This post first appeared and has been cross-posted with Kalsoom’s blog CHUP:

In Pakistan, the education sector needs vast reform and improvement, and education inequity and low school participation rates are enormous issues. According to Nancy Birdsall, the president for the Center for Global Development, the USAID education program in Pakistan is its largest in the world, with more than $330 million budgeted for FY 2010. However, despite large donor investments in the sector, “Pakistan ranks at the bottom of South Asian countries for educational outcomes,” with issues like education inequity, low participation rates, and teacher absenteeism. Out of the 20 million primary school aged children in the country, one-third are out of school, and of the children who are enrolled, 45% will drop out between grades 1-5.

Teach for Pakistan, a new initiative part of the Teach for All global network (which includes Teach for America), seeks to change those current statistics. The organization will expand access to quality education by engaging Pakistan’s future leaders in the movement against educational inequity at two levels:

  • Recruiting highly motivated and talented university graduates and young professionals to teach for two years in under-resourced schools in Pakistan, enabling them to improve the educational outcomes of these students.
  • Teach For Pakistan alumni will work from within and outside the field of education with a lifelong commitment to ensure that all children have equal opportunities to learn, grow and improve their life prospects.

Amber Zuberi, the project coordinator for Teach for Pakistan, chatted with me further about Teach for Pakistan, noting it was more than an innovative initiative. It signaled “a paradigm shift that could redefine teaching, leadership, national priorities, and Pakistan.” It is essentially a movement that engages youth to have an impact, to be a part of a larger effort to tackle an endemic socioeconomic issue.

I have a number of friends that have gone through the Teach for America program, which has been operating for over 20 years and boasts incredible results, (According to Rakesh Mani, a 2009 Teach for India fellow, over 60 percent of Teach for America alumni have stayed within the field of education). Michelle Rhee, the former Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools and former Teach for America fellow (if you have not seen the documentary Waiting for Superman, I highly recommend it), emphasized why Teach for America works in a talk at the Aspen Institute,

Those children and that academic gain they saw over that two year time span…who their parents were did not change, their communities [and environment around them] didn’t change. What changed were the adults in front of them every day in that classroom. And that’s what made the difference. Those children had the aptitude and potential, but just needed the right adults who were committed to this and who were involved and pushing them…

Many reading this post probably received incredible educations. We were the lucky ones. When I think back to my schooling over the years, I still remember the teachers who truly impacted my life along the way, and I am still in touch with many of them. Some years ago, I visited my second grade teacher’s classroom in Dhaka. When I was seven years old, Mrs. Tunon was sprightly and magical, entrancing us all with her energetic teaching and storytelling. Entering her class as an adult, she smiled sweetly at me, gave me an enormous hug, and announced to her students, “I taught Kalsoom when she was your age,” to which her students exclaimed, “Wow! But she’s taller than you!”

In Pakistan, the challenges are enormous and they are complex. Most children are not afforded access to a good education. They are innocent bystanders to a fractured education system, where critical thinking is rarely taught, good teachers are hard to come by, and drop-outs are a common occurrence. The statistics may not change dramatically in our life-time. But efforts like Teach for Pakistan are taking innovative steps to getting us there faster, engaging our country’s youth along the way. They are currently accepting applications for their first class of fellows, and are looking for young and passionate candidates. To apply to Teach for Pakistan [the application deadline is March 15th, and placements begin in August 2011 for two years], click “Apply Now” on their website.

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