New School on the Block
There is a palpable air of excitement. A group of bright, scrubbed young faces greet guests and usher them proudly into their new school premises. It is the inauguration of the Rana Liaquat Ali School in Shah Faisal Colony, part of the extended community project that is run here by the Rana Liaquat Ali Craftsmen Colony. The NGO works entirely with locally raised funds and the RLCC team has worked tirelessly to realize their dream of a school that sets the bar high.
The children guide us around the new custom built school which features airy classrooms, a library, a computer room and lab facilities. Nida who is in grade 8, tells us she loves science and wants to be a doctor. Her father works as a security guard in a factory and her mother stitches at home to supplement their income. Taha, also in class 8, likes English best. With the sunlight glinting off his glasses, he isn’t sure what he wants to be but for the present is genuinely happy to be part of this school.
“We have waited earnestly for this day for the last 7 years,” says Shahida Ibrahim, who is Educational Coordinator at the school. Herself a retired teacher from Habib Girls School, Ms Ibrahim explains how the school began modestly with only 45 children. ” Our biggest challenge is that we train our teachers but then they leave, either getting married or moving on to more lucrative opportunities.”
Despite considerable odds, the school has come along way from a a very basic pre-primary school to the present impressive building which will each year accommodate a new class upto the intermediate level. The school staff is firmly committed to mainitaing standards, conducting regular teacher training programmes and limiting the numbers in each class. The teachers are trained to use role play and interactive teaching methods, steering them away from the traditional rote learning approach. “We have a long waiting list ,” says project coordinator Hamida Khokar. “But we don’t want to compromise on this.” The school does charge a modest fee to those who can pay but education is free or further subsidized for those who are identified as non-affording. “They are given uniforms, shoes and books as well,” says Ms Khokar.
Little Nida shows us around the library where she tells us that they borrow a book every week. “If I don’t understand some words, I use a dictionary.” Then we discuss the book we have read . ” In fact, reading is given great emphasis here. “We have a reading programme. The children read for 15 minutes each morning in English or Urdu besides their regular library period,” explains Ms Ibrahim.
The majority of the children who study here are from low income households and are often poorly nourished so the school decided to start a milk programme as well. “”Each child is given glass of milk with Rooh Afza every day,” says Ms Khokar.
Extra curriculars like art and theatre are also beginning to be explored with the school celebrating cultural days, holding a sports day and science exhibitions. “We recently participated in a theatre workshop conducted by Aahung about gender roles,”adds Ms Khokar. “The play was written and acted by our teachers and children and we won first prize.”
Zahra Chughtai has worked and written for Pakistan's leading publications including Newsline, the Herald and Dawn. She continues to write freelance.