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Pakistan: Newsline

Delivering quality, child-centred education in Pakistan’s earthquake zone

©UNICEF Pakistan/ 2006/ Delaney
Parveen and Muhamad, ages 8 and 9 respectively, at school together in Battagram, northern Pakistan.

BATTAGRAM, Pakistan, 8 September 2006 – Eight-year-old Parveen is once again getting used to life in her new tented classroom, following the end of the summer holidays. When the earthquake that affected so much of northern Pakistan struck in October 2005, her old school building was totally destroyed, forcing teachers to suspend classes due to lack of available shelter.

Working through local partners, UNICEF has been supporting the school by providing tents and other essential materials to ensure that the education of Battagram’s children continues.

Though Matta Nili Shang School is officially for boys, Parveen is one of many girls among the 125 students enrolled, as the nearest girls' primary school is over 5 km away, much too far for the children to walk every day.
Parveen is in third grade, and she studies Urdu, math, English, science and religious studies. "Urdu is my favourite," she says, "I like coming to school to learn how to read." Sitting beside Parveen in the classroom, nine-year-old Muhamad is equally enthusiastic about learning: "I'm learning how to read properly and I want to be a teacher," he says with a broad grin.

© UNICEF Pakistan/ 2006/ Delaney
Muhamad, 9, receives instructions from his teacher at Matt Nili Shang School in Battagram.

Child-friendly schooling

The focus on children enjoying education and wanting to come to school is something that UNICEF is encouraging with teachers and the local community in Battagram.

"If we can create an environment where learning is fun and where children feel safe and happy, then we have a much better chance of reducing drop-out rates and of seeing children through to the end of the school cycle," says UNICEF Education Officer Fawad Ali Shah.

This is the essence of UNICEF's 'child-friendly' approach to schooling, the concept that has guided activities in the earthquake-affected region of northern Pakistan over the last 11 months. It covers all aspects of the education programme, such as ensuring that tents and school grounds are safe and conducive to learning, and that the school environment is a healthy one where students learn good hygiene practices.

The child-friendly approach also makes sure teachers are properly trained to support children who have suffered the shock of losing everything as a result of the earthquake.
"Many of the children were traumatized by what they witnessed when the earthquake hit," says UNICEF’s head of office in Battagram, Dr. Francois Kampundu. "They need special attention, and the teachers need to be given the skills to support and encourage the children to express themselves in the classroom.

©UNICEF Pakistan/ 2006/ Delaney
Boys studying at Matt Nili Shang School.

“Focusing on child-centred learning involving real participation by the children can make school much more enjoyable and can also help with the children's development," adds Dr. Kampundu.

Promoting enrolment

In Battagram, one of the least developed districts in Pakistan, over two thirds of all government primary schools were destroyed by the earthquake, and many more were damaged.

In the earthquake zone, UNICEF has helped to re-establish over 4,000 government primary schools that were destroyed or badly damaged, ensuring that as many as 375,000 children can continue their schooling.

In the re-established Matta Nili Shang School, the teachers and local community continue to encourage students to remain in school, while promoting the enrolment of children in the locality who are not currently attending school. Their efforts have been rewarded with an increase in enrolment numbers.

It is hoped that the child-friendly approach will see students like Parveen make it successfully through the primary grades.


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