Amina Khan (named changed to protect her privacy) is the youngest of seven children living with their parents in a small village in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province. Her father cuts and sells firewood to eke out a living on less than $1 a day. As with many children in her village and the surrounding district of Lasbela, distance, discrimination, and years of public school underfunding and mismanagement led her parents to decide not to educate her siblings. Amina, however, stands out for a few reasons.
Young girls like Amina are among the many following in the footsteps of Malala Yousufzai, the brave girl who was shot by the Taliban last October for her strong stand for education for girls and for all children, especially the poorest. Net enrollment rates for both boys and girls in Pakistan are low, at 58% for boys and 45% for girls.
Amina was born in February 2003 with a physical disability that affects her ability to walk. That disability dramatically reduced her prospects for marriage. Her parents were even less hopeful that she of all her siblings could benefit from an education. AMina's vulnerability and extreme poverty made her a prime target for BRAC’s “second chance” primary schools.
That's why BRAC opened five such primary schools in Amina's district in Pakistan, including one right in her village. While reluctant at first, Amina's parents were finally persuaded to enroll Amina by the BRAC teacher, a trusted woman hired from their community.
BRAC started these schools with support from the Pakistani government, as part of a larger two-year pilot program inspired by a BRAC program in Bangladesh that provides a pathway out of extreme poverty. While the program was successful and is being scaled up nationwide, government funding for this community ended.
Fortunately because of generous contributions from you, BRAC USA was able to support these schools for their final two years, allowing their current students to complete their primary education.
As described by Tina Rosenberg in a New York Times Fixes column on May 8, 2013, BRAC pioneered a cost-effective “second chance” school model that targets children, especially girls, who dropped out of school or never had the chance to attend due to lack of nearby schools, the need to work at home, discrimination, poverty or other barriers. Today, BRAC operates the largest secular, nongovernmental school system in the world, with about 38,000 schools in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Philippines, Uganda, South Sudan and Sierra Leone.
In Amina's district in Pakistan, demand for education suffered for years from local mismanagement of schools, teacher absenteeism, and strong cultural bias against education for girls and women. Besides providing access to education for Amina and the other 164 students in these five locations, BRAC’s schools also seek to stimulate demand for education in poor and marginalized communities by challenging existing perceptions of what the classroom experience can be, and of who can be trusted with the responsibility of being a teacher.
Each BRAC school consists of a single classroom with one teacher and 33 students from 8 to 12 years of age, 70 percent girls. Picture “Little House on the Prairie.” Days are short, three to four hours each so children can istill help with chores at home. Class runs all year long, with breaks around harvest time and important holidays, so that five years of primary school are compressed into four. Instead of emphasizing rote memorization of facts and textbooks, BRAC’s schools emphasize team work and leadership through group activities as well as singing, dancing and other interactive activities with an educational aspect that help instill a love of learning in the students. Every student, including Eid, gets a chance to lead at some point.
Guiding them through all these activities is a woman hired from the community around the school – a key component of the model. BRAC hires only women as teachers, to make parents feel comfortable with sending daughters to school and ensure girl’s safety. Besides creating employment, BRAC has long witnessed these women becoming role models for the girls and for other women in the community who may aspire to teach or have another career of their own. To support them and maintain quality, BRAC brings teachers together for two weeks of intensive training on pedagogy and then provides on-the-job coaching as well as monthly one-day refreshers.
Amina is now in the third year of her four-year course at the BRAC primary school located right in her village. This life-changing opportunity for Amina costs only $100 a year. And the payoffs are significant for all of us. As BRAC has learned from its experiences in other communities, the poorest and most marginalized students – like Amina – often become the best voices in the community to raise demand for education.
With your support, these brave young girls and their families are chipping away at reasons to keep daughters or children out of school, while also convincing women in the community that they too might be qualified to teach or have other careers. They are all changing their community’s and country’s visions for a better future and our prospects for peace.
BRAC began working in Pakistan in 2007 and currently employs 1,159 staff (97% Pakistani), operates 96 microfinance branches throughout the country serving 71,489 women and their families having lent over $60 million to date. BRAC Pakistan also runs a community based health program and seeks to expand education and economic opportunity for girls and women.