Education in Pakistan is in a self-admitted state of emergency. The symptoms appear across the nation: outdated teaching methods, sparse supplies, and crumbling infrastructures.
But in mid-July, 147 students won scholarships to teacher education programs in their quest to become a new kind of teacher, one who will transform the face of learning in Pakistan.
About 1,900 students across the nation earned the scholarship prize, compliments of the USAID Teacher Education Project, implemented by the Massachusetts-based Education Development Center, Inc. (EDC). The 147 were feted in the Punjab province.
These "lamps," says Mahmood Butt, head of the project, "will spread the light of knowledge and learning in their provinces," paving the way to a more literate, educated nation.
Rohaniyyih Nabilzadeh of Islamabad is one of Punjab's brightest lights.
At 21, she is on the path to earn a bachelor's degree in education. This degree is Pakistan's new gold standard for becoming a teacher, and the U.S. is helping schools establish the new degrees, recently mandated by the government.
Rohaniyyih has completed her first of four years at Fatima Jinnah Women University. Next year, she'll attend tuition- and expense-free. Her merit scholarship attests to her high grades and performance on the entrance exam.
When asked why she wants to be a teacher, Rohaniyyih cites her high school experience as one of the main reasons. "The current Pakistani curriculum and teaching methods aren't working well," she says. With 60 or 70 students in a classroom, there is no time for teacher-student interaction.
One of her classmates and fellow scholarship recipients agrees. "Teachers are so conventional, and they don't listen to students. They only think about book learning," says Naima Iman, 20, from Gilgit in northern Pakistan. "I want to be a teacher who creates an environment where the students can be critical communicators."
Ted Gehr, director of USAID's Lahore field office, agrees that Pakistan's education system "needs a lot of work." This new $75 million USAID Teacher Education Project is part of the more than $1 billion that USAID has granted to Pakistan over the last three years for education as well as health and energy programs. The project works with 15 universities and 75 colleges as a catalyst to improve teaching across the nation. The enrolled students, he says, are doing exactly what needs to be done. "We won't see results right off the bat. We have to give it time, but we are moving in the right direction."
Rohaniyyih's decision to become a teacher also emerged from her experiences as a teenage volunteer with both young and adolescent students. "The satisfaction I felt was so immense, I knew I would want to be a teacher. We are all learning how to make our society a better one. It is education and only education that can bring forth the human gems," she says.
Her true love is early education. "I love interacting with kids. The early classes (ages 6-8) are the time when you can help shape them. As a teacher, they consider you a role model."
In the future, she'd like to establish her own school. "Each of us has a role. We often blame others, but we all have to do something to make things better."
This blog is part of our #GivingTuesday series, produced by The Huffington Post and the teams at InterAction, 92nd Street Y,United Nations Foundation, and others. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday - which takes place for the first time on Tuesday, November 27 - is a movement intended to open the holiday season on a philanthropic note. Go to www.givingtuesday.org to learn more and get involved.