​​​Projects and Research Activities

Foundation for hea​lth and empowerment​​​​ - F4HE

Contemporary research has confirmed th​e everlasting effect of 0 to 6 years on a child's progress and wellbeing. Adequate stimulation and nutrition are essential for the development during the first three years of life. When children spend their early years in a less stimulating or limited emotionally and physically supportive environment, their brain development is affected that leads to cognitive and psychosocial delays. Stimulating environment in this period makes a strong foundation for a productive life. Recognizing the influence of the early years on later life and its impact on the socio-economic development of the children, AKDN is focusing its efforts to enhance access to quality, affordable ECD services in AKDN geographies.

To support the children and to provide them with opportunities to access quality ECD services, this project 'Foundation for Children' has been designed with a focus on 'Nurturing Care Framework' to support the children's overall development in the targeted valleys in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral focusing on 0 to 6 years of age children and their caregivers. The project involved 4 major agencies- AKRSP, AKESP, AKHSP and Government Katchi classes and DoH to provide quality ECD services. The project started off with a training needs assessment (TNA) conducted in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.

Need analysis in selected five priority valleys in Chitral were done under the project “F4C", inception by AKU-IED &AKU HDP team. This need assessment provided a baseline information. The next step in implementation was preparing the modular training material and conducting content based training for the selected Lead Facilitators as representatives of different agencies in GB and Chitral.

The overall goal of the series of training sessions was to prepare the ECD Health Professionals, teachers, and Community Mobilizers from AKESP, AKHSP, AKRSP and the Government Health and Education sectors with the relevant competencies to successfully execute their roles and responsibilities in the project with following objectives.

  • Enhance their knowledge about ECD as an integrated approach within the Nurturing Care Framework.
  • Augment their knowledge and skills of working through a multi-sector approach for ECD.
  • Apply this knowledge in ECD classrooms, health centres and community centres/spaces.

The project has successfully completed Phase 1 after conducting four modular training for twenty nine Lead Facilitators, who later cascaded the similar modules and trained a large number of participants (868 in GB and 889 participants in Chitral, respectively).

Currently the project is in its Phase II having participants from 14 Union Councils within Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral. These Councils span across 10 districts, namely Skardu, Ghanchy, Shigar, Kharmang, Khaplu, Dimer, Astore, Nagar, as well as Lower, Upper, and Central Chitral. The total number of lead facilitator in this phase is 57 and so far, after the module one Lead Facilitator's training, have already cascaded the same modules for a total of 498 participants (328 participants in GB and 170 in Chitral).

Baseline Survey for Foundations for Health and Empowerm​​ent

This project is funded by h​e Global Affairs Canada and the Aga Khan Foundation Canada. Duration for project was September  2021 till Februry 2022. . F4HE will reach and serve rural and marginalized communities in project geographies where sexual, reproductive, maternal, neonatal, child and adolescent health (SRMNCAH) and nutrition indicators are particularly poor and where non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like breast and cervical cancer and mental health issues are rapidly increasing. ECD programming through Foundations for Children (F4C) will be integrated with health programming (F4H) in Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. This will enable parents, caregivers, and health care providers to support and promote child development holistically – socially, emotionally, cognitively, and physically. The integrated programming approach is aligned with the Nurturing Care Framework 2 and provides multiple opportunities and engagement points to advance the mandate, messaging, and impact of both F4C and F4H and serves to ensure effective use of human and financial resources. The ultimate outcome of F4HE, which is to enhance equitable development and empowerment for women, girls, adolescents, their families, and communities in targeted areas of Afghanistan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan


Adaptation and Contextualization of Vroom for Pakistan​

The Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and Bezos Family Foundation (BFF) have signed a strategic partnership to improve Early Childhood Development (ECD) outcomes in selected AKDN operational areas in India and Pakistan. In Pakistan, the project is being implemented in the Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan. This is a multi-agency project where Aga Khan Foundation Pakistan (AKF, P) is partnering with Aga Khan University-AKU (Aga Khan University Human Development Program-[AKU-HDP] and Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development [AKUIED]) and Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) to implement the project. The project primarily intends to promote caregivers’ empowerment by providing contextually relevant ECD tips and tools via different accessible modalities. These resources will support caregivers to create enjoyable everyday moments for their children to grow, develop, and learn.

The lessons learned will inform the scale-up of Vroom in Pakistan and similar contexts to reach more parents/caregivers for strengthening relationships and children’s development and learning outcomes. Aga Khan University Human Development Program-[AKU-HDP] and Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development [AKUIED]) will integrate Vroom into this project to influence processes by which individuals, families, communities, and social groups progress toward achieving their full potential for physical, mental, social, and economic health and well-being in the selected geographies. In doing so, the project will contribute towards the broader goals of breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and poor care through designing and implementing community-based and school-based ECD projects and programs influencing policies. ​

Maternal mental health and children’s social-emotional competence during COVID-19 pandemic in Pakistan

This project is funded by WHO.  Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to contribute to their community.

With a survey approach, this research will aim to analyze the gaps in knowledge of maternal mental and early childhood socio-emotional stressors placed on mothers and children in the current COVID-19 pandemic. It will assess several factors affecting the social-emotional development of children, the impact it has on mothers and the role of fathers in such situations. The results of this study involve a deep analysis of several factors that could potentially lessen the psychological impact of this pandemic on mothers and children.

Another important component of this research is evaluation of training for parents and teachers to promote mental health and children’s social-emotional development and fathers’ involvement. At the end of this training endline survey will be performed to capture change in mothers’ mental health, children’s social-emotional development and fathers’ involvement.

This study aims to determine the prevalence of maternal mental health and social-emotional competence of children during COVID-19. In addition, the association between maternal mental health and its impact on children’s social-emotional competence will also be analyzed taking into consideration father’s involvement and other demographic variables.

The idea is to explore risk and protective factors for well-being of mother and child and to develop and test the effectiveness of psychosocial intervention to promote maternal mental health and children’s social-emotional development.  

Early Child Development and Learning Benchmarks for Pakistan (2018-2019)

Measuring and monitoring development and learning of the child is crucial during preschool years in order to assess age appropriate developmental needs and to plan and design curriculum for quality Early Childhood Education (ECE) that ensures holistic development. Early Child Development and Learning Benchmarks for Pakistan (ECDL-BP) is a research project of Human development programme of Aga Kahn University that is funded by The British Asian Trust.  The main objectives of the project are to develop, pre-test, validate (content and construct) and assess reliability of a child development and learning benchmarking tool for Pre-schoolers (3 to 6 years). The research will be conducted in public and private schools of three towns in Karachi. The ultimate aim of this project is to establish benchmarks for early child development and learning outcomes for preschool children that ultimately can be used to measure the progress of the child and school against achieving SDG Target 4.2, focused on ECD and learning.

​The Village Project - supporting children of parents with mental illness in Austria (Research Group Village of the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft in cooperation with the Medical University Innsbruck) (2018-2021).

Children of parents with a mental illness (COPMI) often need additional supports to lead the happy and healthy lives they desire. In some cases though, those supports are either not available or not found by families, resulting in negative long-term outcomes for these children. This four-year research project aims to increase identification and strengthen formal and informal supports around children when their parents have a mental illness. This project will be co-developed with stakeholders and will implement and evaluate two practice approaches, focused on the child and on principles of collaborative care. The project utilizes a realist framework (as well as implementation science principles, and the theory of symbolic interactionism) and mixed method-ologies, and involves numerous data collection methods including: literature reviews, questionnaires, focus groups, interviews, and observations to determine the impact and benefits of providing increased supports for COPMI in Austria. village website.  Project has initiated a twitter and you tube channel.

Schools Improvement Programme (2018-2021)

​HDP is working to bring about gender, equity and disability awareness/ sensitivity to Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral priority valleys as part of ‘School Improvement Programme (SIP)’. SIP project started in 2016 in schools within the Priority Valleys. Project aims to cover all school in these valleys over time range of 2018-2021. After 2021 the project will proceed to work on schools beyond these valleys within Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral.

As ‘Early childhood development programme’, part of SIP project, HDP’s work in these schools will focus on developing Head teacher and Teachers’ competencies in inclusive, gender sensitive, innovative and child-centred pedagogies.

The project also aims for building complementarities and synergies across AKDN agencies and seeks to design coherent programming for the beneficiaries.

Promoting Social and Emotional development for Peacebuilding among preschoolers – A Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial (2018-2019)

This research project will provide useful insights for the refinement of early childhood education (ECE) curriculum towards a more comprehensive framework, addressing the needs of young children for social, emotional, and moral, as well as peacebuilding. The project’s goals and objectives focus on structural violence and social justice aspects. Communities and schools are a major focus of peacebuilding around the world; this project will be looking at the efficacy of peacebuilding curricula to improve prosocial behavior, problem solving, developing conflict resolution skills and living in harmony, among preschool children. The findings of this project will provide practical implications for introducing peacebuilding curricula in public and private schools of Pakistan.

​Community Mobilization Programme (CMP) (2016-2018)

The Sindh Community Mobilization Program (CMP) is a 5 year program that commenced in 2013, as part of the Sindh Basic Education Program (SBEP) under an agreement between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Government of Sindh (GOS). With funding from USAID, Blumont (previously named the International Relief and Development IRD) and its partner organizations implement CMP in seven districts of Sindh (namely, Khairpur, Sukkur, Larkana, Dadu, Kambar Shahdadkot, Jacobabad and Kashmore) and five towns of Karachi (namely, Gadap, Keemari, Lyari, Bin Qasim and Orangi). CMP focuses on increasing girl’s enrollment in schools and improving school children’s health and hygiene, through community mobilization.

Malnutrition and the morbidity associated with it are a major cause of absenteeism and dropouts in schools of Pakistan. As part of a 25-month technical support project, the Aga Khan University-Human Development Programme (AKU-HDP) supported nutrition and hygiene focused research and capacity building in CMP. As part of the research component, a survey was done to assess school children’s knowledge, attitude and practices (KAP) related to nutrition, hygiene and safe environment. Findings of the KAP survey were used to design trainings of trainers and refresher trainings of CMP partners as part of the capacity building component, which resulted in development of a Nutrition and Hygiene Education Manual and accompanying power point presentations (put pictures of manual and power points). Findings of the KAP survey also formed the basis of engaging school children in development of posters and promoted healthy eating and good personal and environmental hygiene practices in children facebook and Video

Formative action research (FAR) was conducted with five selected communities to identify preferred sources of information and develop media messages for mass awareness campaigns. Participatory action research (PAR) was conducted with the same five communities to develop innovative models for addressing the underlying causes of children’s malnutrition through community mobilization.

Mainstreaming Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) and Girl Child in Government and Primary Schools  (2016–2017)

The project on mainstreaming children with special educational needs  and adolescent girls in govern-ment and private schools is part of the U.S. government’s Let Girls Learn initiative and is funded by USAID through its 'Small Grants Ambassador's Fund Program'. It builds on HDP’s previous work on children with disabilities and issues of girls’ accessing education.

The project is being implemented in 08 government and private mainstream schools in Sukkur and Hyderabad districts. The 14 months project aims to promote inclusion of adolescent girls, with and without special education needs in its focused schools.  The project aims to mobilize communities and teachers to bring children with SEN and girl child to mainstream schools, look at how disability and gender is addressed in schools and introduce strategies to enhance the knowledge and skills of parents and teachers to manage children with physical or cognitive challenges, and increase the enrolment of girls aged 10-19 years. The project will also help develop a conductive learning environment in its schools by conducting comprehensive training of members of teaching and administrative staff.

Assessing Developmental Health Status and School Readiness of children through Early Development Instrument (EDI) (2013-2016)

The Early Development Instrument (EDI) is a population-based measure, to evaluate the developmental health status and school readiness of groups of children at the level of classes, schools and communities. The instrument is designed to assess at risk children and at large to identify population based vulnerability.

Human Development Programme used EDI to conduct a research study looking at the school readiness and developmental health status of around 13000 children from Katchi and class I children across 400+ schools in Karachi. This project was undertaken in collaboration with the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Offord Centre for Childhood Studies (OCCS) at McMaster University. The project was funded by the Government of Canada, through Global Affairs Canada (GAC) under the  initiative of Partnership for Advancing Human Development in Africa and Asia (PAHDAA). Dissemination Seminar-Assessing childhood vulnerability through early development instrument.

PLAN Pakistan collaboration with Human Development Progamme AKU-Karachi - 2015

The project was funded by Plan International, Pakistan. PLAN Pakistan collaborated with AKU HDP to capture lessons learnt from PLAN International Pakistan's education in Emergencies (EiE) project with a specific focus on early child care and development (ECCD) and develop an instruction manual for PLAN International's staff, implementing partners including Government staff. The manual provides step by step guidance and methodologies for planning and running ECCD centers in disaster struck areas as well as assessing and evaluating the quality of services delivered. The manual is in line with Inter Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) minimum standards for EiE and has been developmed using PLAN International's global program guide on Early Child Care and Development in Emergencies (ECCDiE)


Early Childhood Development Project, Baluchistan (2011- 2015)

Initiated in 2011 the Early Childhood Development Project, Baluchistan–Ensuring the Best Start in Life for Children aimed to enhance the access, equity and quality of education in early years in three districts (Qilla Saifullah, Quetta and Gwadar) of Baluchistan Province. This project was led by Aga Khan Foundation, Pakistan (AKF-P) and was funded by AusAID. AKU-HDP was a technical partner in the project and assisted in the establishment of a Family Resource Center (FRC) in each district, building the capacity of local NGO partners and development of contextually appropriate awareness and advocacy material. The FRC aimed to enhance parenting skills related to child care and nurture, building secure attachments and providing age appropriate stimulation for physical and cognitive development of around 1500 young children. Community health workers, teachers and FRC staff were provided capacity building opportunities through multiple trainings in areas such as; antenatal care, basic concepts of ECD, brain development, nutrition, play, safe environment and inclusion. AKU-HDP also conducted research studies and developed material for awareness and advocacy.

These FRCs provided parenting education and developed nurturing skills of parents and caregivers through structured parenting education sessions. Play based age appropriate activities helped parents and children to understand each other's needs, to build attachments and to provide stimulation for holistic development. Links to the executive summaries of the ECDB project reports are shared below:

ECDB-FRC:Baseline Survey Report-2012, FRC: End of Project Rreport

Action Research Report Formative Action Research on use of Media

Education Development and Improvement Programme (EDIP) (2010- 2012)

E​ducation Development and Improvement Programme was implemented in Gilgit Baltistan from 2010-2013. The overall goal of EDIP was to contribute to the overall socio-economic development of Gilgit-Baltistan through enhancing access and equity; improving the quality and relevance of education and strengthening the governance and management of education sector. An important guiding principal of EDIP was the commitment to work with diversity, developing an inclusive approach, which included the poorest and the most disadvantaged and those with disabilities. During 2010–2012 AKU-HDP partnered EDIP and undertook a community based survey for assessing the prevalence of disability in children 0-15 years in four districts of Gilgit-Baltistan. Specific objectives were to assess the burden of childhood disabilities, to explore perceptions of various stakeholders such as parents, teachers, community members, NGOs etc. regarding disabilities and to identify existing resources/services available for children with disabilities in the community using community mapping. EDIP Report

Releasing Confidence and Creativity (RCC) Programme (2003-2011)

RCC​ Programme an ECD programme implemented by SEF (Sindh Education Foundation), TRC (Teachers’ Recourse Centre), AKU-IED, AKU-HDP technical partners and AKESP, SCSPEB (Society For Community Support For Primary Education In Baluchistan and HANDS implementing partners under the overall supervision of AKFP and  was in field from 2003 -2011. AKU-HDP designed and implemented a research-based home-visitation Early Childhood Development (ECD) Parenting Programme under Releasing Confidence and Creativity (RCC). The Programme was implemented in the provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan and aimed at improving the developmental status of children by enhancing the childcare practices and home environment. The overall goal of RCC: ECD Programme was to support children's development as confident, capable, creative, and caring people, through enhancing the context within which they develop. These contexts include children's classrooms and schools, their families and communities, and the broader policy and system environment. The Programme executed a home-visitation project for antenatal mothers and 0-8 year old children reaching almost 2000 families and 4500 children via 55 Early Child Development Workers (ECDWs). These ECDWs were young women from the local communities, who were trained with basic ECD knowledge and skill and community work and provided a foundation for holistic child development (health, nutrition and psychological needs).​​​

The programme also developed and delivered Training workshops on various topics related to ECD. These workshops trained 950 grassroots to mid-level professionals associated with RCC: ECD programme partners and staff members of other organization working for children and families in various sectors. During this project HDP has developed an easily comprehensible and culturally appropriate ‘Care for Development Appraisal Tool for Assessing and Monitoring Child Development: First Three Years (CDA tool), for assessing children.