The poor living conditions in Katchi Abadis (KAs) and the challenges faced by the vulnerable children residing there, particularly the lack of educational facilities, were revealed in a recent pilot study conducted by Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA) with the support of the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).

The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Pakistan pilot study on learning and accountability in four urban slums of Pakistan, including Karachi West, Korangi, Malir and Lahore, sheds light on the challenges faced by the vulnerable children in KAs who are denied access to quality education. Using ASER Pakistan tools, mapped mainly to lower primary or grade 2 level national and provincial competencies, the survey covered a total of 114 KAs, reaching out to 2, 275 households, 2,285 Mothers and 6,411 children (age 3-16). The results called for urgent planning and action, addressing a large segment of children, adolescents and youth in Pakistan who remain marginalized.

Given this premise, a round table discussion was held in Karachi to discuss the data and findings shared in the report titled ‘Measuring Learning Quality in Katchi Abadis of Pakistan’ which was attended by a multi-sectoral and inter-departmental group of experts and decision-makers. With almost 50% of the total population in urban areas living in KAs and more than 60% in Karachi, the challenges are huge when it comes to unmet services. The participants drew urgent attention to the plight of children in the KAs of Pakistan and to the fundamental Right to Education as per Article 25-A of the Constitution and respective laws in Pakistan (Sindh 2013) and Punjab (2014) to which the govt. representatives present had pledged to provide spaces to establish libraries and resource centres in KAs of Korangi.

According to the KA pilot study, around 38% of the KAs do not have daily access to water and about 18% get water once in 15 days or more; in 46% KAs there is no routine system for cleaning drains and garbage collection. While the majority of the households (79%) had their own toilets, 21% either had shared (13%) or public (5%) toilets and for 3%, there was no option but open defecation. The participants at the round table reflected on the data shared in the report and the problem, scale and opportunities that come with it. They said that consolidated efforts are required by all stakeholders to mitigate the problems of KAs. With the climate changes globally, lack of urban planning and fast-growing population in informal settlements, industrialization should be slowed down in Karachi and shifted to other cities to reduce the migration rate from rural to urban areas of Karachi. More importantly, local govt. should be empowered so it can work at the grassroots level to improve the poor living conditions in KAs.

ASER Pakistan had reported that 82% of children are enrolled in schools in KAs (2021) compared to 97% in urban districts (ASER 2019) while 20% KAs have no govt. schools. As the private sector is trying to fill the gap, the demand is still higher than the supply and it may further go up if the quality is improved and the fee factor is addressed. More children are leaving schools and being involved in child labour to provide financial support to their families. To address this challenge, technical education should be introduced for children. This is possible by strengthening the linkages between technical education institutes and industry and improving the quality of technical education.

Most of the parents in KAs are sending their children to Madrassahs where govt. schools are not established and private schools’ fees are not affordable. More children are enrolled in private schools (59%), including Madrassahs (8%) and NFE (1%), whilst 41 % are enrolled in govt. schools. Enrolment in Madrassahs is significantly higher in KAs than trends observed in the regular ASER national surveys (1.5-2.5 per cent). While Korangi, Lahore and Malir’s Madrassah enrolment is 2.6%, 2.1% and 2.5%, respectively, Karachi-West has 24% of Katchi Abadis students or 1 in 4 children enrolled in Madrassahs. This highlights the need to establish vocational training centres and provide IT skills to children enrolled in Madrassahs.

The opportunities for technology-based learning and livelihood solutions may be tapped for positive results in KAs since 63% of the households have smartphones, 80% have cellphones, 21% have computers/laptops and 33% use the internet. Introducing skills development programs can be a good action plan in this case.

With 17 mother tongues reported being spoken in the KAs, innovations in the native language such as introducing storybooks for pre-primary children and establishing community learning centres can play a significant role in children’s early year development. The medium of instruction in the majority of urban slum schools is Urdu/Sindhi. The top three languages spoken in four districts are: Pashto, Urdu and Balochi (Karachi West); Sindhi, Urdu and Pashto (Korangi); Sindhi, Urdu and Punjabi (Malir); and Punjabi, Pashto and Urdu (Lahore).

Lack of mapping for KAs in Karachi creates a disconnect between the authorities and the people. Geo-Spatial Mapping of schools is required to resolve the commute problems of children going to school. Using data from Geo-Spatial Mapping, pockets, where there are no public/private schools, can be identified which will help policymakers realize the need to establish more schools. Lastly, career counselling of children should be made compulsory in all schools so that children are well informed while making their career choices.

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