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Leading DFID Pakistan’s Education Innovation and Outreach team

I landed in Islamabad, Pakistan, 2 years ago to take up the post of Senior Education Adviser and Team Leader. Having worked all my life in education in the UK I was new to international development, leading a new team in a new role with new programmes and learning a new acronym laden language and I am not talking about Urdu.

My career in the UK ranged from teaching to training teachers to inspecting schools and local authorities. So this is what my blogs are going to be about: similarities and differences between my work in the UK and in Pakistan, innovative ideas to tackle the education emergency in Pakistan, setting up new a new not-for-profit company to deliver education to the poor, working to improve the quality of teaching and learning, establishing a good assessment system and looking at system wide reform.

Boys on their way to school in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Picture: Asyia/ DFID Pakistan

On a personal level there has been a huge amount of learning. Moving from formulating a concept to developing a business case, to procuring implementing partners to actually make it happen is hard work. Things never go as fast as you would like and compromising a little on pace and delivery has been challenging. Also I miss being away from the chalk face, the classroom. We overcome this by visiting schools as often as possible. This is where our work needs to have impact – this is what it's all about the engagement of a teacher with a pupil. What I always believed has been borne out: a good school is a good school whether in a poverty affected locality in Karachi, a rural village in south Punjab or in inner city London. Mind you, I am not sure we would tolerate this version of the school run!

Following all the programme design work it's good to see things coming together – the programmes that you as a team have been working on begin to bear results. Last month our very first out-of-school child attended school using a voucher issued by the Education Fund for Sindh!

The debate rages on about whether development professionals should support the private sector or if the focus should be on the public sector alone to deliver education. However, if we take a province such as Sindh in Pakistan where over 2 million 5-9 year olds are out of school and enrolments in the private sector vary between 30% to 50%, shouldn't we be supporting the least privileged to access education wherever they can? Let me know what you think.

Over the past year DFID has been working with some of Pakistan's senior business leaders to set up a new, independent, not-for-profit company called Education Fund for Sindh (EFS). Its focus will be to ensure children are learning and we will get independent verification of this through an evaluation that will test how children supported by EFS do in comparison to children not supported by EFS. This will include their attendance, retention and most importantly their learning outcomes.

Children's shoes outside a BRAC classroom. Picture: Asyia/ DFID Pakistan

Initially funded by DFID, this company will do 3 things in order to get Sindh's out of school children in school and learning. Firstly, EFS will support organisations who have a proven track record of delivering quality education, such as award-winning The Citizens Foundation and BRAC. The BRAC schools I have seen are amazing in the consistency of children's experience and the quality of learning. In 3 months they opened 200 single classroom schools, educating 6,000 children, complete with the circle of shoes outside the classroom to happy, buzzing children singing nursery rhymes and reading simple words.

Secondly, EFS will establish private management of public schools. We are working with government to establish the parameters of this partnership. There are plenty of people who want to manage schools but they want budgets devolved to the school and performance management responsibility over their workforce.

Finally, EFS will identify out of school children and give them a voucher to attend pre-qualified low cost private schools. This sounds simple but requires EFS to identify and assess the schools in the first place; find the out of school children (door to door knocking with local people); match the children to the school; and finally to establish an assessment system to measure the learning of these children. Last week the first 250 children started school.

Three big challenges face EFS. Firstly, EFS must ensure that children learn – there is little point enrolling children if we cannot also ensure their learning. Secondly, EFS has to make sure it is targeting children who are out of school and therefore address the equity agenda. Finally, it has to do these things in settings where security and ethnic violence are everyday occurrences.

EFS has made a strong start and as it expands it will learn more about what is effective. It's really exciting to be part of EFS - to see an actual company grow out of an idea and to see the children start school.

Sir Michael Barber, DFID's special representative in Pakistan, described the programme as 'making history'. We have a really strong set of founding members who are well-respected, committed and understand the Sindh context. EFS is in its infancy and there is a lot to do before it can be a successful facilitator of quality education for the poorest. The challenge is substantial but so is the pay off. It's genuinely an amazing privilege to work in education – you are part of helping to make someone's future.

This picture taken in Saif-ul-malook gives you an amazing view of snow covered mountains, while only a few hours away temperatures are in their 40s! Pakistan is a beautiful, diverse country.

Saif ul Malook, an unedited photo taken from a mobile phone. Picture: Asyia/DFID Pakistan


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  1. Comment by Dr Naheed Zayyan posted on

    very inspiring article, this is the kind of work that only shows its effect after a generation but lasts for generations

  2. Comment by Helen Abadzi posted on

    Congratulations to Asiya and to the Education Innovations and Outreach team for the excellent blog and initiatives ! Surely you can make a big impact.

  3. Comment by Andy Woodfield posted on

    Great blog post Asyia, great to hear the human story of those of us working in development as well as hearing about the inspiring work itself.

  4. Comment by Asyia posted on

    Naheed, thank you for your feedback. I completely agree with you which is why this is such exciting work.

  5. Comment by Asyia posted on

    Helen, many thanks for you encouragement. It will be really important we get the teaching and learning of reading and numeracy right for this programme to be a success.

  6. Comment by sarah ather posted on

    this blog is amazing to read, it gives one hope for a better and brighter pakistan.

  7. Comment by Asyia posted on

    Andy, thank you. We will be sharing more over the forthcoming months and update on how EFS is progressing.

  8. Comment by Asyia posted on

    Sarah, thank you. We all have to collectively work to make it happen but yes it is very exciting to be at the start of soemthing.

  9. Comment by Tasleem Chaudary posted on

    it is really good to see that the quality of teaching and learning is deservedly central to the success of this project- it will therefore have the impact to not only change the lives of todays children but their children too- well done Asyia!

  10. Comment by Farman Ullah posted on

    A ray of hope for the poor out of school children. I pray for your success and wait for replication to other parts of the country.

  11. Comment by Faisal Mohammed posted on

    A very inspiring blog post, Asyia. It's very heartening to see that EFS is now operational and voucher system has been implemented. Congratulations to all!

  12. Comment by FMA posted on

    This is an undertaking in which we cannot fail and cannot give up! A lot have already washed their hands of this country and have chalked it down to the failure of the education system because its something that is very easy to do. What we all need to do is chip in anyway we can and keep chipping away at the block of illiteracy that threatens to stifle Pakistan's future.
    I hope that EFS succeeds in all it has set out to do. I personally am interested in knowing how the private management of Public schools will pan out, as I feel it is an area which can have a great impact on the quality of our public education and restore some faith people have lost in our educational system. Keep up the great work!

  13. Comment by Asyia posted on

    Tasleem, we can only imporve learning if we change what happens in the classroom between a teacher and the pupils. Over the next 6-12 months we will learn about what is the best way to imporve this and use our assessment system to ensure that the training is very tailored to where the gaps in pupils learning are.

  14. Comment by Asyia posted on

    Farman thank you. We value your support.
    Faisal, it is quite a milestone after all the planning to actually be able to move to implementation.

  15. Comment by Jeff Ramin posted on

    Bravo for all the good things happening. Having met you recently, I know the focus and approach will be both practical and innovative, things that are possible and will make a difference. I look forward hearing how the program evolves.
    Best wishes,

  16. Comment by Arshad posted on

    This is great work and we certainly should not fail. We need innovative and out of the box solutions to sort out our problems. We should also think of replicating this work to provinces like KP which are not too impressive on their educational indicators. I am confident this will make a big difference in KP.
    Best Wishes

  17. Comment by Wendy Quarry posted on


    Great to read your blog. Coming to Pakistan late August to do a bit of work with BRAC - hope we can meet in person to learn about DFID program



  18. Comment by Amber posted on

    An inspiring read. Asiya, you and your team our an inspiration for us all. Reading your blog gives us transparency and feedback which is rare to find in funded projects. A spread of these tried and tested methods into other provinces maybe? For Pakistan, a step in the right direction. Thank you.

  19. Comment by Education innovation in Pakistan « FESF posted on

    [...] you for all your comments on my last blog and your support for our work. In it I wrote about our innovative Education Fund for Sindh (EFS) [...]

  20. Comment by Asyia posted on

    Apologies for the late response to comments. I was enjoying the eid break.

    Jeff - was good to meet you too. The Global Partnership's focus on reading is really important which this programme will contribute to.

    Arshad - its important that successful learning is applied more widely which is why the evaluation of this programme is really important. Also we have learnt much about what we would do differently and more than happy to share this.

    Wendy - looking forward to meeting you.

    Amber - thank you for your encouragement. We try to ensure all our documentation and project reviews are available to the public on our website but I gree a more personal, accessible form is important too. We intend to extend this programme once we know its working.

  21. Comment by Naheed Ghazanfar posted on

    Asiya, Congratulations for such a good and innovative work. You are making the impossible not only possible but doable and achievable. Having worked on schools especially girls school in Sindh in early 90s I was shocked to see that most of the schools were being used as cattle sheds and teachers were serving as managers to the feudals of the area.

    Your initiative is really making very encouraging revolutionary changes in the education setup.

    I am sure your program will fruition.

    Couple of suggestions, due to the load shedding and long hours of power outage in summers its very difficult for children to sit in heat, Solar power just to run few fans and lights would be ideally suited can you include this in your program.
    Toilets for girls with running water is the second most desired facility. My study in southern Punjab and KP indicates that girls drop out as they reach puberty due to this reason.
    Good luck and best wishes

  22. Comment by nazbalouch posted on

    i realy appericated the work of brac
    nd i m also part of it
    50 schools are in our area in sindh
    nd teachers nd magenent are working very hard.
    may ALLAH bless u all