Mashal Model School has been providing early childhood, primary, secondary and technical education to children and the adolescents in the low-income neighbourhoods around the shrine of Bari Imam for the past ten years. Amongst its students are the children of the internally displaced people, Afghan refugees and economically impoverished households. Many of them are considered street children as they are employed as daily wage earners in a number of small-scale enterprises associated with the informal sector knitted around the Shrine. These enterprises mainly include car washing, tailoring, vending, running stalls and collecting garbage. Most of the employers were local people who had lived there for decades and treated the street children as inferior and exploited them physically and emotionally. Drug use among the minors had also increased. Prior to Mashal Model School set up its branch in the area, there were no educational facilities available for these children. Local households traditionally belonging to Bari Imam sent their children to public school, whereas the children of migrants remained out of school as public school would not offer them admission.
When Mashal started its work in Bari Imam, the management soon realized that a change in the mindset was imperatively needed to effect a long-lasting change. The parents did not feel encouraged to send their children to school, for they thought they were more useful working as labourers and wage-earners. Due to the multiethnic makeup of the community, there was no coherent and organized effort to bring stakeholders together and brainstorm issues around education. The first task the school management was presented with was to influence the minds of the parents and mobilize them towards sending their children to school. Mashal’s first branch offered education to both girls and boys to promote gender equality and provide equal educational opportunities to all gender groups. The first batch of students at the school reflected the ethnic composition of the community and consisted of children of economic migrants and refugees from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, FATA, Afghanistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Sindh. Promoting discipline among students was a challenge at the beginning as it was the first opportunity for them to work together in a formal environment. Emphasis was laid on social cohesion and resilience through trainings and lectures to promote health group behaviour among them. This strategy bore fruit as soon students realized the importance of learning together in a cordial and healthy environment.
Mashal Model School is a not-for-profit organization and was established in 2008. It is a registered trust with the Government of Pakistan, providing education and guidance to the underprivileged coming from different parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. It has also obtained the Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) tax exemption certification by means of being a charity. At present, it caters for 910 students aged between 3-21 years, attending grades between pre-school to matriculation. It comprises of 520 boys and 490 girls coming from the Bari Imam locality. We work with the Private Institution Educational Regulatory Authority (PIERA) and the school registration was obtained in 2010. We follow the national scheme of studies curriculum. For the younger children we follow Oxford University Press curriculum and Oranda. The medium of instruction is primarily English. To date we have prepared and mainstreamed 720 children in government schools, who have actually been admitted to government school systems on a merit basis.
Protection of vulnerable children
Mashal Model School aims to promote inclusion in community and believes that it is extremely important to reach out to socially excluded children. At present, there are 20 children with disabilities enrolled in school. They are provided quality education and their special needs are duly considered. Similarly, putting street children into the mainstream has been one of the priorities of the school. So far the school has brought 780 children into the mainstream educational system through its speed literacy and accelerated learning program.
Most of the students at Mashal did not have any identity documents which made them more socially vulnerable. They were randomly picked up by the police and faced harassment and arbitrary detention at the hands of the authorities. Being a slum area with no proper entry and exit points, they were also exposed to outsiders. To overcome this problem, and to socially protect the children, the school issued school photo identity cards to each student which carried their bio data including the enrollment number, father’s National Identity Card number and address. This measure served to increase their protection and created goodwill with the community.
Skill development and capacity building have been a central component of Mashal Model School’s approach to learning and integration. Skill development programs were offered to students to build their confidence and help them acquire basic competencies for challenges later in life. Training as part of the program focused on sewing, computer literacy, spoken English, nutritional awareness, painting and physical fitness.
Acquiring CNICs was considered an arduous process by the parents for want of literacy. Sessions were conducted with the parents that involved arranging their visits to NADRA centers to familiarize them with the entire CNIC obtaining procedure. 6 such sessions, over six months, were organized in all. 10 households, as a result, were able to secure their IDs and register themselves with NADRA.
Key Activities and outcomes
Funds were provided by the SDC for skill development and capacity building classes. Spoken English classes were offered in January, 2017 to the students, teachers and the community in general to enhance their oral communication skills. To conduct training and sessions, fresh graduates from Quaid-i-Azam University were hired as trainers through a competitive selection process. The focus was laid on promoting functional English through introducing the learners to native expressions and phrases for daily and professional use. Two trainers, male and female, along with a helper, conducted four sessions with four different groups of participants. These groups consisted of 50 teachers, 22 students (11 girls and 12 boys) and 8 youth from the community.
Oral communication classes were linked to clear outputs and wider outcomes. Learners were imparted the communication skills required to conduct conversations at public facilities like hospitals and public departments. They were also taught to read signboards, road signs, prices and headlines in the newspapers. These skills enhancing activities rested on the premise that the training would increase the employ ability of the learners and better help them perform their duties as citizens.
Sewing classes were held, on an ongoing basis, and linked to producing products for the market. The classes took place in Mashal I and Mashal III. The participants included the females from households around the Mashal Model School including the mothers and sisters of children at the school. Two two-hour sessions were run, morning and afternoon, five days a week with two groups of 50 women. Two teachers and two helpers conducted the sewing classes using participatory method. In June 2017, Mashal received an order of 40 aprons from Loafology, a high end bakery situated in Blue Area. Samples were shown to the participants of the sewing workshops and a demand was raised. Order will be furnished in July of the same year. This is an income generating activity and 80% of the proceeds will go to the craftswomen. Mashal will retain 20% of the income to meet the operational expenses. Efforts are now underway to secure more orders in the future to make the group more viable and help women become producers and entrepreneurs. In addition to being an income-generating activity, these classes also allow the women to come together and discuss their problems and issues of mutual concern. This provides them support, perspective and information. Sewing groups have also shown to create a sense of ownership for school among mothers.
Computer literacy has become essential to learning at school. Mashal Model starts familiarizing its students with computer technology as early as at playgroup level. Digital animations are shown to children to raise their awareness of creative use of technology. Since January 2017, the school has initiated ‘Orenda’, a program for early childhood learners that fosters learning among children through the use of modern digital technology (See Annexure III). Through animations students learn about different useful concepts and key things in early childhood education.
Furthermore, two computer workshops are offered to both students and community members under the skill development program (See Annexure IV). These workshops are run five days a week and 53 learners (33 afternoon, 20 evening) benefit from them, including 6 youth members form the community, 2 girls and 4 boys. School children attending these workshops come from Grade 5 and onwards. 3 teachers are assigned to conduct these classes. The content of these workshop focuses on hardware and software learning, internet communications and graphics and animation designing. Emphasis on these computer classes also helps the school management with maintaining school record and data using interactive IT methods.
Physical fitness and Nutrition Classes
Mashal believes healthy mind and body play a key role in learning and leading a balanced and fulfilling life. Physical fitness training and nutrition classes are offered to students aged 13 and above six days a week. Currently there are 20 students enrolled in these training and classes. Two physical trainers help students gain physical fitness through an organized exercise regime. This enables them to focus on physical strength and stay away from harmful behavior such as drug use in an otherwise high-risk social environment. Nutrition classes impart knowledge about diet and nutrition and emphasize the importance of different food groups, such as dairy, protein and carbohydrates.
Arts and Crafts Classes
In April 2017, Mashal Model started conducting arts and craft classes with children in Grade 1 and above. The classes seek to cultivate creative faculties of the students and encourage them to express their emotions, desires and opinions using non-conventional mediums. Experienced and emerging artists work as volunteers to facilitate and conduct these once-a-week classes. Material for art and painting is bought from the grant provided to the school by SDC.
Building the capacity of teachers on a consistent basis is central to delivering quality education. Six different trainings, focusing on 6 different areas, were held between January and June (See Annexure VI). Each training was broken down into 3 groups and 48 teachers in total participated in them. The services of six facilitators were hired to deliver the trainings. 3 of the facilitators came from the British High Commission. These training workshops focused on a range of areas crucial to developing the knowledge and competencies of teachers. These areas included, preparing lesson plans, making democratic classroom environments, positive discipline for teachers, classroom management, interactive methodology for formal and informal curriculum, the importance of play, child psychology and child development, and developmentally appropriate practices. One of the trainings included imparting early childhood teaching skills to the female students who had just taken their matriculation exam. The training turned out to be a huge success as the girls took keen interest in the learning activity and later on enthusiastically participated in the early childhood education activities. The playgroup students took this very positively and the classroom environment turned significantly vibrant. One of the key changes was students’ increased interest in creative expression, especially singing and nursery rhymes. It also enabled the young girls to earn some money as they awaited exam results.
During the training, the facilitators helped the teachers identify and highlight problems and issues concerning teaching that they wanted to address, and discuss possible solutions to those problems. Each teacher was observed in a classroom setting and later on provided feedback by the facilitators. At the end of the workshops, the participants were asked to evaluate the training’s and provide their feedback. SDC’s grant allowed the school to bear the operational costs of the training.
Teacher training’s have better allowed to enhance the quality of teaching as now a new learning and improvement mechanism has been put in place. Each teacher has an individual profile that tracks their progress and helps them assess their strengths and weaknesses and outline areas for improvement. The learning and assessment process will remain in place till June 2018.
Training have also had a dramatically positive impact on enrollments, student attendance and homework. Teachers have exceedingly retained the interests of children through increased preparation and interactive methods, and now the latter seem more eager to come to school.