By educating out-of-school kids, a student becomes a lesson for govt

Governments come and go but sectors like education are ignored and allowed to get worst as years pass

Lubna Jerar Naqvi

When the pandemic struck the poorly prepared world, students found their futures hanging in the balance as they had no idea when they were going back to their institutes.

One local hero, however, decided to take things into his young hands and made a difference for everyone to see, but the government.

Pakistan has an estimated 22.8 million — aged 5 to 16 years— out-of-school children and more than 7,000 ghost schools and, according to World Bank data, the country's expenditure on education dropped to 2.4% of GDP in 2021 as compared to 3% in 2016, which clearly shows the government's seriousness towards the foundation of nation-building.

Sufiyan Ahmad, a 22-year-old resident of Karachi's Haji Shambay Goth (village) in the Sharafi area of Landhi Town, was also very concerned about this.

Sufiyan Ahmad seated in the centre of his open classroom with his students gathered around him. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahmad
Sufiyan Ahmad seated in the centre of his open classroom with his students gathered around him. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahmad

He was aware that a large number of children didn’t get an education in Pakistan in the best of times, and things would only get worse during the pandemic.

Also, during the fiscal year 2022-23, the government allocated Rs90.556 billion for Education Affairs and Services in the federal budget — a 1.5% decrease. As it is, education is one of the most ignored sectors affecting millions of students across the country.

Governments come and go but sectors like education are ignored and allowed to get worst as years pass. Last year, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said his government’s priority was to improve school education in the province. But giving him the benefit of the doubt, things have been so chaotic that education has probably been pushed back for now.

The government may be busy dealing with other important things, but thankfully Pakistan has individuals and groups who don’t complain about the government’s lack of attention and action. Instead, they take the issue into their own hands and try to make a difference.

Experts predicted that more children would drop out of school because of the pandemic, and this was bad news for a country like Pakistan which already has such a high rate of out-of-school students.

Sufiyan knew that the state of education in Pakistan, at least for children who lived in areas like his village on the outskirts of Karachi, was going to be bad if something wasn’t done on time.

Female students of Sufiyans The Education House pose for the camera in the schools premises. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahmad
Female students of Sufiyan's The Education House pose for the camera in the school's premises. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahmad

He knew that the children of this area would not be a priority for anyone, especially during the pandemic, and he had to take the matter into his own hands. Sufiyan then set up The Education House: Free Education for all in his area — Haji Shambay Goth, located off the main Shah Faisal Korangi Road.

Sufiyan and his two team members began classes at The Education House on the grounds of the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Library (DMC Malir) in 2020.

Out of the three rooms, the larger room has a makeshift bookshelf lined with books donated by different people, a few rickety chairs, and a bedsheet used as curtains.

As modest as the surroundings are, they cannot contain the passion and enthusiasm of Sufiyan, his team and his students, who attend the class as enthusiastically as they are taught.

Sufiyan is the youngest of four siblings and his family is proud of him. His mother said Sufiyan was the youngest of her children and had always wanted to help others. "We gave him more space to do what he wanted and allowed him to choose what he wanted to do," she said.

His mother added it was a pleasant surprise for them when Sufiyan said he wanted to become an educator. "And when he established The Education House all by himself during the pandemic, I knew he would make a difference. He is providing free education to the underprivileged kids, what else can a mother want.”

Students seated in line before their class begins at The Education House. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahmad
Students seated in line before their class begins at The Education House. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahmad

She added that her son spends most of his day either getting educated or educating others. “He travels to Lyari early in the morning to attend university and returns in the evening to teach children of the area.”

Sufiyan is currently a student at Benazir Bhutto Shaheed University, Lyari, studying BS English. He enjoys what he does, and it gives him a feeling of achievement.

“I go to university in the morning and when I return, I teach students. There are three other teachers with me, who are also students and like me they, too, study in the morning and teach in the evening,” Sufiyan said, adding, “I set up The Education House during the pandemic to educate young children in my area.”

“We give basic education to children including that of English language. We have students of secondary and higher classes to whom we teach basic English; basic words; prepositions, articles etc. And we also coach them in whatever they are learning in their schools," Sufiyan said.

At such a young age, Sufiyan is conscious of how important it is that teachers also keep improving their skills. So apart from teaching students, he also takes out time to train his teammates and teachers at The Education House before classes. The young educator wants to ensure that his team members, who are also students themselves, give the students the best education they can provide.

A student paints the schools wall with his handprints. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahamd
A student paints the school's wall with his handprints. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahamd

“I trained my team members in the basics of English grammar just so we can impart the best education to students. After people see what we are doing, many young people including some of my friends, are interested in supporting us. Other university students are thinking of joining us and I plan to begin English classes in which we can focus on teaching grammar.”

“We have around 100 students, mostly younger children who don’t go to school or who go to the government primary school. We provide them with stationery, which we try to get from donors,” Sufiyan said.

Ironically, right next to the library is a dilapidated government school that is not used for conducting classes but to house cattle, while students sit outside on sand to get an education.

Speaking about the unused school building, Sufiyan said: “The school building is not used for education which was its sole purpose, but as a shed for cattle by local farmers. It hurts to see this school going to waste, while students are either deprived of education or sit on the floor in the open to take classes.”

He buys books and stationery for the students, while there are some people who support him and his great initiative.

“We don’t have an official donor, but there are some people who support us. I want to mention Taliyan Aslam — a young social worker in Balochistan — and her parents who support us," Sufiyan said.

Like all young people, the education volunteer is also active on social media and keeps posting content about his initiative. This is where he was contacted by Sanjay Raja, a civil engineer from Sindh's Larkana district, who set up an initiative called Sindh Reads which gives books to local libraries and individuals, primarily in the province.

A student reads a lesson during class at The Education House. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahmad
A student reads a lesson during class at The Education House. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahmad

Sanjay contacted Sufiyan via Instagram and they discussed their initiatives. Later, Sanjay brought books copies and stationery for the students of The Education House. Such support helps lessen the burden on students and their parents, so they focus only on education.

In the future, Sufiyan wants to keep teaching and wants to reach out to other areas of the country and provide free education.

“I want my mission to grow out of my village. If I get an opportunity, I really want to take this into other areas of Karachi and the rest of the country. I want to continue as an educationist and teach at a government university, but I will also continue what I am doing now," he said sharing his ambitions.

As already mentioned, the larger room in the facility is used as a library, and the other two rooms are used by Ustad Baba Raheem, the local coach who trains young children and youth — both boys and girls — of the area to box. Ustad Baba provides sports equipment to his trainees and also supports them so that they can participate in different local events.

The front facade of the library adjacent to The Education Houses class premises. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahmad
The front facade of the library adjacent to The Education House's class premises. — Photo by Sufiyan Ahmad

“I haven’t included sports in the activities at The Education House, nor did I donate anything to them [Ustad Baba Raheem] but I do include them in any events I organise to motivate them,” Sufiyan said, adding, “... Ustad Baba Rahim has been coaching children of this area for seven or eight years, we have only been working for three years.”

Sufiyan urged the government to repair the school building and allow The Education House to use it for education — which was its main purpose. He insisted that sports will also be an important addition to the curriculum.

“We request the government to repair the government school in Haji Shambay Goth, District Malir so that students and teachers can use it, instead of cattle tied there,” Sufiyan said.

He requested the government to renovate the building and provide some classes for his initiative, so that he could begin classes here and also develop a sports centre.

"There are several football clubs and boxing clubs in our area, we can request them to coach students, as sports is as important as education," Sufiyan said.

The school building is quite damaged and has been taken over by a group of people who don’t allow anyone in. The chief minister has a chance to prove that his government’s priority is creating betterment for school education in Sindh by renovating the government school in Haji Shambay Goth.

There is no need to recreate the wheel, the government can work with Sufiyan Ahmad and his team, who are already invested in improving the state of education in the area. It will be a good chance to show how committed the government is to the needs of the people.

Lubna Jerar Naqvi is a journalist, factchecker and media trainer. She is also the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Pakistan's gender coordinator, vice president of Karachi Union of Journalists (KUJ), IFJ Gender Council member for 2022-2025, and recipient of the first South Asia Laadli Media Awards for Gender Sensitivity 2015-16. She tweets @raiseqalam