Building Infrastructure for Pehli Kiran Schools
The Association for Development of Pakistan is funding the construction of infrastructure for two schools of the Pehli Kiran School System (PKSS) established by JAQ Trust in Islamabad.
This includes steel roofs and floor tiles at three campuses and mobile storage sheds at six campuses. The PKSS schools are informal primary schools located in the heart of “katchi abadi” or nomadic communities in the Islamabad area serving Afghan and Punjabi communities. The project is expected to benefit over 1,000 children enrolled in the Pehli Kiran School System.
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The original structures of the school consisted of bamboo and canvas sheets, but these have not been very durable in bad weather. During heavy rains, the canvas roofs fail to keep the rainwater out, which frequently leads to muddy ground (there is no floor). The students cannot sit down due to the mud, and as a result, many school days are lost each year.
In addition, these structures are unstable and easily damaged by termite attacks and strong winds, leading to high repair and replacement costs. PK Schools have therefore, tried to gradually transition to a more durable and practical infrastructure, consisting of steel poles and GI sheet roofing.
In this vein, JAQ Trust has proposed upgrading the current open schools to structures that have steel roofs, tiled floors and storage sheds.
The steel roofing, unlike the existing canvas roofs, is secure and reliable and will provide a weather-resistant and improved learning environment for the students. The roofs have a projected life of over 10 years. This steel shed has already been in use in another PKSS school for over 7 years now and has proved suitable as a long-life asset with low maintenance costs.
The tiled flooring will complement the steel roof, providing better, hygienic conditions for the children as well as teachers. In order to keep the costs of relocating minimal, there is no brick soiling or cement subfloor. Floors are raised using mud, tiles are grouted in sand and the floor perimeter is reinforced using concrete. If need be, the perimeter concrete can be dismantled and a majority of the tiles can be reused.
Finally, the storage sheds are an essential component of the schools given their simple structures. They serve as the only space for keeping school resources secure. Mats, canvas sheets, books, stationery and teaching aids are all stored at the end of each school day in the storage sheds and set up again before the next shift.
The expansion of the system has rendered current storage space inadequate. With new, ADP funded sheds, more space will become available and also help the creation of small libraries for the benefit of the children in each school. This will also enhance early childhood education through greater use of teaching aids as well as accommodating materials for an increased number of enrolled students.
Overall, the infrastructure upgrade is expected to provide students and teachers with a safe environment that encourages learning and creates a secure, adequate space for library books and teaching resources. All infrastructure is carefully selected so that it can be relocated with minimum damage and costs.
The JAQ Trust provides primary education to children living in very low income katchi abadi (squatter) communities in and around Islamabad. It works with diverse ethnic communities living on the fringes of society. Residing in squalid illegal settlements that lack basic services, these migrant communities provide vital semi/unskilled labor for urban centers.
Without access to education and basic life skills, their children often turn to begging, crime, drugs, and, at times, become recruits for extremist groups. Since most non-governmental organizations also hesitate to work in such transient communities, they remain under-served.
At present, the Pehli Kiran School System (PKSS), set up by the Trust, serves over 1,300 children annually through a network of seven schools and caters to the needs of urban working children. The schools operate in two shifts. Using a low-cost and community-based approach, the schools impart basic literacy, numeracy and useful skills, ultimately aiming to direct the children towards the mainstream education system after Grade 5.
The JAQ Trust operates in urban and semi-urban slums in and around the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) area. Specifically, the schools of the Pehli Kiran School System are located in squatter settlements in sectors F-11, I-10 and Golra Station (D-11).
ADP and JAQ expect the infrastructure upgrade to lead to significant tangible improvements for PKSS. These targets will be assessed using the following metrics:
- - Increase in student attendance rates at the three campuses from 77% to 82% due to fewer school days lost to bad weather and an improved learning environment.
- - Increased access to mobile libraries for over 1,000 children in the PKSS system.
- - Increased access to early childhood education kits for 350 children.
- - Reduction in annual repair and maintenance spending (estimated to be Rs. 10,000).
- - Continued growth in student enrollment.
The children living in these mobile communities have no access to education. Parents hesitate to send their children to public schools because they are located far away, and as mentioned above, the children remain largely under-served.
The PKSS schools represent a viable and cost effective solution to the lack of schooling in this area. We received strong references from everyone who has interacted with PKSS and our team was impressed with their leadership’s dedication to providing a quality learning experience to the communities. JAQ’s prior success with similar infrastructure upgrades at other campuses also gave us comfort around the likely impact of the project.
What is the quality of the education being provided at PKSS schools?
Our view is that the PKSS schools are providing higher quality education than the government school system. The schools maintain student to teacher ratios of 30:1, and most teachers have a Bachelor’s degree. The overall school attendance rate of 80% is quite good in light of the nomadic nature of the communities. Our informal testing of 5th grade students during our site visit suggested English, Urdu and Math skills that are at higher levels than government schools.
We were also pleased with the leadership team’s focus on continuous improvement. They have partnered with local schools and non-profits such as Developments In Literacy (DIL) for teacher training and volunteer resources, and are currently working on developing a new curriculum with concepts like teaching with visuals and audio as well as a phonics-based reading program in the schools.
Why are steel roofing, tiled flooring and mobile storage sheds the highest priority need at the PKSS schools?
PKSS has grown from a small operation to one of significant size. The management is currently focusing on strengthening expansion in terms of higher numbers and higher quality of service. The upgrades will allow PKSS to accommodate more children in the schools, thereby increasing enrollment.
With regard to the quality of the schools, the learning environment is very important. Students need a conducive environment for studying. The current infrastructure is very vulnerable to weather conditions and often leads to disruptions. The upgrade is expected to provide a more secure environment and uplift the students’ morale and motivation to attend the school.
How supportive is the community of the PKSS schools?
PKSS has an excellent relationship with its communities. As a matter of policy, a new school is only set up in a new community after consultations with community representatives have established a clear demand for PKSS’s services. In some cases, initial opposition from religious scholars in neighboring communities has been dealt with through active collaboration with the respective Parent Teacher Association (PTA).
Each campus has a PTA, and in more conservative communities there are separate women PTAs for the mothers. The PTAs meet regularly (at least once in two months) and are used as forums for obtaining parent and community feedback; sharing student progress, disseminating news and information about school activities; and garnering support for specific projects (such as this one).
In addition, parents are invited to schools when academic results are handed out to students, as well as at other extra-curricular events. The parents/community are also responsible for arranging the plot of land on which the school is located, and look after the premises after school hours.
What will prevent the government or anyone from tearing down the school structures? What has JAQ Trust experienced in the past?
While the katchi abadi communities are transient, most have been in existence for several years in their current locations. When communities have been made to move in the past, JAQ Trust has been given sufficient notice to dismantle the school structures and shift to a new location near the relocated community.
In addition, the ICT administration authorities are aware of and support the PKSS schools, in recognition of the multiple social benefits they provide, including keeping children off the streets and away from criminal activity.
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