Context: Pakistan is currently experiencing a youth bulge in its population, meaning the share of those aged 15-24 is peaking. Some 60 per cent of Pakistan’s population are in the youth age bracket. According to the 2008 census, 36 million were in the age group of 20-24 years and 58 million were below the age of 15. Out of 50 million youth aged between 18 and 29, 55 per cent lived in urban areas. As of 2012, the literacy rate of Pakistan’s youth was 58 per cent, being 79 per cent for males and 62 per cent for females. This indicates that 32 per cent of youth in Pakistan are illiterate. In addition, 8.2 per cent of youth are unemployed and have no vocational and technical skills.
Implementation of programme/initiative: EQUIP-Pakistan is the sister organization of Modernage Public School, which works to empower youth in the country’s public and private sectors. In the programme, students learn data-driven problem-solving skills by forming Students Quality Circles (SQCs). The SQC programme is a co-curricular activity which fosters a culture of collaboration and cooperation and aims to develop the leadership skills of students. An SQC is a team of five to ten volunteers who work through a problem with the help of statistical tools. They collect data about the causes of an assigned problem, analyse the data and then formulate implementable solutions to address these causes. Finally, they compare the achieved results with the situation before implementation and prepare a case study to share at national and international levels. Since 2008, six Regional Conventions on SQCs have been held in Lahore, Mansehra and Havelian; moreover, nine National Conventions have been held in Abbottabad.
Main challenges: In Pakistan, the focus of education is generally to pass examinations as opposed to developing life skills. Students are forced to attain very high marks to gain admission to tertiary institutions. As such, SQCs is a voluntary co-curricular activity that students use their free time to participate in, while many students choose to focus purely on exam preparation. Training teachers to be facilitators of group activity and discussion, as opposed to purely disseminating facts to students, has proved difficult. Another challenge has been to ensure SQCs have an adequate gender mix, as Pakistani society is not entirely inclusive of gender. Also, it has been a challenge to convince policymakers in the education sector that SQCs should be adopted into the school curriculum.
Results achieved: The number of participating institutions has risen from 20 in 2008 to 64 in 2017. Some 92 per cent of the participating students report that they have developed the self-confidence and skills to work in a collaborative environment; 86 per cent report that they have learnt systematic, scientific and logical problem-solving skills and 73 per cent report that they feel more confident to resolve a conflict amicably. Educators believe that SQCs have challenged traditional classroom practices. Also, outcomes presented by participants at the SQC Conventions have been widely acknowledged and published by national and local digital and print media.
Moving Forward: Pakistan has been divided into eight regional focusses by EQUIP-Pakistan. These are Punjab, Sindh, KPK, Baluchistan, Islamabad, FATA, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir. So far, two Regional Chapters have been established in Punjab and KPK. By establishing other Regional Chapters, SQCs have the potential to be introduced into all eight administrative regions of Pakistan. Further, international collaboration with educational institutions or youth organizations abroad are needed to create teams of facilitators in different countries. Until then, Modernage School and other donor agencies will need to provide financial and logistic support to promote the programme.
Replicability: There is scope to replicate this programme in other countries, especially in Asia and Africa, where political will is present. Pakistan is one among many countries which need to educate their youth in teamwork skills and the use of data to solve problems. The forum of SQCs has allowed students to think beyond their exams and has provided a chance for education professionals to create networks of likeminded individuals. At the National Convention held in November 2017, there were a number of international keynote speakers present from ESCAP, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom. It is expected that they will support replicating the success of SQCs.
Date: November 27, 2017