Ahsan: An aspiring engineer stitching car seats
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 (SS) 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 the Secondary School Sponsorship (SS) project 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 SS project which your generous contributions created.
About the program and the implementation
Paid to Learn educated working children from urban slums across Pakistan through an accelerated two-year course which provided primary education to children employed as street vendors, store or factory helpers or auto-repair workers across Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi. As an incentive for the children and to make up for the loss of money due to skipping work, the children were paid a scholarship stipend on completion of every term.
In 2012, we initiated the Secondary Sponsorship project as a way for top graduates from Paid to Learn to continue their secondary studies in mainstream schools, giving promising students a chance to complete their matriculation. Upon graduation from primary, students who had maintained 80% attendance and had scored upward of 75% (average) from Kindergarten till Grade 5 were selected. These students would then be enrolled in mainstream private secondary schools in the 6th grade by the SS staff, with the admissions and monthly fee, as well as the cost of their textbooks, stationery and uniforms covered by the Trust. Private schools were selected on the basis of the quality of education offered and the concession provided by them. In partnership with the Principals of these schools, our regional teams would visit these students at their new schools every quarter and get updates about their academic performance and attendance until they finished the 10th grade and matriculated.
Impact and Challenges
Since the inception of the program, our regional teams have partnered with 19 such private secondary schools across the three cities and enrolled a total of 556 students in the program, with the first batch of students appearing for their Matric examinations in 2017. Till date, 90 students have completed their matriculation and left behind a life of labour and poverty. 100 students from Lahore and Pindi are expected to appear for examinations between 2020 and 2025.
Your contributions have helped students like Ahsan, a top graduate of PTL who was enrolled in SS. Ahsan is scheduled to appear for his matric exam when the lockdown is lifted and examinations resume. He is passionate about pursuing a career in Computer Engineering while he balances his studies with his job as a workman in a mechanic’s shop.
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 the secondary schools were located. A few of the working children were also unable to cope with the clash between the morning school hours of mainstream schools and their working hours as a food vendor, cleaner, car repairman or other day job.
The demanding transition from Urdu-medium PTL schools to English-medium private schools was also a contributing factor for students dropping out which was difficult to counter due to the unavailability of Urdu-medium private schools in the areas where some students resided.
What we learnt:
We asked ourselves the reason why some working children managed 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.
Asif, a graduate of PTL who used to work as a scrap collector in garbage fills when he was recruited into one of our primary schools is now a budding actor/model as well as in his last semester of his bachelors degree in computer science degree.
“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.”
Another learning for us is that 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, as well ensuring extra effort to ease the transition of students from Urdu-medium non-formal schools to English medium private schools.
Process of Closure and current status
The last batch of new students entered the sponsorship program in 2018, and the Trust continued to support them as well as students who were previously enrolled with the help of your generous donations till closure this past month. At this point, 113 top graduates were still enrolled in secondary school and had several months or years left until they would complete their matriculation in the coming years. Our regional teams have worked diligently to partner with similar NGOs and the existing secondary schools to ensure these students can carry on their education; an endeavour which was successful. Every one 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 and Ahsan 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 learnt 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 and Ahsan.
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!
Ahsan: Preparing for his Matric exam
Asif: A university student & aspiring actor