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May 1, 2016

US-funded plan benefits underprivileged girls

Lahore

May 1, 2016

LAHORE

How often does one witness children, especially girls, from underprivileged families of a city in South Punjab conversing confidently in English? This seemingly unlikely proposition, however, was brought to reality at the provincial metropolis a couple of days back.

You put a question and almost all of them are eager to answer, in English! These teenage girls from Bahawalpur are enrolled in US-funded English Access Microscholarship Program (Access) and will graduate this summer. 

The class of 50 students was in the provincial metropolis to enjoy a musical performance by Grupo Fantasma—an American band. The Access Program, a two year after-school program, provides students with an opportunity to reach proficiency in English language while the participants also gain an appreciation for the US culture and democratic values. The students are not confined to classroom as visiting recreational places, libraries and universities are part of learning package the Access Program offers.

“Besides improving my skills in English language, the program helped built confidence in terms of my ability to interact with people”, says Aleena—a grade 9 student.  For another student, Sidra, the Access Program proved helpful in studies as she explored English grammar through the program which helped her do good in studies. 

Since its inception in 2004, the Access Program has presence in 85 countries around the world. Currently the program has some 2,930 students on 25 locations (cities) in Pakistan with over 11,000 alumni across the country.   The Access program is aimed to increase ability of the students to ‘participate successfully in the socio-economic development of their countries, and gain the ability to compete for and participate in future US exchange and study programs.’

The development of IT skills, leadership and community service are other goals of the program together with promotion of activities related to interfaith harmony. Another Access student, Farheen, was able to secure a seat at an English language camp in Turkey because of the language skills she gained through the program, though she couldn’t make it eventually due to visa related issue.  “My parents have been very supportive. This program is certainly going to help me in further studies and job opportunities afterwards”, she says confidently. In Punjab province the Access Program is open to students of government schools and the government’s partner schools—the Punjab Education Foundation (PEF)  schools. The students are selected on the basis of their potential to learn. However they ought to be from underprivileged backgrounds. 

“We engage our students in different learning by doing activities. They are also taken to different social and cultural events. It feels really nice to see your students gaining new skills and become confident individuals,” says Kashif Jamil, coordinator for the Access Microscholarship Program, at a center in Lahore.  According to Public Affairs Officer of US Consulate General, Lahore, Rachael Chen, the program discourages rote learning, and encourages students to be creative. “The Access Program teachers are also trained in the United State while English dpecialists from the US also come to Pakistan to train the teachers. The Access teachers from Pakistan also have the opportunities to participate in international English language conferences”, she added.