Jun 26, 2020

Innovating Education for Under-resourced Schools

Students' submissions for an Art Competition
Students' submissions for an Art Competition

Innovating Holistic Education for Under-resourced Schools during a Pandemic

Four months into the pandemic-mandated schools' shutdown in Pakistan, we are continually innovating ways to deliver holistic education to the girls in our under-resourced government schools. In the initial days of the lockdown, our focus was to engage our students in creative activities to help them cope with these unprecedented circumstances. With the help of some great local artists, illustrators, and our own art teachers, we formulated learning packs that had activities promoting mindfulness, gratitude, reflection, and fun and sent them to our students' homes.

While our students came up with creative responses to the questions and exercises in the first set of worksheets, the school management and government school teachers, who were previously not tech savvy, made Whatsapp Groups for each section of each class to allow student-teacher engagement. Teachers have sent text, video and voice instructions on these groups both to introduce new topics and conduct follow-along activities with students who have since participated in art competitions, and learnt to tie-dye their clothes using kitchen ingredients instead of fancy art supplies. Our students love engaging with their teachers through Whatsapp and social media and demand more activities to let their creativity flow.

It was important for us to focus on nourishing our students' body and soul along with keeping them mentally engaged, so we introduced weekly online meditation and yoga classes conducted by a Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor trained in classical hatha yoga from South India. Many students, including some girls who were very active in sports at school, are attending these classes regularly and feel refreshed after much needed physical exercise. The students have not only learnt several basic yoga poses, including mountain, cat-cow, constructive rest pose, and bridge but also breathing exercises and how being mindful of their breath can help manage feelings of anxiety and anger. These yoga classes are a hit among the students and teachers alike, and as the weeks pass, our students have started involving their family members in these classes too.

Continuing our focus on the mental wellbeing of our students during these challenging times, our school counsellor has been reaching out to our students to check in with them and identify if they need any help. We are also conducting Mental Health First Aid workshops to train our art and sports teachers as lay counsellors, who will then reach out to students for phone check-ins. When the lockdown was announced, we conducted a survey with our students’ families to gauge their immediate needs and their access to technology. Based on the findings, we distributed care packages with food and hygiene essentials to our students to take care of their and their families' immediate needs.

Meanwhile, our teachers were making a second set of learning packs for each class, this time focusing more on academic content and continuing education. These packs were made for students from Kindergarten to Grade 8, focusing on the revision of topics in English, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, and Urdu that have already been taught to the students. While some of the exercises in the learning packs are similar to class worksheets, the Science worksheets include a lot of experiments that can be done with material readily available at home. Currently, we are in the process of sending these learning packs to more than 2500 students enrolled in our schools.

As the distribution of the learning packs is completed for each class, teachers will start engaging with students of that class via their class Whatsapp groups – sending them explanations and instructions, helping them where needed, and checking their responses once completed. The students with limited or no access to technology will be reached through phone calls through which their teachers will give them instructions to follow and complete the worksheets in their learning packs. After one month of revision targeting mastery of the previous term’s content, next month’s learning packs will introduce topics from the new term.

Our teachers are also going through rigorous training online to get accustomed to conducting online classes via Zoom, developing pre-recorded lessons, and using Knowledge Platform, a Learning Management System that will not only allows student-teacher engagement but also has its own content deployed for English, Mathematics, and Science which our students will be following. The teachers will conduct online classes with the students of Grades 9 and 10 via Zoom and assign associated tasks for them on Knowledge Platform.

Donate!

With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Pakistan, we need your help now more than ever to deliver holistic education to our students. With your help, we can continue supporting our students to continue their education during the lockdown.

Our students bringing life to the learning packs
Our students bringing life to the learning packs
Student sharing a shirt she revamped with tie-dye
Student sharing a shirt she revamped with tie-dye
Students attending their weekly online yoga class
Students attending their weekly online yoga class
Zoom training for ECE teachers
Zoom training for ECE teachers
General Science Worksheet for students of Grade 8
General Science Worksheet for students of Grade 8
May 21, 2020

Fostering creativity and fun during a pandemic

Art supplies, art & activity sheets for students
Art supplies, art & activity sheets for students

COVID-19 may limit their movement but not their creativity

It has now been more than two full months since COVID-19 shut down our schools and put the whole world in lockdown. In early to-mid March, we conducted a household survey to gauge the needs of our students, asking their parents about the number of meals they were eating, whether they required food rations to survive the lockdown, and what kind of access to technology they had at home to be able to consume educational content. Based on the findings of the survey, care packs were put together containing food and hygiene essentials as well as learning materials including art and activity worksheets with colour pencils. 

When we decided to send these care packages to the homes of our students, we knew we needed to nourish both their body and soul. To encourage them to turn to art and creativity in this time of isolation and uncertainty, we thought of some ideas for activities that would promote mindfulness, gratitude, reflection and fun and reached out to some incredible local artists and illustrators to design these learning packs. Two of our own brilliant Art teachers contributed to the learning packs. All the art sheets and activity sheets were designed especially for each age group; from pre-primary to primary and secondary level. Even our little kindergarteners were engaged creatively at home 

These generous artists created though-provoking activities such as inviting students to draw what they are most grateful about in their gratitude jar, coloring (in their own style) in a portrait of Zeenat Haroon who was a founding member of the Women’s National Guard and is a symbol of women’s empowerment of Pakistan, and inviting students to customize a drawing of them enjoying with their friends. One of our favorite coloring sheets is the girl in the mask, reinforcing the concept of safety during this pandemic through a fun activity. Another one of our favorite activities is creating an origami butterfly.

These learning packs have been made available to download for free from our website.

Till date, almost 2300 students have continued learning and enjoying through art from home during the lockdown. Our students have really brought their learning packs to life! Our inboxes have been bursting with colour and creativity - the students are enjoying these activities so much that they are already demanding the next set of learning packs. 

In addition to the learning packs, we asked our students to practice their creative muscles and create their own awareness posters about safety measures to follow during the epidemic, and were blown away by their submissions!

Donate!

Research shows that teaching children art at school leads to improvement of students' academic, social, and emotional outcomes. We need you to donate now more than ever to support arts for our students to ensure we can continue to support them creatively while they are in lockdown.

One of the sheets for secondary students
One of the sheets for secondary students
A gratitude exercise with a DIY mask
A gratitude exercise with a DIY mask
Learning about Zeenat Haroon
Learning about Zeenat Haroon
Practicing origami at home
Practicing origami at home
A filled gratitude jar featuring a mango
A filled gratitude jar featuring a mango
Awareness of safety measures drawn by a student
Awareness of safety measures drawn by a student

Links:

May 12, 2020

Thank you and Farewell - Project Ending Report

Dear Friends, 

Zindagi Trust was established with the philosophy that every child deserves the chance to transform their lives through an education, regardless of their ability to afford it. The Paid to Learn (PTL) project along with its subsidiary project of Secondary School Sponsorship began in 2002 with the mission of educating child labourers working in urban slums across Pakistan to improve their standard of living. 

With a heavy heart, we have decided to close down these projects as we focus all our efforts on reforming government schools across Pakistan. Through our work in school reform and PTL, we came to realise something: the need to improve government schools - which remain the prevailing school system and the only kind of education accessible to 60% of Pakistani children - is critical and has a far-reaching and more sustainable impact than creating an alternative system of education. 

Please read on to learn about the impact of the PTL project which your generous contributions created.

Vision

Among the 22.8 million children in Pakistan out of school, some of them are so poor that they cannot afford to go to school even if it were free. They spend their days working in the streets, as food vendors, cleaners, car mechanics, etc to support themselves and their families. The PTL project envisioned helping these working children find a path out of a tough life of labour through education, by recruiting them from urban slums.The goal of the program was to empower children with basic literacy and numeracy, and where possible, help them transition from non-formal education to a mainstream school where they could complete their matriculation.

Implementation

Implementation of the project started with regional academic coordinators recruiting working children from the streets of major slums in Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi after speaking with their parents and employers and convincing them to let children skip a few hours of work to attend school. Once registered as students, the children were taught a non-formal, accelerated course covering primary education in two years and two months, from Kindergarten till Grade 5, with each term’s duration being four months each. This course was a custom curriculum consisting of six core subjects of Urdu, English, Mathematics, Social Studies, and Science As an incentive for the children and to make up for the loss of money due to skipping work, those who had maintained 80% attendance and had scored upward of 75% (average) in monthly and term-end tests, a scholarship stipend was given on completion of each term, hence the name of the project. The project also facilitated its top graduates through the Secondary Sponsorship program where they were encouraged to enroll in mainstream secondary schools, with the Trust covering their admissions and monthly fee, as well as the cost of their textbooks, stationery and uniforms.

Impact and Successes Stories

To date, 40 non-formal schools were established across the 3 cities, with a minimum of 1200 working children enrolled at any given time and being taught by almost 100 teachers. 6300 children, who previously spent most of their days toiling in car-repair shops, street markets, cottage industries and general stores, finished grade 5 and graduated from our program! Out of these, we are able to facilitate the admission and sponsorship of secondary education for 556 students. 90 students till date have completed their matriculation and left behind a life of labour and poverty. 100 students from Lahore and Pindi are expected to appear for matric examinations between 2020 and 2025. 

Through the PTL project, many female students got the chance to learn, some of whom continued their secondary education and completed their matriculation. These female students would usually either work as seamstresses in their house or work in factories, such as Zahida and Simran who continue to study alongside supporting their families; and hope to achieve their goals of becoming a doctor and a teacher!

Another heartwarming success is that of Asif, who belongs to a migrant family and is one of seven siblings. He worked as a scrap or garbage collector in the morning to support his family, earning less than a dollar a day, and attended our non-formal school during the afternoon. After graduating from the program by completing grade five, Asif enrolled in a private school, which was so impressed by his previous performance in school that they awarded him a full scholarship. After completing his intermediate education, Asif, encouraged by his teachers and our Founder Shehzad Roy on his art skills, enrolled in Rawalpindi's premier art school, the National College of Arts for an elective course that allowed him to pursues his passion. Alongside, he also bagged some modelling and acting assignments which keep him busy to this day. Later, he enrolled himself in Virtual University and is currently in the last semester of his Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. He intends to join the media industry after the completion of his degree so that his parents can live comfortably.

Challenges:

Unfortunately, along with the success stories, the program also experienced a sizable number of students who dropped out before the completion of their education. The majority of such students belonged to families who had migrated from Afghanistan or villages in Pakistan to the larger cities of Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi to find work. Such families would eventually leave or go back to their homes because of either displacement due to security operations or being unable to sustain themselves financially. In many cases, increasing rent prices also forced families to move away from the area where these non-formal schools were located. Many students also dropped out due to being unable to adjust to an accelerated course which was perhaps too demanding for them, while those who came from relatively more educated or supportive families or were more driven to succeed were able to complete their primary and secondary education.

The demanding transition from Urdu-medium PTL schools to English-medium private schools was also a contributing factor for students dropping out in the Secondary Sponsorship program which was difficult to counter due to the unavailability of Urdu-medium private schools in the areas where some students resided. 

Learnings:

We asked ourselves the reason why some working children managed to go on to complete their matriculation despite the challenges they faced. The answer, as we learnt from teachers and regional team members we spoke to, was the child’s own motivation and love for an education along with support from their family being another critical factor. This is clear in Asif’s case; “In Pakhtun families like mine, boys are not encouraged to study and are expected to start earning at a very young age. My mother was a trailblazer - she stood up for me against the family tradition and pushed to let me continue my studies. I showed great results in school and that encouraged my mother even more. Together with her, I overcame many hurdles that my family put in the way of my education.” he says.

Some of our other key lessons from the program were as follows:

  • Teaching working children and teaching children in a non-formal setting, especially teaching children with no previous literacy skills at all, are specialised roles requiring specially qualified teachers. "Something is better than nothing" is not enough for such a specialised environment!
  • Constant follow-up, mentoring and counseling with all beneficiaries (the student, their parents and school management) are required to ensure regularity in student attendance for a population that is new to schooling.
  • Holistic education, such as art and sports classes, which are difficult to fit into an accelerated course, could be the key in retaining the interest of students.

Closure and Current status

The last batch of students enrolled in the accelerated primary program completed their last term in February 2020. For students being supported for their secondary education in mainstream schools, the Trust continued to support them till program closure this past month.

With 113 top graduates still enrolled in secondary school with several years left until they would complete their matriculation in the coming years, our regional teams worked diligently to partner with like-minded NGOs and secondary schools to ensure our students could carry on their education; an endeavour which was successful. Each of these 113 students will continue to study, free-of-charge through the end of their matriculation thanks to the generosity of the owners and Principals of these schools. 

Once again, without your support, we would have been unable to help children like Asif, Simran and Zahida who truly made the best of their chance at transforming their lives through education. We started this program when there was nothing being done for working children. With our work on government school reform growing and getting pace, we have learned that having a complete school infrastructure provides students the environment they need to thrive and become educated responsible citizens and we hope to continue working on strengthening the government school system so that it can accommodate students like Asif, Simran, and Zahida.

As we say goodbye from this project, we invite you to learn more about our government school reform project and consider supporting it. You can make a donation today to Transform Pakistan’s under resourced girls schools!

Zahida: Sowing clothes to support her family
Zahida: Sowing clothes to support her family
Zahida in her favourite Urdu class
Zahida in her favourite Urdu class
Simran with her fellow secondary school students
Simran with her fellow secondary school students
Asif: Now a university student and aspiring actor
Asif: Now a university student and aspiring actor
Throwback to a convocation in 2009
Throwback to a convocation in 2009
Sports Day!
Sports Day!

Links:

 
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