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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.

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:

  • 9 Class Rooms
  • 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.

To facilitate the process of learning, flashcards are used which contain all possible written forms of the sounds. The teacher uses the flash cards to show the visual presentation of the sounds and to test the comprehension of the learners. The members of the literacy group are asked to use these flash cards to identify the sounds they have learnt in a particular key word. Once the group is comfortable with the concept of sounds and has attained mastery in how to write the written representations contained in the key word they have learnt the teacher demonstrates how new words can be made by merely changing the sequence of the sounds learnt. After being taught 5-7 sounds, the learners are in a position to make tens of new words and short sentences by re-arranging the sequence of the sounds. As the learning progresses, the learners are taught the use of spaces between the words, how to make sentences, use of punctuation etc. Learning written representations of about 15-20 sounds, they are in a position to construct meaningful and coherent text. After that learners enter into the more complex arena of learning the language.

After collective discussions and debates the group reaches some conclusion and based on the agreed analysis and identification of the root causes of the key problems decisions are made on initiating individual and collective action. A number of aids are used to facilitate the process.

The linking of work on practical solutions to adult education is one of the key aspects of the new approach. The issues raised by the groups are related to status of women and girls, rights and responsibilities, decision making and participation in political processes, general health problems, reproductive health, child care, poor economic resources, children’s education, property rights and inheritance, livestock and poultry management, absence of physical infrastructure, conflict management, poor sanitation and drainage facilities and development of local leadership.

The role of the supporting organization in the practical solutions is that of a catalyst. As issues emerge from the group discussions, Khoj facilitates them frame their ideas in realistic terms, to have access to any technical expertise and to organize the activity. Action and action planning is an ongoing process.

It takes approximately six months to complete the first phase of learning. The last leg of the literacy and numeracy program accommodates a process of reinforcing what they had learnt earlier in literacy, arithmetic and on the awareness building side. They read stories on different issues and write their own views on issues crucial to them. Many other activities like weekly study circles take place in order to establish an effective link between learning and action.

A WORD OF CAUTION: Abrupt discontinuation of any literacy program after six months would very easily throw them back in illiteracy. It is imperative to organize activities which encourage the learners to keep using their newly acquired skills and hence making literacy a life tool of empowerment for them.

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

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