LAHORE - Around 50 girls and boys, who work in houses and auto workshops or drive donkey carts, are receiving non-formal basic education (NFBE) at Janat Shamim’s school run by the Punjab Literacy Department in an open plot in R Block, Johar Town.

This is one of the 13,000 schools/centres being run by the Punjab Non-Formal and Literacy Department where 424,218 students are getting non-formal education and skill development techniques from nursery class to fifth grade.

Third grade student Zainab Riaz is a maid who works in two houses after finishing her school. “My father is a driver from Hujra Shah Muqeem and I have six brothers. Right after finishing my school at 12 noon, I quickly reach my employer’s house where I stay till 3pm afternoon. Afterwards my brother drops me at another employer’s house where I work till late evening,” Zianab said.

Fifteen-year-old Dilawar Ali is in fifth grade and attends non-formal coaching four hours a day six days a week. His father is a painter. Dilawar says, “He wants to become prime minister of Pakistan. I realize we are poor people and my father works round the clock to make both ends meet. I have three siblings. God willing, I will complete my education.”

The school is named after Jannat Shamim who started it eight years ago with the help of the Literacy Department in an open plot. She also teaches Holy Quran to children. Jannat is a retired schoolteacher. She later managed to convince her son and daughter-in-law to teach non-formal education to street children.

When this scribe asked what these children want to become when they grow up, children replied teacher, policeman, politician, soldier and pilot.

Another non-formal school is being run by teacher Amna Riaz near Expo Centre for gypsies. “I started the school with the help of the department on May 16 this year. We teach students Urdu and English alphabets, basic drawing and confidence measures. These are children of glove sellers, labourers, gypsies but some students are intelligent and quick in learning. Rapidly commercialization is engulfing the land on which these gypsy families are living near International Expo Centre, Lahore,” he said.

There are seven projects which are currently being executed -- Non-Formal Education Assessment & Examination Cell, Non-Formal Education Curriculum & Material Development Unit, Non-Formal Education Human Resource Development Institute, Non-Formal Education Monitoring & Evaluation Unit, Teleem Sab Kay Liye and Punjab Non Formal Education Project.

Punjab Non-Formal and Basic Education Secretary Arif Anwar Baloch said the literacy department has its focus on completing multiple projects to provide non-formal education to children and make them valuable human resource of the country.

He said there are challenges as people think that there is not so much charm in investing in non-formal education but fact of the matter is the department operates around 13,000 schools across the province, some of them in far-flung areas, with the help of national and international donors like Unicef. He said that teachers and literacy department staff are working as a team for this noble cause. He vowed the department would work for welfare of the children. “We are fully aware of the challenges and certainly we will overcome them,’ Baloch said.

Baloch was of the view that with first ever Punjab Non-Formal Education Policy 2019, the department is all set to execute it. He said 60 non-formal education centres are being set up for adult people.

The department enthusiastically celebrated World Teachers Day on October 5th.

Punjab Non-Formal Education Project Director Muhammad Akram Jan said the project aimed to provide basic literacy to adult illiterates and primary level education to children of 4 to 14 years. “Our project is aimed at providing primary education to 667244 out-of-school children through.

“Impart literacy basic reading, writing, arithmetic and life-skills to 1,504,752 illiterate adults aged 18 to 55 years through establishment of 8,486 ALCs,” he said.