KARACHI: To the 14-year-old, it seems like a decision of life and death: Biology, Computer Science, or Arts? What subject stream should she choose in class nine?
In most other schools, the choice would be made for her by her class eight exam results. High scores would mean Science or Computer Studies, and anything lower than 70 per cent would put her in the Arts group.
However, at The Citizens Foundation (TCF) schools in Karachi and Lahore, a mentoring effort, called the Rahbar Programme, is aiming to counsel students about their options, keeping in mind their aptitude. The programme started in 2008. “We decided to start the programme [after reviewing] our education system,” said Sanober Adeel, one of the programme’s founding members. Mentoring starts in class seven and students are assigned a mentor for eight weeks, during which they discuss what they want to do with their lives.
“When we started, we had no idea the programme would prove to be life-changing for us and our students,” said Adeel, adding that the students had come to regard their mentors as friends and confidantes who they could respect and learn from. Ambreen Zaheer, TCF’s education manager for the region South as well as a mentor, also feels that the programme is beneficial for both the students and the mentors. “It results in a strong bond and the feeling of togetherness with the children, which not only helps them but also benefits us.”
In the two cities where the programme is underway, 500 volunteer mentors are guiding close to 2,000 students. The foundation itself has 660 purpose-built school units nationwide with an enrollment of 92,000 students and a 50 per cent female ratio on almost every campus. Ninety-five per cent of students are on scholarships as a result of which they need to pay only 10 rupees in tuition. Zaheer believes that the programme is successful because it offers practical solutions.
“Psychological assessments of our students showed significant changes,” she said. “Mentoring not only improves their ability to cope with stress, but also increases their sense of organisation and self worth and gives them the vision to look for solutions to problems.” Family support is another element intrinsic to the programme’s success, Zaheer feels. “Students we mentor, mostly girls, are barely 14 or 15 years old and are now permitted, by the men in their families, to call us and talk to us about their problems,” she said. “Given the socio-economic backgrounds that they come from, it is a real shift in mindset.”