjum to Karachi to serve as a domestic worker. Unable to attend school in her village, where girls’ education was frowned upon, her family was encouraged by the promise that while working in Karachi she would also be allowed to attend school. “In Karachi I could have gone to school because no one in the village would have found out,” she recalls. But this never happened. The only time Anjum saw the inside of a classroom was when she accompanied her employers’ children to their classes. One year Anjum returned home for the holidays to find a DIL school had opened in her village. She wanted to stay at home and study in the DIL school but her parents refused. Eventually a teacher from the school approached her parents and persuaded them to change their minds. This is typical of the DIL approach. “The results have been amazing,” says Bennett. “Our students say they have gained confidence by going to our schools, and that they have a voice to speak to people and tell them ‘this is who we are and this is what we can do.’”

Similarly, DIL offers incentives to students and staff to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills to parents who are not educated. “We ask our students and teachers to teach their mothers and family members mathematics and reading, and in return they receive a solar-powered light for their homes.”

DIL schools emphasise creativity and critical thinking. They do this through activity-based lesson plans, where students improve their knowledge and understanding through active learning. This approach has increased student retention, as well as learning outcomes.

The organisation provides scholarships to young men and women pursuing higher education, awarding thousands of scholarships. They help secure internships for their students and invite former students to join DIL as teachers after graduation. Low-interest loans are available for community members seeking to start small businesses.

The DIL Network set up its first schools in Mianwali and Khairpur 16 years ago. Today, more than 180,620 students have been enrolled in different DIL schools since. They currently operate 56 schools in Sindh, 26 in the Punjab, 33 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 6 schools in Islamabad Capital Territory. A total of 932 teachers are providing education to 19,176 students in these regions. Transparency, monitoring and evaluation are key components of DIL’s model. Financial records for every year can be accessed on their website. Eighty nine per cent of DIL’s funding goes directly to their programmes while 7 per cent is spent on administration and 4 per cent is devoted to further fundraising.

“We found that nearly everyone wants to educate their children, even their daughters,” Bennett says. “The primary reason they don’t send their children to school is mobility. Especially in remote areas of the country, when the distance to school is too great, families worry about security and prefer to keep their children at home. By bringing education to their doorstep, and by serving the entire community, the DIL Network has managed to break this pattern.”

While the state of education in the country is dismal, the challenge is by no means insurmountable. Organisations like the DIL Network, supported by Pakistanis in-country and abroad, prove that well-intentioned individuals can pool resources to start making change happen.