Education & Literacy
The Education and Literacy Program remains the largest and the fastest growing initiative of IRC and girls’ education lies at the heart of this program. The Education and Literacy Program of IRC started in Khairpur with setting up of a few one-teacher, one-room multi-grade Non-Formal Education centres in 2001 with the support of Development in Literacy (DIL). The experiment continued for some time till it took a formal shape in 2004 when IRC transformed these centres into 15 semi-formal primary schools in 5 clusters. Later on, in each cluster one primary school was upgraded to elementary school. The
partnership with DIL continues till today.
Based on the success of this model, Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund (PPAF) provided the resources for 10 additional schools (3 in Khairpur and 7 in Jamshoro district that later became 7 after merger of 2 pairs of schools and closing of 1 school). The response from the community was encouraging and impressive results were achieved in a short period of time. PPAF appreciated the effort and increased the number of schools to 24 in the next phase.
Till 2010, there was no high school among IRC run institutions yet one school in each of the five clusters was giving education up to class VIII. After passing class VIII, the girls were provided scholarships fortransport to government girls’ or boys’ High Schools. It was in year 2007 when the first batch of 26 girls passed matriculation from Sobodero, Sagyoon and Khora clusters. The result was good so in order to encourage them for further education, IRC supported all the 26 girls in their college admission and paid them scholarships to meet the expenses on transport and Board examination fee for their higher secondary education. A year later, 72 girls passed and then the number kept increasing. Only in the last six years,
794 students including 694 girls have passed their matriculation examination. Girls account for 60% enrolment in IRC Sojhro Schools and IRC’s School Policies are designed to be gender sensitive as IRC envisions higher female participation in the schools with minimum dropouts.
It may be noted, that 55 high school graduate girls from IRC schools have come back to the IRC Educational System as teachers. Similarly, 47 female teachers and 12 male teachers of IRC schools have been selected as teachers in government schools when open merit based selection process through National Testing Service was conducted. A few alumni have completed the four-year nursing program, 9 girls are in engineering university; some are engaged in small businesses, and a few are working with the NGO sector. In order to promote solidarity among alumni and to encourage them for collective social
work and mutual support, IRC facilitated the formation of an alumni group called Professional Women’s Network. This network is registered with Social Welfare Department and is functioning in five clusters of Khairpur.
In areas where IRC’s schools exist, most of the people work as farmers or as laborers. This means that the standard of living of such families is severely low and for them the cost of education, just in terms of sending their children to schools and not to agricultural fields, where they can contribute economically in the household expenses, is high. To holistically ensure that our education model is sustainable, we continuously run livelihood projects in our communities to lower the financial burden and increase the living standard of families. Our livelihood projects include agricultural interventions, artisans’ training in specialized skills such as stitching and embroidery, handicrafts, and other technical and vocational skills that are in demand.
In addition, IRC has a social enterprise by the name of ‘Khazana Crafts’, headquartered in Khairpur with retail outlets in Islamabad and Karachi. Khazana Crafts works to uplift marginalized artisans in Sindh. After rehabilitating an age-old traditional building in Khairpur, IRC transformed it into a treasure house of imagination, learning and enterprise. The brand is recognized for aesthetically appealing artisanal products and far-reaching social impact. Khazana artisans mainly reside in Khairpur district and belong to impoverished households. IRC trains the women to enhance their artisanship, provides avenues for them to learn new, contemporary skills, and facilitates formation of artisan groups to inculcate a sense of community and sisterhood. The artisans are paid fairly for their work and have reported increased household incomes and spending on their children’s education and nutrition.
The education business is all about the availability of quality teachers. Because of the areas in which IRC operates, supply of quality teachers is scarce. Therefore, IRC recruits matriculate girls as teachers in primary schools and invests in their training and capacity building to expand their teaching skills so that they may become quality teachers at the primary or secondary level.
The government of Sindh has recently set the minimum criteria for government teachers to have at least a Bachelors of Education (BEd) before they can be offered employment as teachers in government schools. This is forcing many young girls to complete this degree from shady institutions with poor reputation. IRC hires specialist educationists to train its teachers in primary and secondary pedagogy to ensure that the quality of learning is sustainable and has a strong impact on children’s learning outcomes.
IRC does not only train its teachers on subject knowledge and delivery but beyond the curriculum trainings also take place. For example, almost all of IRC school teachers are trained on the Life Skills Based Education (LSBE) module. Similarly, teachers are also trained on climate change and environment by WWF and Engro Corporation. Basic computer literacy and operating knowledge of I.T equipment is also provided to the teachers.
The biggest challenge, however, is that after allocating so much resources for these teachers, not many stay with IRC as they find government teaching positions more lucrative. It offers them greater job security, which for most is the decisive factor.
The very foundation of every intervention that IRC engages itself in relies upon strong dialogue with the community and the village elders. IRC realized the importance of having the support of the local community in its early years, when parents were not that easy to convince on sending their girls to school. However, slowly yet surely, IRC kept strengthening the relationship with the locals of the districts in which it operates through mobilization campaigns, theaters, dialogues and dissemination of IEC material.
However, we did not limit this kind of awareness and outreach to local communities only, rather we went one-step ahead and engaged with the district education departments and other relevant government offices to educate, enlighten and refresh them of their role and their responsibilities by supporting them through capacity building and skills enhancing workshops regularly.