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Conference sheds light on the growing crisis of Out-of-School-Children

“Out-of-school children require out-of-the-box thinking from us,” was the takeaway from a conference titled The Out-of-School Children (OOSC) Crisis in Pakistan: Who are they? What can be done to secure their future?

Organized through collaborative efforts between Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development (AKU-IED) and Japan International Cooperation Agency- Advancing Quality Alternative Learning (JICA-AQAL) project, the two-day dialogue looked to analyze the OOSC crises and contributing factors, examine the efficacy of accelerated curriculum, materials for quality teaching-learning processes, and highlight effective ways for all stakeholders to help bring education and literacy to OOSC.

Mr. Waseem Ajmal Chaudhry, Joint Secretary (IC), Ministry of Federal Education & Professional Training, Mr. Ghulam Akbar Laghari, Secretary of Education and Literacy Department, Government of Sindh, and various other international, national and provincial stakeholders, as well as members of the academia, participated in the conference.

Addressing the inaugural session via an online link from Nairobi, Professor Carl Amrhein, Provost, and Vice President Academics, AKU, said that the OOSC conference aims to shine a light on this important and urgent social issue, “in so doing we seek to better identify out-of-school children and the barriers they face. There is also a need to identify education retention strategies [for children] beyond the primary level.”

“The out-of-school children crisis is not just an educational or a constitutional crisis, it is, in fact, a collective national moral crisis. We need to ask ourselves why as many as 25 million children in this country remain out of school,” Professor Farid Panjwani, Dean AKU-IED, said while addressing the participants. He also stressed the need for universities to play their part in conducting fruitful research on not just bringing OOSC to school but also bringing non-formal education to them.

Giving the example of Japan, her home country, Ms. Chiho Ohashi, Chief Advisor, JICA-AQAL project said that after World War II the people of her country faced an educational crisis very similar to Pakistan and managed to overcome it with afternoon classes for working children and the incorporation of non-conventional teaching strategies.

Day two of the conference began with Deputy Chief Advisor, AQAL project Mr. Abid Gill outlining gender-sensitive and culturally-relevant flexible solutions to the OOSC crisis. It came to light that the AQAL project is already implementing solutions such as recognizing prior knowledge and enabling a new life-skills-based curriculum for learners of varying ages and competencies. Later in the day, Mr. Sajjad Haider, Specialist Policy and Research AQAL project shared key findings from the OOSC research, such as seeking legislative reforms and changing delivery strategies to help in the inclusion and mainstreaming of OOSC.

After attending deliberations in five separate sessions on curriculum and instruction, delivery models, policy, and the use of technology in promoting literacy for OOSC, the participants of the conference came together to share their key learnings in an interactive session.

Attendees stressed the need for skill-based learning, the incorporation of technology in bringing education to remote areas, and understanding that the OOSC is not a homogenous group and thus requires intelligent and strategic handling.

Presenting key recommendations to pave the pathway towards solving the OOSC crisis, Professor Anjum Halai, Vice Provost, Asia and UK, and Dean, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, AKU, said: “While dealing with OOSC we need to remember that one size does not fit all. Out-of-school children are not a homogenous group and our teaching approach towards them cannot be such either.”

She said that we need to tailor a life-skill-based relevant curriculum rather than a heavily academic one to suit their sensibilities. She also stressed the need for taking cultural context into account and adopting flexible teaching methods when dealing with OOSC.

At the end of the deliberations, Dr. Dilshad Ashraf, Associate Professor, AKU-IED, reminded the participants and stakeholders that the AKU-IED along with its collaborators will continue to hold discussions and bring in various national and international speakers to further discuss the cause of OOSC and pave a fruitful pathway towards the resolution of this national issue.