Abdul Majeed has debunked the myth that tribes of herdsmen living in remote areas are doomed to lives devoid of formal education and as a result lack an understanding of how to contribute to and organize to represent their own interests. At the same time he is building a broad tribal constituency to address a range of economic and environmental threats posed by the national government.
The New Idea
In an environment where herdsmen receive zero government services and can expect the same indefinite treatment, Abdul Majeed has found a way to educate tribal people. He has created a network of locally owned and operated primary schools where students use the government designed curriculum and routinely score better on government end-of-year tests than do students in formal schools. What is most significant, Abdul Majeed accomplishes this with teachers who begin with no better than a fifth grade education.The key insight of Abdul Majeed's approach is that he couples education of children with education of the teachers, supplying a correspondence type course of study to the teachers through his organization. So, a teacher with a fifth grade education teaching third grade is simultaneously studying at the sixth grade level with the help of Abdul Majeed's organization.The community supports the teacher, who commits to teaching three hours a day for six days each week. The teacher, who is also tends herds, is paid in sheep or goats, depending on the community's livestock. Abdul Majeed supplies textbooks, monthly consultations with the teachers, and develops a course of study for the teacher.
Lack of access to government sponsored primary education is not a problem in Pakistan that is unique to remote tribes of herdsmen. Nationwide, forty percent of primary school teachers drawing a salary from the government simply do not report for work. This problem is tied to the fact that primary school teachers are awarded their position because of their work as poll organizers during elections, making the positions political as opposed to merit based. In this environment a community like Abdul Majeed's cannot count on government reform to provide any near-term relief. For the foreseeable future isolated communities will have to rely on their own resources to educate their young people.The need for education was never greater. Government has turned to these remote areas with schemes for new dams that would flood large areas of what is now desert. In the area where Abdul Majeed's tribe lives there is such a scheme, which has received backing from international lending agencies. To contest such a scheme requires that affected tribes people understand and can articulate their own points of view about such projects.Great distances and the lack of infrastructure make the task of creating an educated citizenry a formidable task. Abdul Majeed's tribal schools now cover fifty-seven villages spread across one hundred and eighty-four square miles alongside Pakistan's canals. Literacy among men in the area is five percent and women is one percent.
In each village Abdul Majeed establishes a School Monitoring Committee, which is usually comprised of parents and relatives of school-age children. Abdul Majeed provides an initial orientation to the person chosen by the village to be the teacher and books, for which it charges a fee to cover its cost. The School Monitoring Committee functions like a School Board - deciding, for example, the level of fees to be assessed to cover the cost of the teacher.To date Abdul Majeed has established eighteen schools in the Makhi area of rural Sindh. School books are purchased in a nearby city. One hundred and ten members who make financial contributions help subsidize the cost of books, which are provided to the communities at a reduced cost or for free depending on the financial resources of the people. To qualify for support from Abdul Majeed's organization, he makes clear that the local schools must admit young girls as well as boys. Where he has run into opposition on this score he has pointed out that the tribe's spiritual leader, who is highly revered, has made sure that his daughters received not just primary but also higher education. As a result more than a hundred girls join more than three hundred boys in these local schools.Because of the limited size of the local populations, Abdul Majeed has been able to keep student teacher ratios quite attractive by the standards of Pakistan and many other countries. His ratios range from one teacher for twelve students to one teacher for thirty students.To reach further south and north along the Indian-Pakistani border where these tribes live Abdul Majeed needs to be able to free himself to make journeys that will take weeks and even months to set up the same types of network that now exists in Makhi District. He sees two immediate reasons to press ahead. First, other tribal groups have heard about his work through word of mouth and have sent word that they wish to receive him. Second, Abdul Majeed has learned from his efforts to stop a local dam project that a broadly based educated citizenry will help him foil this and related schemes that threaten the tribes' livelihood. Abdul Majeed is using the now stalled Chatiari Dam project to teach local groups about the need to band together and the role that education must play if people are to do this effectively. He has created a coalition of Karachi NGOs to help spur this effort and is figuring out how best to reach the far flung tribal groups living in clusters all along the Indian-Pakistan border and further inland.
Abdul Majeed was born into a family of herdsmen in the Mahki district of rural Sindh. The youngest and brightest of the family, his father sent him to the closest nearby town to go to school so he could read and do sums and so that he could prevent the tribal people from being cheated by the merchants. He turned out to be such a good student that his teacher convinced his father to allow him to go beyond fifth grade. He went on to earn his Master's degree in Sociology from Sindh University in Jamshoro. He worked his way through school as a construction worker and as a farmer. He was the first person from the area around the Nara Canal to go to university.After he completed his Master's degree he approached the government and asked them to supply teachers for his area. When his request was turned down Abdul Majeed began recruiting people to make contributions to help start his efforts. One hundred and ten people who knew and trusted him joined and made small contributions, allowing him to approach the villages with his proposed primary education scheme.When the Dam project was proposed, people in the Makhi area turned to Abdul Majeed to spearhead their cause.