STORY 19 - 03 MARCH 2014 - INDUS RESOURCE CENTRE - EDUCATING GIRLS AND EMPOWERING WOMEN

The province of Sindh lags far behind the rest of the country on many key education indicators including enrolment, literacy and learning outcomes. There are many reasons for the abysmal state of education in the province and many myths surrounding the issue.

“The government is not interested in fixing education and has its own agenda,” says Huma Imran Khan, Programme Manager Education at the Indus Resource Centre (IRC). “The demand for education is enormous but most people don’t know what to do, where to go or how to demand their rights.”

The IRC aims to transform the education landscape in the province, especially for its women and girls. Founded in 1999 by Sadiqa Salahuddin, a development professional with many years’ experience, the IRC’s goal is to improve the state of girls’ education in Sindh and to empower young women to become economically independent.

Starting in the districts of Dadu and Khairpur, IRC began by building one- or two-room schools, and then engaged the entire community to ‘grow’ the school. “Our goal was to have the entire community involved in expanding the school,” Khan explains. As students increase, more teachers are hired and more rooms are added. At the same time, IRC promotes the work of artisans and the schools double as handicrafts training centres. In this way schools become a place of learning for children and adults, as well as a place where the community gathers.

The success of this model is evident from IRC’s record to date. They currently run 140 schools employing 400 teachers with more than 10,000 students. Between 70 and 80 per cent of the students are girls, and 97 per cent of the teachers are women. To encourage more girls to attend school, boys are only admitted on the condition that they bring with them a female family member and if the girl drops out the boy who brought her cannot continue his education.

“Our goal is not just to teach girls how to read and write,” Khan explains. “We want to make sure they stay in school and complete Matriculation, with the aim of increasing their employability.” Many young women from IRC schools have successfully completed their studies and gone on to become doctors, nurses and engineers. “We motivate them and help to steer them towards higher education and then jobs,” says Khan. To help improve their students’ chances of finding employment, IRC has established a Young Women Professional Network consisting of IRC alumni who meet to exchange ideas and help mobilise others to become professionals.

According to Khan there are two other major factors that hinder Sindh’s progress in education. “There are not enough physical or human resources in place. There are either no school buildings in remote areas or the buildings are in too poor a condition to be functional, and many are being used for purposes other than schooling,” she says. “The reason why many of these issues aren’t addressed is because the people in charge are not allowed to work. We have had 20 education secretaries during the last government whereas Punjab has had one.”

Khan believes that the system in Sindh can only be fixed if the governing and bureaucratic structures are fixed. “Educationists need to be put in key positions, since ministers, secretaries and other high-ranking officials often have no experience.”

IRC has a clear vision of how they want to affect change, and it starts with the government. “We want to keep the schools we have built and improve them. But our main objective is to work through public-private partnerships and improve government schooling throughout the province. We have set up a model for these partnerships and have developed a comprehensive education model for such schools, from system policing and monitoring to exams. We want this to be replicated throughout the province and we are in dialogue with the government to do this. It is essential to support the government in this sector.”

While many organisations working to improve the state of education in the country have given up on the government, IRC has not. Its philosophy is that in order to have the greatest impact, the state education system needs to be reformed. By developing its own model for community-driven education that focuses on girls and empowers young women, IRC has shown that it is possible to provide quality education and transform lives in some of the country’s poorest communities. It is now up to the government to take up this challenge.