Paid To Learn: Empowering Low-Income Working Children Through Education and Support

Zindagi Trust's Paid to Learn program, spanning 18 impactful years, aimed to educate working children from urban slums in Pakistan. Through an accelerated two-year course, it offered primary education to street vendors, store or factory helpers, and auto-repair workers across Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Karachi. To motivate and offset their lost wages, the children received a scholarship stipend upon completing each term, providing them with a valuable incentive to pursue education while breaking the cycle of laborious lives.

Planning the Path

Regional academic coordinators played a vital role in the Paid to Learn program by recruiting working children from major slums in Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Karachi. After engaging with parents and employers, the children were registered as students and embarked on an intensive two-year and two-month accelerated course, focusing on primary education.
Additionally, the program provided sponsorship for exceptional graduates to continue their education in mainstream secondary schools, covering admission fees, monthly expenses, textbooks, stationery, and uniforms.

Implementation of the Program

Regional academic coordinators recruited working children from major slums in Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Karachi, engaging with parents and employers. As registered students, the children underwent an intensive two-year and two-month accelerated course, providing primary education.
The program further supported exceptional graduates by sponsoring their enrollment in mainstream secondary schools, covering admission fees, monthly expenses, and essential educational resources like textbooks, stationery, and uniforms.

Impact of the Program:

  1. Over 6000 children enrolled in the program
  2. Children previously engaged in car-repair shops, street markets, cottage industries, general stores, or domestic work
  3. Nearly 900 working children educated concurrently
  4. 5000 children successfully completed the primary education course
  5. Graduates excelled in mainstream private secondary schools
  6. Some graduates completed their Matriculation and aimed to attend college for better job opportunities and successful futures

Reflecting on the Program: Lessons Learned and Future Pathways

Throughout the journey of the Paid to Learn program, we have gathered valuable lessons that have shaped our approach and highlighted areas for improvement. These insights include:

  1. Specialized Teachers for Working Children:
    Teaching children engaged in work and in non-formal settings requires specially qualified educators. Recognizing that "something is better than nothing" is insufficient for such a specialized learning environment.

  2. Importance of Follow-up and Mentoring:
    Constant follow-up, mentoring, and counseling are essential to ensure regular attendance and engagement from students who are new to formal schooling. Personalized support is crucial for their successful integration.

  3. Emphasizing Holistic Education:
    While the accelerated course posed challenges for incorporating holistic elements like art and sports, we recognize their significance in sustaining students' interest. Finding ways to include such activities can enhance their overall educational experience.

Moving Forward: From Individual Success to Systemic Impact

As we strive to drive mass change through government school reform, we will always hold a special place in our hearts for the Paid to Learn program. Prior to transitioning, our regional academic coordinators ensured that our graduates seamlessly continued their education in private secondary schools, with ongoing support for their journey towards Matriculation, without any financial burden. We take immense pride in hearing from our graduates who have not only completed high school but have even pursued higher education at college and university levels. Their stories continue to inspire us as we remain committed to empowering more children and creating a brighter future for all.

Success Stories