Using mosques to cater to out-of-school children


Twenty-two million young lives, each with the potential to shape Pakistan’s future, are being stifled and rendered uncertain by a crisis of out-of-school children. According to Unicef data, Pakistan has one of the world’s highest rates of out-of-school children, with an estimated 22.8 million children between the ages of five and 16 not attending school. It represents around 48% of the total population of children in that age bracket. Most out-of-school children in Pakistan are from marginalised communities, including girls, children from rural areas, and families living in poverty.

It is a call to action for the government, society, and all of us as a nation to take immediate and urgent responsibility for addressing this problem. As a journalist and founder of the not-for-profit organisation, Off The School (OTS), in a disadvantaged neighbourhood of Karachi, I have had the opportunity to witness firsthand the devastating consequences of a lack of access to education for children from marginalised communities.

As a nation, we must adopt a proactive approach to resolving the out-of-school crisis in Pakistan. One promising solution is to utilise mosques and religious seminaries’ existing infrastructure to educate children from underserved communities. My organisation, OTS, has adopted this approach, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

At OTS, we operate our school on the grounds of Baghdadi Masjid and Jamia Riazul Uloom. Over 1,900 girls and boys from marginalised communities receive formal education from kindergarten to grade 8 and supplementary tuition for grades 9 to 12 in both science and commerce groups. This approach provides education for children who would otherwise not have had it and helps strengthen the community by bringing people together for a common cause.

At OTS, we recognise that providing access to formal education is essential, but more is needed to ensure our students’ long-term success. That is why we also strongly emphasise providing our students with employability skills. These skills are designed to equip our students with the knowledge and abilities they need to succeed in today’s job market. Our students learn IT skills such as web development, android development, video editing and graphic designing. They also learn different languages, such as English, Turkish, Arabic and Persian.

Additionally, our students receive training in digital marketing, e-commerce and social media handling — all essential skills for today’s digital landscape. This approach helps students get better job opportunities and empowers them to be self-sufficient and successful. Along with all this, they receive religious education — an essential aspect of our culture and society.

The government, private sector and NGOs should take note of the success of OTS and consider implementing similar initiatives across the country. With the vast number of mosques and religious seminaries in Pakistan, utilising these existing resources can help tackle the out-of-school crisis significantly. With the support of the government, private sector and NGOs, we can provide quality education to students, hire trained teachers, engage volunteers, provide them with necessary resources and improve the overall education system.

Education is the key to unlocking a brighter future for our children and thereby the nation. By working together and leveraging existing resources, we can ensure access to education for all children in Pakistan and allow them to reach their full potential. It is time for us to take action and address this crisis with utmost urgency. For this, the government should take religious scholars and madrasa administrators on board.

Given the prevailing economic crunch, the out-of-school crisis in Pakistan is neglected; however, this issue requires immediate attention and action. As a nation, we must come together to find solutions that will provide access to education for all children, regardless of their socioeconomic background. Utilising existing resources, such as mosques and religious seminaries, can be a viable solution that has already shown positive results. We must act now before another 22 million voices are silenced, and another 22 million dreams are shattered.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 28th, 2023.

Meet Najam Soharwardi, a Chevening Scholar and education advocate founded “Off The School” (OTS) to provide formal education to underserved communities. <a href="">Read More

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