Khoj School for Community Education

Thathi Bhanguaan and the surrounding villages in tehsil Sharaqpur, district Sheikhupura in the Pakistan province of the Punjab, where the population is predominantly of small landholders or landless peasants, was deprived of the most basic facilities. It had neither the most basic health services nor the basic education facilities available to children. These crime-hit villages are spotted with non-functional government primary schools for girls and boys. The gravity of the problem can be realized seeing the school buildings fallen into ruins. Children in many villages, as a result, are denied the basic right to education. There are certain one teacher primary schools where occasionally classes take place in the absence of most needed educational aids. The teaching methods and the curricula are not relevant to the learning needs of the children. After a few years' futile exercise most of these children get absorbed in the status quo of the socioeconomic life of the communities. Girl children are the first and the worst casualty of the circumstances.

History behind Khoj School

Khoj - Society for People's Education launched a program of community development with the communities of more than 20 villages in March 1999. An innovative approach of adult and children's education was adopted that was focused on community development and was based on the principles of relevance and responsiveness to the needs, problems and interests of the learners and the community at large.

The story of our work is a story of an unending struggle. It was impossible to find even a single matriculate in more than 20 surrounding villages to appoint as a teacher. If such a woman could be identified her family refused to send her to the crime ridden villages. After tireless hunting it was decided that Khoj project team would take on the job of teaching themselves. Local women who had primary school education from the village schools were appointed teachers. Members of Khoj project team traveled to the villages every day from Lahore and taught in various classes for first six months. In the meantime teachers were given on the job coaching and training. Later Khoj staff visited the classes every other day. One day the group was taught and the teacher was asked to repeat the same work next day.

This process of teaching and grooming resulted in the local teachers reaching matriculation themselves and they became well versed and very articulate in Khoj methodology of learning and teaching.

Simultaneously, women from these Community Development through Applied Education groups earned matriculation certificates from Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad. This was something unprecedented in the history of the area; absolutely illiterate women working in the mud of agricultural fields emerging as educated women teaching in schools. This did wonders to the self image of the hitherto self effacing women. And most importantly they have become the torch bearers of change for other women.

The Founder of Khoj has been working with urban and rural women for the last 18 years to develop a viable education program that is relevant, need based and action oriented. Learning teaching methodologies, teaching aids, curricula and educational materials have been developed and published in the process. The singular achievement has been the development of a fast track method of teaching literacy in Urdu that is issue based and phonetic.

Three years after the women's program a project for children's primary education was launched in 10 villages that again has been based on the principles of relevance and learning through doing. Graduates from the women's program became teachers and proved better teachers than the graduates from the formal schools.

Creating Opportunities for Quality Education

Children's education project later consolidated in to a model school for children and adults in the village Thathi Bhanguaan. The school is upgraded to secondary level 12 kilometers off the main road and 65 kilometers away from the metropolitan city of Lahore. A local landholder from the village donated a piece of land measuring ΒΌ of an acre in 2003.

The construction plan included:

  • 15 Classrooms
  • Library
  • Science & Agri Lab
  • Computer Lab
  • 6 Latrines
  • Hall
  • Admin Block
  • Adult Education Block
  • School Stores

Building Constructed So Far

The following construction was done in four phases:

  • 9 class rooms measuring 20x15 and 30x20 square feet each
  • 3 Latrines
  • Boundary Walls

Two rooms and school boundary walls were built in the first phase in 2004. Three rooms and three latrines were built in the second phase in 2006, two rooms and a staircase and parapet were built in the third phase in 2008 and three more rooms - 2 classrooms and 1 staff room - were constructed in 2011. All funds were raised through private individual donations.

In addition to routine school operations, a playground with slides, swings etc for young children and a badminton court have been installed.

Education on Offer

Community education includes education for adults and children both. It also provides a platform for community development activities. It accommodates not only the conventional mainstream schools subjects but experiential learning in civic education, agriculture, nutrition and health care, environment and computer skills.

The school is offering education to 124 children of more than six villages. A computer lab, a very basic science and agricultural lab and a small library with more than 800 books are functional in three of the nine rooms. It has an adjacent agricultural plot as well for experiential learning.

The ultimate aim is to establish a school upholding international standards for the children and adults of one of the most neglected areas in Pakistan.

The first group of children enrolled as part of the non-formal education passed their secondary school examination with flying colours.

In addition to routine educational work other activities are organized that could help cultivate logical thinking, democratic outlook and a belief in healthy lifestyle. Rice Festival is a regular feature which is organized every year to promote a culture of cooperation and participation, chemical free safe food, diversity and sovereignty in choice, production and consumption of food. Clean Village campaign was launched to ensure safe and healthy environment. A number of child-centered community health activities are organized at regular intervals.

Challenge of Quality Teachers

As a majority of the high performing local teachers left the villages after they got married, access to quality teachers remains an ongoing challenge. In 2011, seven trained teachers are hired from outside. Developing them as teachers who are well versed in Khoj philosophy and methodology and who believe in it is another challenge.

Future Plans

  1. Procurement of UPS to make computer and Science Labs functional during power cuts
  2. Procurement of a school van for pick and drop of teachers
  3. Construction of the remaining planned building when resources are at hand
  4. Creation of endowment fund to ensure sustainability of school