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DFID Pakistan head, lawmakers visit Siyani Sahelian programme in Bahawalpur

LAHORE: International Development (DFID) Pakistan Head of Department Joanna Reid took stock of the Siyani Sahelian Second Chance Programme designed for girls’ education in Bahawalpur here on Wednesday.

Reid was accompanied by Standing Committee on Education Chairperson Aisha Nawaz Chaudhry and four other lawmakers, including Member National Assembly (MNA) Mian Najeebuddin Awaisi, Punjab Minister for Food Sami Ullah Chaudhary, Member of the Punjab Assembly (MPA) Ehsan Ul Haq and Department of NFE & Literacy representative Zahid Nazir Khan.

Pakistan has made 12 years of education a fundamental constitutional right under Article 25 A and is a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 and SDG 4 on education, skills and literacy. However, it still faces the challenge of 22.8 million out of school children and those enrolled in school not receiving adequate learning.

Girls remain more deprived than boys across Pakistan, needing urgent action. Therefore, it is critical to have decision-makers visit programmes that are addressing these challenges to access education quality and are showing early outcomes that can be scaled up across the country.

Maryam, Farah and Iqra shared the misfortune of being dropouts from grades 5, 8 and 9 due to various reasons such as poverty, inaccessible distances to school and early marriage, swelling the numbers of out of school children in Pakistan.

However, in August 2018, their fortunes turned when the Siyani Sahelian (Advancing Action for Adolescent Girls) second chance programme was launched by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), a civil society organisation known for its nationwide citizen-led campaign on students learning outcomes ASER that influences policies and plans on education for quality learning.

Siyani Sahelian (SS) is a two-year pilot program for 22,000 girls aged between 9-19 years, funded by DFID in Punjab. It caters to girls who are not in school (drop out or never enrolled) in Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur and Muzzafargarh districts where gender challenges are also very daunting. Punjab has 10.5 million children out of school (5-16 years) majority of whom are aged above in post-primary grades.  In less than 14 months, 16,500 beneficiaries have been reached-nearly 75 per cent of the target through robust and successful interventions focusing on accelerated learning.

They witnessed the entire program interventions with a holistic inter-sectoral approach and innovative partnerships. The program combines accelerated academics with ICTs, health, menstrual hygiene, life skills, vocational training/entrepreneurship, and economic empowerment supported by caring mentors. Among the beneficiaries who have participated in the program thus far, 7000 girls aged 9-14 have completed their catch up literacy program, approximately 1000+ girls have acquired certified vocational skills, more than 14,000 girls have participated in an organized life skills-based education programme.

To test technology-enabled learning, 7000 students have been exposed to lessons on tablets and 60 to online learning for grade 9 science subjects-contrary to myths that girls in deprived areas cannot learn through technologies.

The visiting dignitaries witnessed and heard these voices promising to do much more for girls’ education and continue with the program that has brought hope with strong outcomes.