Tuesday Oct 15, 2019
ISLAMABAD: Kate Middleton and her husband, Prince William, signalled their support for women's education in Pakistan on Tuesday by making a girls school the first stop on their inaugural tour that comes 13 years after the last royal visit.
Both wearing blue, the couple visited the school in Islamabad where they hung out with students in a mathematics class. The educational institute was a Model School for Pakistani girls where the royal duo witnessed how a British project was helping get teachers into the poorest schools.
While the Duke opted for a Western outfit, looking relaxed in a light button-down shirt with no tie, the Duchess of Cambridge — who draped a long scarf over the shoulder of her royal blue shalwar kameez — sat down with some of the young students, whose blue uniforms matched the Duchess's dress.
The royals shook hands and talked with the beaming kids at the entrance of the public sector entity, which was established in 1978 and caters to students between aged four to 18 under Teach for Pakistan programme — based on the UK's Teach First Scheme.
Education official Khadija Bakhtiar told AFP that the couple helped some of the students solve problems. "Both wanted to engage in a natural way... so it was a very nice" visit, she said.
William and Kate, on reaching the school, shared smiles with the kids and highlighted the importance of girls’ education, besides expressing satisfaction over the ‘Teach for Pakistan’ scheme that helps disadvantaged kids.
The royal couple spent roughly half an hour at the government-run school — which has an estimated 1,000 students from first to 12th grade — before they were waved off by smiling students.
They later visited conservationists in the Himalayan foothills outside Islamabad, before meeting Prime Minister Imran Khan, an old friend of William's mother, the late Princess Diana.
The PM, in the meeting at the Prime Minister House, commended their visit for "promoting positive activities in Pakistan" as he mentioned their efforts on raising worldwide awareness on education, climate change, and inequality.
He also appreciated the royal couple for holding interaction with young Pakistanis, including schoolchildren.
The prime minister recalled the love and affection Pakistanis have for Prince William's late mother, Princess Diana, owing to her compassion and support for charitable causes.
In response, Prince William termed Pakistan "a very important country for the United Kingdom" and thanked the government for the warm welcome and hospitality extended to them and their entourage.
Nearly half of Pakistani school-age children — 23 million — do not attend school, UNICEF says.
Girls and women are particularly sidelined in terms of studies in a country where they have struggled for basic rights for decades.
Last year, a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report said 32 percent of primary school-age girls are out of school, as opposed to 21 percent of boys.
Details of the royal couple's five-day visit — their first official trip to Pakistan — are being kept under wraps, with security expected to be tight.
The next stop for Kate and William after visiting the girls' model school was at the Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP), Trail 5, where they took part in activities with local school kids. There, they encouraged local school children to learn about conservation and pollution.
In addition to Islamabad, they are set to visit Pakistan's second-largest city Lahore — once the capital of the Mughal Empire — as well as the mountainous north and the region near the border with Afghanistan in the west.