In a small courtyard on the edge of Lahore, Pakistan, 250 children are studying. Three years ago, this school did not exist; even twelve months ago, all the lessons were held under trees.
The school was set up by Samina, a teacher from another school in a neighbouring area. She saw that hundreds of children from families employed at the local brick-making factory were working there instead of being at school. The reason was simple- there was no school nearby. So she started one, charging a very low fee and employing as teachers local people with a formal education who share her passion for giving these children a chance in life.
Then Samina saw an advertisement with information about the Punjab Educational Foundation (PEF), supported by the UK taxpayer. PEF was set up to help tackle the problem of providing schooling to the millions of children in Punjab for whom there are no places in the state system. One of its programmes gives education vouchers worth R400 (£2.60) per month per child to be used in any private (ie outside the state system) which meets the PEF requirements. It is the largest voucher scheme of its kind in the world, supporting some 140,000 children.
Samina approached the Foundation and her school was accepted into the voucher scheme. She now has 200 places for children with vouchers and takes in another 50 free of charge. With the c£500 per month she receives, she has been able to build four classrooms and toilet facilities as well as paying her staff of six teachers.
Samina plans to continue expanding her school's facilities in the coming years. There is little money left for her own needs at the end of the month. But that is not her motivation. It was clear to all of us from Parliament's International Development Committee who met her that she was driven by her love for the children. Their parents saw this. When I asked what they liked about the school, the reply was that their children could, for the first time, be at school and that they were very well cared for.
Samina 's school is part of the transformation taking place in Punjab's huge education system, in both the state-run and private schools. It serves a population of 100 million - in effect a country 80% larger than the United Kingdom. There are some 20 million children now in school but a further 3 million are still not attending at primary level alone. The Punjab Government itself spends about £1,000 million every year on its schools, 25% of its provincial budget. The UK taxpayer's contribution of about £25 million per annum is just over 2% of the total and greatly valued by Punjab.
Since the UK started work with the Punjab government, school attendance has risen to 88% and 81,000 more teachers have been employed in the state system. By tackling the reasons for teacher absenteeism, a further 20,000 more teachers are in the classroom each day; and 680,000 teachers have learned to use the teachers' guides developed with the UK's help.
The education which Samina and many others like her are providing to the children of Punjab is giving them a chance in life. But, as the Chief Minister of Punjab told us, it is also essential to counter the teachings of those who would lure youngsters into a life of terrorism with the promise of martyrdom.
The Chief Minister - whose commitment to the education reform programme is a key reason for its progress - is clear about something else. He does not want to depend on aid from the UK taxpayer indefinitely. Raising more revenue from taxes for education, health and his other responsibilities is high on his agenda. But in the meantime, he welcomes the UK as a partner in the goal of each child in Punjab having a "free, compulsory and internationally competitive education."
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