Many parents in Pakistan want to give their children a well-rounded education that includes a solid grounding in traditional subjects along with religious education. The Minhaj Education Society (MES) aims to fill this vacuum, delivering low-cost, high-quality schooling as well as religious instruction.
“We teach the same syllabus that is followed by all schools but we also invite religious scholars to give weekly lessons to the students in grades 8, 9 and 10,” says Safdar Anjum, principal of the Minhaj Model Colony School in Shah Faisal Town, Karachi. “In addition, we conduct one-hour discussions every day on religion and ethics.” In Anjum’s school, the medium of instruction is English. With a teaching staff of 20, the Shah Faisal school caters to approximately 450 boys and girls.
Founded in 1994 by Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri, the Minhaj Education Society currently runs 630 primary and secondary schools across the country with a total enrolment of approximately 145,000 students. The organisation has five major objectives: “to promote peace, tolerance and interfaith harmony; to promote education, integration and working for community cohesion; to engage with young Muslims for religious moderation; to promote women’s rights, development and empowerment; and to provide social welfare and promotion of human rights”—and to do this while delivering low-cost, high-quality education.
The school charges a fee of 550 per month for KG to Class 8, and 700 rupees for Class 8-10, which is low by the standards of a large city like Karachi. The school does not charge students for sitting exams. According to the principal, the school prefers to hire teachers with at least a Bachelor’s degree, while many of the teachers have also completed a Master’s.
Tayyaba Bibi’s seven children all study at the Minhaj Model Colony School. She says the environment in the school is what first drew her attention. “I looked at all the schools in the area and found that the Minhaj school had the best standard of education as well as a good atmosphere.” After Tayyaba Bibi enrolled her children in the Minhaj school, her brothers and sisters followed suit.
Ghulam Sarwar works as a supervisor in the finance department at a private company. His three daughters and one son attend the Minhaj school. “The discipline my children have developed by going to this school is unparalleled,” he says. Sarwar’s son, who has completed Matriculation, is set to follow in his father’s footsteps and plans to study accounting. “My children are doing very well at school,” says Sarwar. “One of my daughters has earned a regional gold medal and my son has become a Hafiz-e-Quran, learning the Holy Book by heart.”
Syed Khalid has two daughters currently enrolled in the school, and one son who completed his Matriculation there. He says the school gives children a good upbringing. “Over here they can receive a religious education at the same time as a regular education and they don’t run the risk of getting roped into political or religious parties that recruit on campuses.”
It is not just the standard of education that parents appreciate about the school. “As a Muslim, I am pleased that my children learn about their faith as well. But the religious aspect was not a priority for me,” says Tayyaba Bibi. The facilities are another reason why she chose this school. “They have a library.” The school monitors student progress closely and encourages parents to be involved in their children’s education. “We have monthly meetings with the teachers here, whereas most schools don’t even allow you meet the management or staff.” Importantly for parents in a big city like Karachi, Minhaj schools take student attendance seriously. “Unlike most schools in this city, the security here is good and students cannot just slip out of the school.”
The MES model is successful because it provides quality education at a low cost and encourages parents to take an active role in their children’s schooling. MES helps destroy the myth that underprivileged families don’t value education or that they take no interest in their children’s schooling. Their model demonstrates that, given the opportunity, parents from low-income households are inquisitive and selective about their children’s education and will seek out the best opportunities for them.