Helping more rural Pakistani children get access to early education

Children Aged Three To Five At Ecd Centre In Pakistan
Children aged three to five enjoy an active learning day at Ms Shazia's ECD Centre in the village of Mahapur (Facebook / Parwaan ECED,

Discrimination of marginalised children, Early childhood development, Health and education convergence, Right to education

Almost two-thirds of children aged between three and five in rural Pakistan have no access to early education programmes or preschool. 

The lack of those services and the huge number of children who are undernourished could be catastrophic for the future of the country’s growing population.

But many non-government organisations, charities and government initiatives are now in place to give them a better chance to access early education and fulfil their potential. 

The lack of access to early education was revealed in the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER). Although 64.6% of children aged three to five are missing out in total, the picture gets better as children get older. 

While 92% of three-year-olds are not attending preschool or early education programmes, that drops to 69% for those aged four and 34% at age five.

The Parwaan–National ECED Centre of Excellence is one of the organisations hoping to improve these statistics.

It recognises that investment in early childhood development is critical for Pakistan’s future. It aims to develop a national strategy and development for children aged zero to three and three to six.

A spokesman said: “Parwaan’s vision is closely linked to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, which call for ensuring access to early childhood development, ending all forms of malnutrition and achieving the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under five years of age.

“Since its inception, Parwaan has engaged parliamentarians at the provincial and national levels. The partnership model works well and, as a result, a commission on early years learning and nutrition was formed in 2016.”

We caught up with Tahzeb ul Hasan, Coordinator of the Early Childhood Development Network of Pakistan (ECDNP) in Islamabad.

He singled out Theirworld’s work on early childhood development, saying: “We appreciate Theirworld’s objective, causes, efforts to achieve the objectives and contribution on pre-natal care, nurturing care, free education at primary and secondary level and skill development for employment in developing countries.”

Theirworld has been campaigning for international leaders to make sure all children have access to quality care including nutrition, health, learning, play and protection.

90% of brain development happens before the age of five – so those factors are key in ensuring children achieve their potential.

Theirworld is also calling on countries to spend 10% of their education budgets on pre-primary education.

Tazheb explained that the ECDNP has been working with NGOs, such as the Rupani Foundation, to address the issues of prenatal care, malnourished children, poor quality of education and children with poor psychosocial and cognitive skills.

He added: “For this purpose, the organisation is working with parents, communities, caregivers, relevant government agencies, youth workers, donors and volunteers to create a critical workforce for ECD.

“The organisation, in partnership with leading civil society organisations, has worked to establish ECD centres, providing parenting education to parents and training in ECD to teachers, caregivers and volunteers.”

Those partner organisations include Aga Khan Education Service Pakistan (AKESP), Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), local support organisations and international bodies such as SGAFP, NRSP, GIZ, EC and Plan International. 

Mobile Ecd Centre At A Village In Pakistan

Afternoon session at a mobile ECD centre at Gulzar Rahim, Karachi, Pakistan (Facebook / Rupani Foundation,

Tahzeb said: “The Rupani Foundation has quickly grown into a NGO that the mountain communities can rely upon.

“It firmly believes that the northern areas of Pakistan and neighbouring countries in the Pamir and Hindukush mountain regions possess significant potential. 

“The foundation is encouraged and inspired by the resilience, educational achievement, work ethic, dedication, and determination of the mountain people to improve their living conditions.”

The ECDNP has proposed a three-pronged approach to helping communities:

  • An inclusive and holistic ECD approach from pre-natal to age eight, with family, community, private and public sector engagement.
  • A scalable business model in the form of a social franchise.
  • Developing a smooth transition for children graduating from ECD centres into mainstream schools, working with all primary schools in the targeted areas.

ASER is the largest citizen-led annual household survey in Pakistan that focuses on the status of children’s schooling and basic learning.

Released in August, the latest report covered 2016 and revealed that 19% of children aged five to 16 are out of school – and those who are getting lessons every day “are not learning much either”.

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