To counter the “woefully underfunded” education budget in Pakistan, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will spend 155 million dollars on a national literacy project with the aim of creating over 700,000 literate children in Sindh.
USAID administrator Rajiv Shah, during his visit to Pakistan, launched the National Reading Programme (NRP) at the Government Girls Primary/Secondary School in Sultanabad. He was accompanied by the education and literacy minister, Pir Mazharul Haq. US Ambassador Cameron Munter and Consul General William Martin were also present.
The programme is aimed at training teachers, improving literacy and numeracy, and mobilising communities to help with the management of schools. Through the NRP, student enrollment and retention will also be increased, especially of girls.
“This is one of our biggest and most important partnerships in any country, with some of the longest projects taking place,” said Shah. “Our efforts have grown into sustainable programmes.” Earlier, he also visited the Consul General’s residence.
Nationally, over three million children are expected to learn how to read and write and over 90,000 teachers are expected to be trained in teaching and assessment. The programme aims to improve the literacy and numeracy for over seven million children.
Shah feels that a project such as the NRP is necessary in Pakistan because the government is lagging behind in its responsibilities. “This is good because it supplements Pakistan’s education budget which is woefully underfunded,” said Shah. “But more importantly, it establishes the need for accountability in school administration and management.”
According to the Pakistan mission director, Andrew Sisson, the USAID has spent 30 million in post-flood aid to Pakistan and plans to extend and double it.
Promoting female entrepreneurs
At an exhibition at the Consul General’s residence, USAID showcased their projects which focused mainly on rural Sindh’s female “micro-entrepreneurs”. These women mostly work in dairy and traditional items, such as patchwork quilts or rillis, which the USAID calls “embellished fabrics”.
USAID claims to have trained over 70,000 women in the business of embellished fabrics, dairy, honey and medicinal plants, which can help them reach the domestic market and possibly the export market.
“South Asian women, and especially Pakistani women from rural areas, are part of a rich local tradition of making beautifully embroidered handicrafts,” said Shah. “These products could become a source of income for women artisans and their families.”
According to the USAID administrator, the results of the programmes are already bearing fruit and the women working in the livestock and dairy entrepreneurship side have already seen a 20 to 50 per cent increase in their income. “Hillary Clinton stressed the need to expand beyond a government-to-government partnership towards more people-to-people partnerships, which we feel is represented through our projects.”
For those working in traditional crafts, Shah said that some incomes have seen a 300 to 500 per cent improvement which could help these women sustain their own businesses and work towards exporting.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2012.