|Climbing the Ladder: A Case Study of the Women's Secondary Education Programme of Allama Iqbal Open University, Pakistan (IBE, 1999, 34 p.)|
The WSEP is gaining momentum through its non-formal mode of education. The best thing that an experimental project can achieve is sustainability; and the programme has achieved this. The Allama Iqbal Open University reaches target groups from pre-literacy to Ph.D. level. The secondary level, which was once a missing link, has now assumed its place within the AIOUs system.
Some 3,000 students have completed the programme, another 2,000 are due to complete it and approximately 6,000 students are foreseen for upcoming enrolment. This is a group that will have a tremendous impact on the development of society as a whole. The outcomes in the form of availability of teachers at local levels, of health workers, of facilitators for social work, of skilled women, of mothers and sisters aware of the benefits of education, and of the addition of a financial contributor in the family are the most obvious benefits of the programme.
The maximum use of the formal system infrastructure was made in terms of buildings and staff. Extra benefits accruing to the formal institutions for facilitating distance education were that about 100 part-time tutors have been trained who are serving and can serve the local NGOs in the field of non-formal education. About 500 schools were established as study centres. They have been provided with extra financial support, as well as extra help with educational materials.
The programme has evolved a network of support systems for managing the programme in all major fields, i.e. student support, tutor training, material development and field support, by appointing female field staff and through the monitoring and evaluation system.
Staff who were appointed on a temporary basis have been regularized in the AIOU. The special appointment of female field staff in ten regional offices is a feature that has not only helped the programme but also facilitated the whole female audience of the other AIOU programmes. Regularization of field co-ordinators is still an uphill task, because it has to be approved by the government.
Materials development is an area where new clusters are to be developed and revision is a continuing process.
Recently, the programme has been opened up to a large audience, both male and female. To offer more choice for learners, new clusters are being planned. Technical courses, science courses, womens studies, preventive health, art and design, and interior decoration are a few of the areas where proposals have been developed by the faculties.
Another important issue relating to the programme was the need for it to achieve financial sustainability. The AIOUs authorities therefore decided to charge the students subsidized fees. This amount was higher than that charged during the project, i.e. Rs. 60 to Rs. 150 per semester. The students now pay Rs. 200 to Rs. 300 per semester. Initially, it was feared that there might be a sharp decrease in the interest of potential new entrants, which might have a negative effect on enrolment, but it has proved to be the other way round. The student enrolment is increasing each semester; clearly, the decision to increase fees did not affect the credibility of, and the need for, the programme. The earnings from fees have helped the AIOU with the financial sustainability of the programmes activities.
The incorporation of the programme within the Institute of Mass Education of the AIOU has provided a footing for it by filling the gap between primary and secondary education. However, the need for middle-level education has also been acknowledged. In the Institute of Mass Education there is a large number of opportunities to share experience and contribute in the field of learning materials development, teacher training, multimedia support, and evaluation and research. In this way, it is hoped to improve the provision of non-formal education on an on-going basis.