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Pakistan: Newsline

Enrolment campaign signs up 300,000 for school

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©UNICEF Pakistan/Asad Zaidi
A government official pasting a advocacy poster on the wall in the Hyderabad district.

SINDH PROVINCE, Pakistan – A major primary school enrolment drive has registered over 300,000 children for school in six weeks, according to early data on the campaign.

The province-wide enrolment drive, which concluded on 15 September, was the first of its kind in Sindh Province.

According to Raana Syed, UNICEF Chief Provincial Officer in Sindh, the campaign aimed to “raise the issue of low enrolment rates and high drop-out rates, particularly for girls.”

Although primary school fees were abolished in Pakistan in 2002, the country faces one of the world’s largest gender gaps in education.

Fifty per cent of girls and 25 per cent of boys are out of school in the province, the second most populous in Pakistan. Of the children currently enrolled through the efforts of the campaign, 42 per cent are girls and 58 per cent boys.

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© UNICEF Pakistan/Asad Zaidi
Afshan brings her daughters, Aroosa, 6, and Fiza, 5, to enroll them in the Government Primary School, Peons Colony Qasimabad, Hyderabad.

“The statistics are clearly showing we have been able to create a hunger” for education, says Ms. Syed. “New ground has been broken with this campaign.”

The campaign was designed and partially funded by UNICEF, with additional funding provided by the Government of Pakistan. UNICEF has also distributed banners, posters and handbills to all districts in order to increase support for social mobilization efforts.

In Hyderabad, walks and rallies have been organized to raise public awareness about education, and the freshly whitewashed school buildings are overflowing with children. “The district is wearing a festive look with colourful banners and posters all around, and you can observe as well the intensive public contact being made by motivated teachers, government officials, district government representatives, Boy Scouts and Girl Guides, and community leaders,” reports Mr. Kanwal Sindhi, coordinator of the Sindh Journalist Network.

 “It has been a fantastic coming-together of all partners, stakeholders and volunteers,” says Professor Abdul Majeed Hur, Executive District Officer in charge of Hyderabad’s campaign.

Although the final tally is still pending, many education officials predict that twice as many children will be enrolled in 2005 as in 2004.

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©UNICEF Pakistan/Asad Zaidi
In Thatta district, recently enrolled girls sit on the floor in the corridor. Most of the schools in Sindh do not have enough space to accommodate the number of children who registered.

Yet the increase in enrolment is creating new challenges, including increased demand for school facilities, teachers, books and other supplies.

Today, Hyderabad’s schools suffer from severe overcrowding. Many children have to sit on mats on the open veranda, exposed to the scorching sun. “We do not have space to accommodate the swarm of new arrivals,” says Ms. Zahida, a teacher in the Government Primary School in Peons Colony.

“To retain the children who have now come to school, and to ensure they complete their primary cycle, are huge challenges,” remarks Professor Hur. “Providing enough school furniture and free textbooks, installing all the needed facilities such as safe drinking water and latrines, putting enough qualified teachers in place to maintain classes with a reasonable teacher/student ratio, and strengthening the role of School Management Committees are all priority issues engaging our attention now,” he adds.

“This is just the beginning. It’s great to see parents responding positively and sending their children to schools. It’s great too, that the percentage of girls in the enrollment is up to 42 percent from last year’s 37 percent – although it also shows how much further there is to go to close the gender gap,” says Raana Syed.


 

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