N.G.O.s put more Pakistanis in school
Many kids get no education or attend madrassahs, which may cover few subjects or even teach radical Islam.
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Until that happens, it seems likely that madrassahs will continue to flourish. Abdul Waheed, director of the Bright Educational Society, which runs a secular school in Karachi and a literacy program in more than 300 madrassahs, says at least 1.5 million Pakistani children attend madrassahs full time, and some 30 million part-time. "Most of these madrassahs don't teach any subject except religion," he says.Skip to next paragraph
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In 2002 the government launched the Madrasa Reforms Project, which was designed to establish better standards in religious schools and broaden their curricula. But there are reports the program has been abandoned after it reached only a fraction of madrassahs.
In the absence, so far, of effective government efforts to stem the influence of Islamic schools, nonprofit organizations that rely largely on donor funding find themselves playing a disproportionately large role in Pakistan's education system.
The biggest is The Citizen's Foundation (TCF), which teaches 65,000 pupils in an ever-extending network of schools; so far it has opened more than 500 across Pakistan. It hopes to expand to at least 1,000 schools in the near future.
Sanjan Nagar, like most nonprofit secular schools in Pakistan, is heavily oversubscribed. This academic year 380 children applied for 60 places, says principal Faiza Shahrukh, who adds that since she joined the school two years ago not a single child has dropped out.
"When I'm feeling depressed about Pakistan I think of the school and remember that it is possible to create change here in just a few years," says Nusrat Jamil, a social worker who volunteers at the school.
Schools like Sanjan Nagar and those run by TCF rely largely on public donations to fund their work – as well as the involvement of volunteer teachers and mentors to run them. They teach a broad, secular curriculum with an emphasis on academic success.
While Sanjan Nagar was established with a large endowment from a Pakistani philanthropist, TCF has a well-established network of supporting organizations around the world, such as The Citizen's Foundation USA, which decides how the funds it contributes to the schools in Pakistan are spent.
But while Sanjam Nagar undoubtedly offers an inspiring example in Pakistan's wretched education sector, nonprofits like this have only limited reach, as the students themselves are painfully aware.
Tahira, who goes by one name, has three sisters and two brothers who all attend government schools. "I'm the youngest but they don't really know anything so I help them with their homework," she says with some embarrassment. "I know I'm very lucky."