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SDGs and Pakistan

Quality and Inclusive Education for All: The Aga Khan Schools and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

                                                         Part 3

Introduction

In the previous blog (part 2), I introduced the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). I looked at its contributions to development and education in Pakistan with a particular reference to the Aga Khan Schools operated by the Aga Khan Education Service, Pakistan (AKESP) in remote and underserved regions such as Chitral.

In this blog, drawing on the data from my PhD research project, I discuss some of the priorities of the Aga Khan Schools for educational development in Chitral in particular, and Pakistan in general. In doing so, I analyse how the Aga Khan Schools’ efforts contribute to the Education 2030 agenda articulated in SDG 4, aiming to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

SDG 4 targets: source

Aga Khan Schools in Chitral: priorities for education development, and the SDG 4

The mission of AKESP is “to enable many generations of students to acquire both knowledge and the essential spiritual wisdom needed to balance that knowledge and enable their lives to attain the highest fulfillment. Within this faith-inspired vision for educational development, the students are expected to use knowledge/education to improve their standard of life and that of the community and the wider society.

With the core purpose of “reaching out to inspire better lives,” the Aga Khan Schools  offer quality education, in line with  the AKESP  vision –  “a dynamic learning organisation achieving excellence.” The education in these schools contributes to AKDN’s broader goal of improving the quality of life of individuals and their communities. I have previously discussed that within AKDN, quality of life and education goes beyond the neoliberal logic of economic benefits to embrace a broad approach to life (see part 2). In their educational endeavours, the schools are encouraged to follow distinct values such as “respect, fairness, integrity, passion, rigor and creativity.” These schools aim to produce young people who are ”confident, critically conscious, creative, lifelong learners, who are active and ethical citizens for the pluralist world.”

Mission, vision and core purpose display in an Aga Khan School in Chitral 

With these objectives and values in mind, AKESP sets priorities for education at organisational levels for the network of Aga Khan Schools. These priorities shape the programs and practices of all schools. The schools in Chitral initially addressed the acute need for girls’ education and then broadened their focus to education for all. One of the Aga Khan School heads, who took part in my research project, indicates the schools’ evolving priorities over time:

AKESP started with a few primary schools, specifically for girls’ education. Over time, the organisational priorities expanded from sole girls’ education to quality education for all girls and boys. At present, both girls and boys get an education at a ratio of 50:50. Girls’ education remains the primary concern. After taking in all the girls, the schools offer boys admission up to 50% of the schools’ total enrolment, but not at girls’ expense. (School head 1, personal communication, Aug 5, 2019).

Aga Khan School in a remote valley in Chitral

As this discussion illustrates, gender equity has always been a concern and a priority for Aga Khan schools. The organisational policies (e.g., the school equity policy) direct the schools to ensure “equitable access to girls and boys” and to “eliminate gender discrimination by promoting gender equity [through] all the programs, practices and procedures” (School policy document, 2016, p. 45). AKESP’s practices have led to a shift in parental attitudes over recent decades. There is some degree of increased acceptance of the importance of girls’ education in the community. However, some schools still face issues from parents with regard to their gender equity practices. The broader cultural norms in Chitral, like the broader cultural context in Pakistan, favour boys as compared to their female siblings. Boys enjoy more autonomy and privileges, whether it is ownership of family property or investment in access to quality education. One of the school heads notes:

Despite decades of community mobilisation campaigns of the AKDN institutions, we face issues from the community. Many parents challenge me, arguing for boys’ admission. In this culture, boys are the breadwinners, while girls marry and leave their parents. If I compromise on the admission policy, the school will turn into a boys’ school. (School head 3, personal communication, Aug 26, 2019)

To tackle the issue, the Aga Khan Schools put girls’ admission at the forefront.  One school head argues that preferencing girls is a strategy to ensure gender equity/equality. In the absence of such stringent practices, the social and cultural norms in communities would marginalise girls:   

For me,  increasing girls’ education is equated to gender equity. AKESP’s efforts that started back in the 1980s are continuing, targeting to bring more girls to school; otherwise, we cannot ensure gender equality. (School head 2, personal communication, Aug 23, 2019)

Girl students in an Aga Khan School : source

AKESP’s gender equity practices address target 4.5 of the SDG 4, which aims to “eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations.” This blog is addressing SDG 4, but it is important to acknowledge here that it is the SDG 5, which dedicatedly addresses gender equality.

Another of the Aga Khan Schools’ key features is focusing on early childhood education and development (ECED). The schools provide an inclusive environment for learning and development to children from the age of three within the school premises. In some cases, the schools make alternate arrangements for ECED closer to the communities known as satellite campuses. At the national level, AKESP runs a three-year pre-primary program: pre-primary I, II, and III, for the students aged 2– 3, 3 – 4, and 4–5, respectively. In the Chitral region, the schools run a two-year pre-primary program, pre-primary II and III, for children aged 3 to 5. Running pre-primary I is not feasible because children aged 2 – 3 cannot access schools due to the rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions.

The emphasis on ECED is based on recognising that the early years are critical for children’s development. The inspiration for ECED primarily comes from His Highness, the Aga Khan himself, as one of the school heads argues:

More than 75% of a child’s brain development occurs at an early age. The Imam himself repeatedly urged for ECED. He advised his followers about its importance during his last visit to Chitral. In his role as the spiritual leader, the Imam could have talked about many theological matters, which are fundamental in faith. Yet, he spoke about education, emphasising quality education, and especially the ECED. (School head 3, personal communication, Aug 23, 2019)

A school head working in a remote valley of Upper Chitral describes the importance of ECED:

The early age is a crucial period for the children for their learning and overall development. Therefore, the organisation invests a lot in providing resources, both human and materials. Our long-term goal is to provide ECED access to 100% of the children in our target communities. A huge target to achieve only through the Aga Khan Schools. Therefore, we work with other AKDN agencies, the communities, and other civil society organisations. (School head 1, personal communication, Aug 28, 2019)

A teacher facilitating pre-primary students: source

Aga Khan Schools in Pakistan have two key goals focused on ECED experiences. These include preparing early-year students for a smooth transition to the next level and increasing access to quality education. The ECED practices of AKESP directly address target 4.2 of the  SDG 4, “ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.”

One of the crucial reasons why many children, particularly girls, cannot access education in many rural areas in Pakistan is a lack of schools. However, in Chitral, public and private schools have seen significant growth during recent decades. As a result, the primary focus of the Aga Khan Schools has recently shifted to ensuring quality and inclusive education. A school head states:

Access to school is not an issue at present. The real problem now is the quality of education the schools offer. Our schools now strive to provide quality education. We need to equip students with such an education to cope with the complexities of the 21st-century. The school’s mission and vision [pointing at the display board] define our aspirations very clearly. (School head 3, personal communication, Aug 23, 2019)

Aga Khan School in a remote village in Chitral: source

For improving the quality of education, the AKESP continues to focus on inducting quality teachers and school heads and on their continuing professional development. Concurrently, the organisation strengthens support mechanisms to schools and has been upgrading infrastructure and teaching resources, including Information and Communication Teachogies(ICT). Due to these developments/improvements, the Aga Khan Schools continued to facilitate student learning through various remote learning programs during the pandemic in most schools in the remote valleys of Chitral and the nearby region of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).

In this blog I looked at some of the organisational priories for Aga Khan Schools and their relevance to SDG 4. In the next blog, I will discuss some of the enrichment programs that aim to address certain goals, bringing a particular global perspective to education trends into the local context. In doing so, I articulate how these programs contribute to the SDG agenda which guides this series of blogs.

By Mir Zaman Shah

PhD scholar School of Education, RMIT University Melbourne Australia

4 replies on “Quality and Inclusive Education for All: The Aga Khan Schools and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”

Keeping in view United Nation’s SDGs the PhD scholar has highlighted learning and quality status of AKES, P schools completely and comprehensively. In this blog, progress of Aga Khan Schools is self-explanatory and visible. In this progress of AKES, P schools, use of Educational Technology ICT and ECED has vital role. When we compare student’s learning, growth, and skills with other Education system visible quality is there. Since AKES, P has introduced the two elements ECED and ICT in teaching and learning process schools are growing rapidly with quality learning both at national and global level.
Apart from this AKES, P also takes advantage of technology to develop technological teaching skills and effective use of technology in teaching and learning process. It has a sound Academic team from top to bottom. According public and parents of student’s comments, in recent COVID-19 period AKES, P was one of the most effective facilitators of its students to learn from home while using various means of technology even at remotest part of Pakistan like Yarkon Upper Chitral Gobor and Arkari Lower Chitral.
AKES, P has been facilitating learning community and still facilitating with:
 Study pack delivered to students at home
 Cable TV Video lecture of lesson with Power point presentation (where available)
 Video Lectures delivered at home to play via computer, Smart phone, and LED TVs etc
 Learning resource sharing at WhatsApp group and guidance and answers to question
 Google classroom (online classes) with the help of multi technologies both hardware and software.

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In a very brief and thorough write-up, the scholar has highlighted the history of AKES,P from access to quality and from merely Girls’ education to co-education, however, not at the cost of girls education. The way different schools Heads have expressed their views on AK Schools, talk about the inspirational history of this organization and different phases of transitions like access to quality, importance of early childhood education and facilitating the schools with informational technology without making any discrimination throughout the valley.
We are desperately for the next blog which will definitely unveil the remarkable history of this great institution.

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A very comprehensive introduction of the Aga Khan Schools in Chitral. No doubt the Aga Khan Schools have played a pivotal role in initially providing access and more recently imparting quality education in the region. In particular, the students of the higher secondary schools can easily compete with students from elite schools in Urban Pakistan. The focus on female education has led to an increase in female participation in higher education and the labour market.

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This insightful article highlights the prevailing patriarchal hierarchies in the postcolonial Pakistani society, although vary across the country on the basis of social status, rural-urban divide, religious beliefs and practices, local cultural norms, and so on. This patriarchy gives preference to boys compared to girls, which is regarded as one of the key reasons for gender inequality in education. Keeping this challenge at the forefront, AKESP’s enrolment and gender policies provide great access and encouragement to girls in rural areas like Chitral that is also evident in the segregated enrolment rates with an increasing tendency. This depicts a great localization effort of global policies and development strategies focusing on gender equality, enrolment, retention, quality, and inclusive education in schools. The special emphasis on teacher recruitment and training, school infrastructure, ECED, and introducing ICT, seem to be in line with the SDGs and Incheon Declaration. I would like to understand how these policy discourses contribute to the SDGs, in general, and gender development, in particular, in the upcoming blog.

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