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The citizens foundation: positive change starts from education

Pakistan currently has the largest population of young people ever recorded in its history, 64 percent of the population is below the age of 30 according to the latest United Nations Development Program (UNDP) report. If we don’t give our children and youth access to quality education today, we literally have a ticking time bomb at our hands. The education emergency remains greater than ever. With 22.6 million out of school children in Pakistan, it is the need of the hour to make quality education accessible for the less privileged children.

The Citizens Foundation (TCF) perhaps the largest network of independently run schools in the world. TCF has nearly 1,500 schools in 700 sites across Pakistan where children were previously out-of-school. The Foundation is the largest private employer of women in Pakistan with an all-female faculty of 12,000 teachers and principals. TCF has 220,000 students this year. Nearly half (48%) of TCF students are girls. Eighty-eight percent of TCF alumni have gone to college and 71% are employed.

TCF history

In 1995, five businessmen and an architect sat down at a table, armed with pencils and notebooks, to confront a question: What can we do, as citizens, to correct the nation’s trajectory?

Pakistan has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world, after Nigeria, and it is the world’s sixth largest country. So the group agreed on a plan. They would leverage their experience building companies to build a network of 1,000 schools for the country’s poorest, out-of-school children.

These schools would not be ‘poor schools’ for the poor. The founders believed that poor children should go to schools like the ones that they and the world’s privileged populations can go to.

The group put their own money into a pilot to build 5 schools in Karachi’s worst slums that did not have electricity, sanitation, and clean water. Rising out of the heaps of trash, the schools were each a safe haven. They had playgrounds, science labs, libraries and toilets with running water.

The sight of these schools in Karachi sparked a philanthropic movement with Pakistanis offering to sponsor schools if The Citizens Foundation would build and manage them.

With $30 million supporting 220,000 students today, TCF spends less than $12 per child per month. Less than 10% is spent on administration (curriculum, testing, staff engineers, others).

TCF model

TCF has evolved a model to deliver quality education in Pakistan’s most neglected rural and slum communities where we find children, especially girls, out of school.

First, the school building is at the heart of TCF’s human-centered design. Children in Pakistan walk to school so schools are built in the heart of communities to maximize enrollment, especially for girls. TCF builds where there are no other schooling options.

The architecture is visually attractive – to inspire children and parents – and pragmatic. Schools are designed to maximize natural light and ventilation, since the areas where TCF works often do not have electricity.

Second, TCF hires only female teachers so that parents will send girls to school. Hiring only women transforms gender dynamics in conservative communities. TCF transports teachers to school, which helps attract and retain the most qualified women from immediate and neighboring communities.


Third, TCF does what it takes to deliver quality education to children. Whereas most low-cost private schools in Pakistan use English textbooks – a language that teachers and children don’t speak – our curriculum is in Urdu and we teach English as a second language. Following the guidelines of the national curriculum, TCF develops its own textbooks and teachers’ guides drawing from the best materials available internationally but relevant to the exposure of an underprivileged child in Pakistan. The curriculum is built on 5 Cs: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Conceptual Understanding, Confidence, and Communication.

In the matric results 2016-17, the pass rate for TCF students was 96%, while there was a remarkable increase in the percentage of students securing A+ and A grades, from 48% percent the year before to 64% in 2017. These results are a testimony to the sustained hard work of dedicated staff and students.

To ensure quality, TCF trains their teachers, principals, and area managers extensively. Teacher training is focused on content knowledge (their own understanding of the subjects they teach) rather than pedagogy. It consists of 120 hours in total per teacher per year. The Principals’ Academy emphasizes on leadership and management skills. TCF also trains their field-level area education managers who typically oversee 30 to 40 schools each.

Fourth, TCF takesperformance measurement seriously so theycan maintain accountability and integrity internally as well as externally for donors and other stakeholders. They collect performance data like enrollment numbers and gender ratio on every school every month. Students are regularly tested internally to prepare them for the board exams. All teachers are tested on content knowledge. Principal Quality Indexscores principals on their leadership skills and achievements. Improvements in teachers’ and principals’ scores are linked to salary bonuses.

Finally, TCF offers continued guidance and mentoring to students/ alumni to help them continue their education up to the highest possible level. The guidedmentoring and career counseling sessions are initiated from the higher secondary level. TCF also helps graduates transition to university by counseling them through the application process and ensuring that they secure scholarships. In 2016, TCF started its first college in Karachi for grades 11 and 12. The pass rate for the college students was 95 percent in their board exams. Ninety-three percent of these students have applied for tertiary education.

Impacting lives across Pakistan, especially girls

TCF parents are laborers, drivers, vendors, and agricultural workers. They come from all religious and ethnic backgrounds. They are typically poor and illiterate. TCF offers their children social mobility. TCF graduates have ended up in top tier universities in Pakistan, the United States, and Europe.

513 girls who have graduated from TCF schools have come back as teachers and principals. They are often in villages where parents did not traditionally send their girls to school. They represent the first generation of educated girls who can be financially independent and challenge their status in society.

Literacy for mothers, older sisters, and other out-of-school girls

TCF also uses their school premises to deliver other services to the families of their students. Their UNESCO award-winning female adult literacy program, Aagahi, teaches mothers and older out-of-school girls to read and write. TCF enables 12,000 women to attain literacy and numeracy every year. Additionally, they also provide clean drinking water in certain communities and are setting up women’s vocational training centers in schools.

Way forward

All around us, we see the social issues like poverty, hunger, unemployment, health issues, economic disparity and intolerance. When we try to understand what’s that one thing that will solve for these problem; we realize that education is the only answer.

The next big goal for TCF is to increase reach 10 times by 2030 and impact the lives of 2 million less privileged people.It is our collective responsibility to join hands for a positive change, for education of the less privileged, to enable a brighter future for our country. That’s why, TCF invites all Pakistanis to be a part of their mission to educate Pakistan.

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