Interview: Syed Asaad Ayub Ahmed, CEO (TCF)
TCF is very involved with students even after they graduate to help place them in universities and in jobs. Is this a role that has developed over time or was it in place right from the start?
Our primary purpose is to educate children and make sure our students graduate successfully. We are now going one step further and this process has evolved over time.
In 1995, TCF first established only primary schools and when the children reached fifth grade we found there was a need for secondary schools. The same thing happened when the kids reached matric. So, we initiated a scholarship to professional colleges. Finally, if a student qualifies for a professional university we approach donors for more funding and support. Educators such as Anees Hussain helped students to prepare for the IBA test at a discounted rate. Dr Ishrat Hussain of IBA was also very supportive and we admitted a TCF student to the IBA. We funded the first semester after which the university took over. The IBA also allowed the student to live on campus – a right usually reserved for students from out of town – but an exception was made in this case since the student had to commute two hours to get to university.
Have programmes like Rahbar made a big difference?
Our main concern is education and making sure our core curriculum is well-taught. But TCF is made up of practical people who are cognisant of the fact that jobs are hard to come by. The basic objective of the programme is to provide role models for students and infuse a sense of responsibility. They are not allowed to see themselves as victims but, in fact, are encouraged to be in charge of their destiny.” Rahbar provides them with options. Studying to be a doctor may not be a realistic dream for everyone, so we provide other options in the field, such as nursing and medical technicians and pharmacists. Rahbar helps to make them aware of the possibilities, since most of them are vague about their future.
Do a large number of students go on to higher education?
Fifty percent of our students get A/A* in the matric exam. Eighty-three percent get what used to be called first division grades. Not all students go to professional colleges; some opt for vocational colleges. Last year 72% went to colleges, out of which 35% went to professional colleges. There are also matric-tech programmes where children can learn technical skills like stitching and technical drawing. We are donor dependent and I don’t know how long we will be able to sustain the support to students who graduate. At the moment the numbers are few and contained. But as more schools come up the number of graduates will grow.
Were parents initially resistant to send their children to school especially since they are needed to help earn an income? Has this attitude changed over the last 10 years since the first graduating class?
Parents have seen their children graduate, and become not necessarily financially better-off, but better human beings. It is not simply a matter of getting better jobs: children are not just text-book-educated but are taught the importance of social responsibility and personal hygiene, to name a few. A community school provides easy access to parents and children and is also a place to access basic amenities such as water, which is scarce in most under-privileged areas. Also a TCF school is affordable. I know of a student from the Beaconhouse system in Lahore who transferred to a TCF school because of financial constraints.
There are 830 TCF schools in the country. How do you decide where to establish schools?
Donors have a lot of input and often decide where schools should be set up, especially if they belong to that area or have some influence there. Others simply donate funds and leave the choice of location to us. Incidentally, there are two types of donors; those who build schools and those who support schools. It costs Rs 1.5 million per year to run a school. TCF built a school in Gambat, an area know for dacoits, and we were very apprehensive at first but now, surprisingly,we have a chowkidar who was a dacoit and who now has grandchildren studying in the school. There is always hope!
How has the face of the classroom changed? Did you start off with minimum furniture and basic amenities? Have donations over the years been absorbed in improving the classroom environment?
No. The schools have been fully functional, well-equipped and well-furnished right from the start. We provide equal opportunities to all students and the TCF schools were never built as subsistence schools in underpriviliged areas. They were built keeping in mind the needs of any top school and, therefore, they are low cost, spacious schools that any child would want to enter.
Is child labour a problem across the country or is it restricted to certain areas?
Children across the country work, but child labour is not the issue: it is the economic situation which is the problem. If their families earned more, children would not have to work, but the upside is that education will improve economic conditions and take children out of the workforce. Currently, children work, take work for granted and accept it as a way of life. Let me give you the example of an A grade student at TCF who works in a garment factory from 6:00 pm to 5:00 am. Recently, an American journalist asked him what that child found difficult in life. His response was “absolutely nothing!”
This interview was originally published in the August issue.
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