A single loaf of bread may cost nearly six rupees, but education at the Amal-e-Danish school located in Gadap, Karachi, is even cheaper. The nearly 800 students at the school, each pay a fee of only one rupee per month.
The school was set up in 1984 by Parveen Rao and her friends as a university project for lower-income children in the Korangi area. At the time, they not only taught the children for free but also offered them a stipend of Rs30 per day as an incentive. However, as the city’s conditions deteriorated and the area became volatile, the school had to close its doors after a decade.
Despite immense financial and social constraints, Rao decided to restart the initiative in 2004 using her personal savings. Even though the school was set up in a different location this time, its premise remained the same. The students, however, were now required to pay a fee of one rupee per month. “The idea behind this was to preserve these children’s self-esteem. They should not think of themselves as charity cases,” explains Rao.
The same principle is also maintained in the classrooms at the Amal-e-Danish school. “We do a background check on each of our students to assess their financial standing,” explains one of the teachers. “No one is scolded or penalised if they cannot get a certain book or stationery. We want to build confidence in these students and make them feel like equals in society.”
A student showing his father’s notebook to Parveen Rao. This is part of an initiative where students are required to teach another individual in order to be promoted to the next grade. PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR
Despite a minimal cost structure, the quality of education at the school is at par with other private schools. Rao follows the Maria Montessori system that is followed in most private schools in Karachi and lays a strong emphasis on art and recreation along with academics. The classrooms are aptly equipped and students are also taught computing skills which pave the way for multiple job opportunities.
For children who have missed out on early schooling, there is the Tez Raftar (fast-track programme) which completes five years (grades one to five) of education in three years and promotes them to the sixth grade. This helps those who were working or were out of school to catch up with their peers.
The school also aims to become a change agent in society through programmes such as the Taleem-e-Balighan in which students from the sixth, seventh and eighth grades are required to teach English, Urdu and Math to another individual as a core component of their class. “Many of these children have taught their mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts and neighbours to read and write as a result of this programme,” says Rao. Regular records of the person under tutelage are maintained by the school and the student’s promotion to the next grade is determined by the performance of those who have been taught by them. “This provides them with an incentive to teach with thorough dedication and put in their maximum,” she says.
The computer lab at the Amal-e-Danish school. PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR
Rao has also created a workbook with domestic mathematics and reading exercises in English and Urdu with numbers of local buses and names of hospitals and markets to enhance learning that will be useful in day-to-day life. “Our purpose is to not just change one child but enhance their entire surrounding. Education should create a ripple effect,” she says.
The school gates remain open to its students even after their education has been completed. For those wishing to pursue a higher education, the Amal-e-Danish school provides loans to help them bear the cost. The students can repay the loan in small installments over a flexible period of time by teaching at the school and getting a certain fraction of their salaries deducted. This initiative has specially encouraged young women to continue their education as the families are not made to compromise on the income of a working member. The graduates of this unique one rupee school have gone on to pursue their higher education, built careers in teaching and accounting and set up small businesses.
Students line up in the courtyard to leave the school premises as the bell rings signalling the end of the day. PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR
The school has also opened branches in Surjani Town, Karachi and Tehsil Ferozwala in Lahore. Along with expanding the school’s operation, one of Rao’s primary focus areas is to break barriers towards education and increase attendance rates at the school. For this, regular surveys are carried out from time to time to get an insight into the family’s problems and attitudes and counsel them accordingly.
A student stands in front of the class and reads out from the school’s English course book. PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR
The school is entirely run on donations at the moment which are often tight and hard to procure. “I am not comfortable with asking people for donations so no one knows that they can contribute and help us out,” explains Rao. “We only have three donors at the moment because of which we have to manage in a low budget and that makes running the school extremely difficult.”
Second grade students drawing tigers during their fine arts class. PHOTOS BY AYESHA MIR
But the tough ride has done little to dampen Rao’s spirits and she continues her crusade with the same zest. “When I started initially, my aim was to educate a hundred children. Once that was done, I realised there were another hundred who needed me and here I am.”
The contact details for the schools are as follows:
E-mail: [email protected]
Ph:(021) 2639661 Fax: (021) 2219014
Noreen Mumtaz is a student at the Limkokwing University, Malaysia.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 9th, 2014.
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