Nadia was about to become another statistic: one of the 87 per cent of girls in Balochistan who drop out of primary school.
Her father was about to pull her out of school. But fortunately for Nadia her school had a strong and committed head. Sabiha Baloch, the principal convinced her father to change his decision. Today, two years later, Nadia is still in school and now in class six. Her family now actively supports her schooling and Nadia herself continues to be excited about going to school.
Principals like Baloch understand that supporting girls’ education, especially in Quetta and Balochistan, is not only about keeping children in school but also about improving the teaching and learning processes in schools. Strong leadership and management skills are a must in improving performance, in providing teachers with the guidance and role modelling meant to improve the school and strengthen the quality of education.
Stepping up to the challenge, Strengthening Teacher Education Project (STEP), funded by Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, is implementing a Whole School Improvement Programme in Sindh and Balochistan covering over 100 schools.
Through professional development programmes, head teachers like Baloch become an undefeatable force for educational development. At the Government Girl’s High School in Wahdat Colony, Quetta where she works, the entire model of teaching has been revolutionized after STEP’s intervention. With support from STEP, innovative teaching and learning methods have replaced the traditional teaching style of rote-memorisation.
“Each student receives special attention, to make sure no child is left behind,” says Baloch.
Within her school, she has established a monitoring system for all her initiatives that are time bound and result-oriented. For each task, teachers are assigned roles and responsibilities that make the school more child-centred.
Now the whole school is geared towards building a rich learning environment focused on girls’ education. Large illustrations on the building’s walls narrate the story about how girls have succeeded, the results of a student classroom decoration competition.
To further encourage learning, collaboration and to build a strong work ethic, Baloch has made extracurricular events a regular feature of the students’ school life.
Encouraging parents, community members and government officials to participate in school celebrations has translated into increased support for education amongst the local people. Parents are now actively involved in their children’s education. Addressing issues such as teacher attendance, regular student attendance and fund raising for school improvement activities has made them see the difference a quality education can make.
“The most important determinant of a school’s success is building trust with the larger community,” states Baloch. The school shares a wall with a local madrasah. In the beginning, the clerics had voiced their opposition to girls’ education, demanding that the school be closed. Rather than distancing herself from these conservative religious figures, Baloch instead chose to engage with them, inviting them to the school and encouraging their participation in activities. She quite clearly feels that “we must engage the community – and all elements of it, fathers, mothers, elders or those from the religious community – to support education; otherwise nothing we do will last. For any individual to move forward, we must all work in unison and harmony and move forward together.”
She explains that she’s been able to make changes in her school because of her STEP training. These changes are making a direct impact on students. In Sabiha’s school, the hard work is trickling down to the students. There is a marked increase in student learning achievements, in terms of their enhanced fluency in reading and writing, numeracy skills, self-confidence levels, desire to learn more, and also their examination results. Student abseentism and drop-outs rates have already decreased, as more children arrive on time each day.
“My girls’ school is not just a school; it is actually a community centre. Families come to my school, seeking advice and support. I give them support, and by supporting girls’ education we are creating the pathway for solving society’s problems,” said Baloch. But it is her perseverance and dedication that are the ingredients of educational success and present a clear and simple avenue for social change.