Chalo Parho Barho-Lets Read and Grow: Tackling the problem of Out-of-School Children in Pakistan

AUTHOR: Syeda Farwa Fatima

According to a recent UNESCO policy paper, nearly 58 million children of primary school age (typically between 6 and 11 years) are not enrolled in school; and ‘if current trends continue, two-fifths of these children—or 15 million girls and 10 million boys—are unlikely to ever set foot in a classroom’. Pakistan is at the centre of these unmet global targets for OOSC, taking second position after Nigeria. The 18th Amendment to the constitution of Pakistan declared education as a fundamental guaranteed by the State. Article 25 A states: “the State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” This is a formidable challenge for Pakistan where21% of the children between ages 6 and16 are out-of-school, out of which 15% of the children have never been enrolled in a school while 6% of them have dropped out of school (ASER National Rural 2014).

Given this context, innovations are being tested to address the challenges of learning and access that can generate reliable metrics in Pakistan. This article explores the impact of a program called ‘Chalo Parho Barho (CPB) – Lets Read and Grow’ on enrolment and learning levels of children in the CPB camps. It employs a quantitative model to understand the correlation of various factors (out-of-school/in-school status of the child, gender, age) on learning levels. The goal is to introduce a unique approach to address the problem of out-of-school children and guide relevant education sector reforms towards equitable attainment of Article 25A -Right to Education in Pakistan.

Inspired by the Read India Program and implemented as part of a partner project by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi and Dubai Cares, Chalo Parho Barho is a unique learning camp model that builds on the The Five Dimensions of Exclusion framework to understand children who are out of school and propose interventions accordingly. The program is implemented at village level in a series of steps:

Learning Camp Model: Chalo Parho Barho (CPB) Camp- Lets Read and Grow

  • Conduct a school survey to identify schools (government + low cost private) that require support
  • Identify children from grades 3, 4 and 5 of these schools who are at a risk of dropping out
  • Conduct a 100% household survey to identify OOSC in the communities
  • Conduct ‘Baithaks’ or community meetings to disseminate results of the household survey and convince the community the need to send OOSC to schools
  • Identify Para teachers from amongst the community who are willing to bring OOSC to schools and teach
  • Train the Para Teachers according to a CAMaL methodology – Combined Activities for Maximized Learning
  • Set up Chalo Parho Barho (CPB) Camps at the identified school premises or available community spaces after school hours (2-3 hours every day for 45 days)
  • Ensure Para Teachers bring identified OOSC and identified in school children to the camp
  • Assess all children in the camp using simple tools (built on ASER tools) in three subjects: English, Math, Sindhi/Urdu (local language)
  • Group the children according to their learning levels in each subject, rather than by their grade
  • Delegate each group a set of activities and materials appropriate for their level in each subject; one para teacher works with each group
  • Assess all children in the camp using the same tools after 15, 30 and 45 days; if a child progresses, the child can move into the next group
  • Mainstream children into the identified schools (through school admission tests) at the end of the 45 days

The camp has been set up in rural districts of Sukkur, Shikarpur, Lasbela and Muzaffargarh with a total of 8790 children enrolled from within the community and school; 99.2% of them stay till the end of the month to finish the camp. Most of the children transition to a higher level category with about 79.6% in local language, 85.2% in English and 84.6% in Math. These results highlight the positive impact of the camp on enrolment and learning levels of the children. This not only adds credibility to the efficiency of a learning camp model but also to the CAMaL methodology as a teaching strategy for OOSC. The trick of the methodology is the interactive nature of the activities that allows for close connection between teachers and the children, builds interest of the children to come to school and that of the teachers’ to help children progress to the next stage of learning. At the same time, the grouping and teaching of children according to different learning levels gives children a chance to strive beyond. Moreover, the engagement of local community members as para-teachers for the camp not only raises awareness of the need to enroll all children in schools but also in fact, provides easy access to the community to solve the problem themselves. Therefore, this model takes care of basic demand and supply side realities while creating sustainable solutions through simple and cost-effective strategies.

The results also reveal that factors such as out-of-school/in-school status, gender and age of the child have a significant impact on the probability of the child to transition to a higher level category in all three subjects. Our results reveal that holding an in-school child status decreases the probability for the child to make a positive transition. This directs attention to scrutinize school and teaching systems that are slowing down the learning growth of children. This also underscores the need to revamp the existing teaching methodologies to provide an engaging environment for positive development. Our results also reveal that being female decreases the probability for the child to transition to a higher level category. This raises the need to explore why such a correlation might exist; it may be due to the way girls are bred in certain societies and are purposely kept away from education. Regardless, it calls for work towards inclusive education, with a special focus on providing quality education to girls. However, the results illustrate a positive direct relationship with age; the younger the child, the higher the probability for the child to show a positive transition to a higher level category in all subjects. This confirms earlier literature on early childhood development and sets firm ground for rigorous policy frameworks that guarantee quality education in pre-primary and primary years as a key to foundations for lifelong development.

Syeda Farwa Fatima, Research Associate, Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), Lahore