Girl’s Primary School Attendance Increases in Sindh Province, Pakistan
Land O'Lakes, Inc., Pakistan, 2004, 416
The government of Pakistan plans to replicate the school nutrition program throughout Pakistan.
Headmistress Amna Khatoon teaches some of the 25 percent of Sindh girls enrolled in school.
Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
“Female enrollment has improved over the past five years,” says Amna Khatoon, a teacher in Sindh.
The success story below is excerpted from a May 31, 2007, article written and published by Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), the humanitarian news and analysis service, on its website (www.irinnews.org). IRIN is part of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, but its services are editorially independent.
“. . . Female primary school enrolment in Pakistan, a nation of 158 million, has long been a key development issue. In rural Sindh Province, an impoverished, largely tribal society of long-standing conservative attitudes and traditions, it requires vision. The situation of girls’ education continues to be a major concern in nearly all 23 districts of Sindh, where recent studies and surveys show that about 75 percent of girls aged between five and nine are not in school.
In Sindh’s Ghotki District, home to 1.2 million inhabitants, the vast majority of whom live in rural areas, the problem is particularly challenging. Poverty is rife in the largely semi-arid region, where most people earn just US$2 per day and many girls are kept at home to work the fields or tend livestock. Compounding the problem further are long-standing cultural and conservative attitudes towards female education that continue to inhibit many girls from attending in the first place.
. . . According to the Sindh education department, in 2001 female participation in schools in Ghotki stood at just 19 percent, giving this remote district bordering India the distinction of not only having the lowest female participation in the province, but the lowest in the nation.
Yet it was precisely those reasons that prompted U.S.-based Land O’Lakes International Development to choose Ghotki for its school nutrition programme, an ambitious effort aimed at improving primary school enrolment in the area, with a particular focus on girls.
The $5 million project is based on a commodity donation of nonfat milk from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The four-year programme targets all children under the age of 10 attending government primary schools in the district. It provides a snack comprised of a small carton of milk and four biscuits daily.
And while simplistic in its approach, not only is the programme working, it is growing in popularity at the community level, making a difference to the lives of thousands of girls, many of whose families would never have dreamed of sending them to school four years earlier.
In 2003 before the programme started, there were fewer than 25,000 primary school age girls enrolled in Ghotki, with regular attendance averaging 15,000. Today over 60,000 girls are enrolled, with regular attendance now reaching 85 percent - a clear sign that a single carton of milk distributed daily not only gets girls back into the classroom, it can also change people’s longstanding attitudes to female education.
“People in the area are changing their perceptions towards education,” Amna Khatoon, headmistress of the Khwand Bukush Mahar government school for girls in Ghotki, an open air facility where six classes are held at once, told IRIN. “There has been a change in people’s mindset. In 2003, we had just 25 girls enrolled in our school. Now we have more than 150,” explains Amna Khatoon, headmistress of the Khwand Bukush Mahar government school for girls in Ghotki.
Just a stone’s throw away, Ali Gohar, a local shopkeeper in the area who sends both his daughters to the same open-air school, couldn’t agree more.
“I feel good about sending my children to school. And I want my girls to be educated,” the 28-year-old father who left school himself at grade 10, added.
“Before it was awkward to send your daughters to school. That taboo has since been broken,” one village elder said, telling IRIN upwards of 90 percent of the girls in his village were now attending classes because of the programme.
Meanwhile, the residual dividends of the programme, including a marked improvement in the hygiene of the girls attending classes, continue to come in, with more local communities calling on the authorities to open additional schools in their areas.
. . . Such calls, though slowly, are being answered. Between November 2006 and the end of May 2007, 131 previously closed schools have been reopened by the Sindh government after insistence from parents. Amongst the 756 one-teacher schools in Ghotki, there has been a marked improvement in regular attendance by teachers after pressure on local education officials by both Land O’Lakes and the community at large.
According to the government of Sindh, during the first two years of the programme, Ghotki became the number one district in Sindh Province in total primary enrolment growth, as well as the number one in girls’ primary enrolment. Girls’ primary enrolment grew by 98 percent in Ghotki as opposed to 29 percent province-wide over the same period.
At the same time, so popular has the programme become, that the Pakistani government now aims to replicate it nationwide, offering close to $12 million in support.
Currently in place in six districts in the country, including Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, the ‘Tawana Pakistan’ or Healthy Pakistan programme is already reaching 100,000 school age girls, but now has even bigger plans.
“If this proves successful - and so far it has - I hope to expand this programme to 50 districts,” Irfan Ullah Khan, national programme director within the Ministry of Social Welfare and Special Education, said in the capital, Islamabad. “We want to reach one million school age girls nationwide, Khan said, adding, “If the government and donors are behind us, we can do it.”
As for the Land O’Lakes programme in Ghotki, slated to end in November 2008, the federal government of Pakistan has already offered to take it over as well, ensuring its sustainability and continued success - another strong sign that a single carton of milk can go a very long way indeed.”