Zindagi Trust

Zindagi Trust is a Pakistan based organization which is working to provide quality education to the underprivileged children of Pakistan. Its founding member is Shehzad Roy, one of the leading pop singers in South Asia. He has dedicated his life to the establishment of Zindagi Trust, the non-for-profit charity helping the underprivileged children of Pakistan. He uses the proceeds from his concerts to fund the trust's operations.

Zindagi Trust was founded in 2002. Its first program was called I-am-paid-to-learn. In this program, the team would identify a locality that contained a number of working children who were not going to school. The trust would then set up a small school in the same area so that it was in walking distance from the children’s' homes. They were then paid Rs. 20 to come to school daily. This stipend was to compensate for the wages they would have earned during those same school hours. A number of checks were placed on the students- if they did not do their homework, they would not get paid; if they misbehaved in class, they would not get paid; and other such restrictions. In this way, it was ensured that the same parents that previously did not send their children to school, were now forcing them to do homework and behave in class. These paid-to-learn units now support over 2800 children in 34 teaching units across Pakistan.

Even though the program was touted as successful, Roy soon realized that he won't be able to bring all the street children into “I am paid to learn schools” and this initiative, even at its best, would be a mere drop in the ocean. He wanted to do something that would educate the masses instead of just a few thousands.

In Pakistan, there is a very pronounced disparity within the quality of education. There are those posh, private schools, which cater to the privileged few in the population, and then there are public schools which for less privileged masses. They cannot afford to send their children to posh, private schools. Hence their only option is free, public schooling. Unfortunately, the public schooling system in Pakistan has completely collapsed. The school culture, from kindergarten to grade 10, has become one of rote learning, cheating, bribery and many other vices. So even after students spend 10 years in a public school, they have no critical thinking skills and often can not even write a letter in Urdu, their own mother tongue.

Despite large sums of money having been spent by the government and international organizations, education in Pakistan has not changed for the past 61 years because;
a) management issues have not effectively addressed by the government, and
b) the donor-NGO (non-govt org) approach has diluted the core issues of structural reform and of pedagogy. NGOs have adopted a few schools but their impact has been extremely localized.
All previous educational initiatives have tended to focus on more schools rather than better schools, and on the recruitment of more teachers or better teachers rather than on improving teaching content and teaching methods. As a result, there has been very little visible improvement in the management practices, in the quality of textbooks, quality of teaching and credibility of public examination.

In 2006, Zindagi Trust and Bookgroup (our partner organization that provides Urdu Textbooks) adopted SMB Fatima Jinnah girls government school in Karachi, Pakistan. Adoption is a legal process whereby the government temporarily transfers the management of a public school to a NGO. The objective was to turn this public school into a centre of excellence and then push the government to replicate this model in all public schools of Pakistan.

Zindagi Trust started with civil works. Even though this public school was termed as one of the city's "best" it was in an appalling condition. The school grounds were being rented out in the evenings for private parties and other functions. The food remains would, in turn, attract dogs and rodents. In fact when we went for our initial inspection we found a decaying dog body in the kindergarten room. The school water lines were mixed up with the sewage line. There were heaps and heaps of garbage and some walls were on the verge of collapse.
Roy not only renovated the existing structure but also went on to add more facilities such as a library, cafeteria, computer lab, health room, audio visual room etc. that did not exist before. You can see the "before" and "after" pictures of the school

Usually when NGOs adopt a public school or even open a private school, they only go as far as bringing about physical changes, that is, they only change the hardware. It is about time that we realize that even though hardware is a problem in public schools, it is very small compared to the problem of software. Currently, all public schools HAVE to use government textbooks which are several decades old. There has not been any research and development in the content of these books for many, many years. As a result, the same material that was being taught to our fathers is now being taught to us. The books are dull, with unattractive layouts, and encourage memorization.

For the first time in the history of Pakistan, Zindagi Trust replaced these out-dated textbooks with thought- provoking and imaginative textbooks. Our partner organization, Bookgroup, has authored the Urdu textbooks that we use at the school. The trust has introduced a UK- based math program called New Heinenmann Maths. English is now being taught through phonics which uses both sights and sounds to help a child read.

In addition to this, the trust has reduced school days from 6 to 5 per week, as it is every where in the world. There were 8 schools operational on the one campus of SMB School (class 1 and 2 were 1 school, 3 and 4 another school and so on). The trust got the notification to merge all “schools” into one school with one principal.

Our teachers have drastically improved their performance. The same teachers who came late everyday are now well prepared for class everyday and are taking an interest in their student’s performance. Significant turnaround has been seen in students’ test results and improving their critical thinking skills.
There is still a lot of work left to be done but a very crucial beginning has been made. The school's success has led many in Pakistan to speculate that the future of Pakistan lies in the capable hands of the young breed of philanthropists like Roy.

The point is that once you set a standard, everyone has to step up their game. What Zindagi Trust has done in government schools has never been done before in public schools. And it has set the standard for what a public school should look like. The success of this school has put a lot of pressure on the Sindh Government to replicate this model on a larger scale.

Famous quotes containing the word trust:

    He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense.
    Joseph Conrad (1857–1924)