The Parkari Literacy Project, Pakistan

  • Date published:
    25 April 2016

Programme Overview

Programme Title The Parkari Literacy Project
Implementing Organization Parkari Community Development Programme (PCDP)
Language of Instruction Parkari, Sindhi and English
Funding Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and Wycliffe
Programme Partners Digni; Wycliffe Norway; Micah International; Summer Institute of Linguistics International (SIL); Church World Service, Pakistan/Afghanistan (CWS); Advocacy, Research and Training Foundation (ARTS); Institute of Applied Linguistics (IAL); Kacchi Community Development Association (KCDA); Sindh Language and Development Programme (SLDP); Participatory Village Development Programme (PVDP); Society for Safe Environment and Welfare of Agrarian (SSEWA); Pak Mission Society (PMS); Government of Sindh, Pakistan (Education Department); National Database and Registration Authority, Pakistan (NADRA); Men’s and Women’s Village Committees in Parkari communities.
Annual Programme Costs 1,789,875 PKR (approximately US $17,178.51 USD)
Date of Inception 2000

Country Context

The persistence of border conflict and tensions related to security and governance in Pakistan create challenges that hinder economic growth and development. The security challenges are reflected in expenditure on education. Pakistan spends approximately seven times more on the military than it does on primary education (GMR, 2012). Moreover, despite the overall increase in expenditure on education in South Asia over the last decade, Pakistan has reduced it and, in 2013, allocated less than 12 per cent of its total resources to education (the average for South Asia is 18.5 per cent). The percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) spent on education increased slightly in 2013, to 2.5 per cent, but is still below the level required if Pakistan is to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on education (Word Bank, 2015).

According to the 2011–12 Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey (PSLM, 2013), the country faces particular challenges in achieving Goal 2, universal primary education, and Goal 3, the elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary education. Although the primary-level net enrolment rate rose between 1999 and 2013 from 58 per cent to 72 per cent, inequalities of access remain, especially for girls and women and those living in rural areas. It is estimated that Pakistan has the world’s third-largest population of adults with low or non-existent literacy skills – 49.5 million, of whom two-thirds are women (GMR, 2012).

These difficulties are even more acute in Sindh, a disadvantaged province on the border with India. Less than half of the population aged 10 years or older, and only one of every four girls or women, have ever attended school (PSLM, 2013). The area is home to the 1.2 million-strong Parkari community, which is scattered throughout Lower Sindh. Almost everyone in the community earns a living from farming, either as owners of land in the Thar Desert or by working for non-Parkari landlords in the irrigated parts of the province. Only 5 per cent of men and 1 per cent of women are literate (PCDP, 2015). Most villages lack basic essentials such as clean water and health and educational services.

The Parkari community suffers from cultural and religious discrimination, mostly because of the caste system. Many members of the community are exploited as a source of inexpensive labour by non-Parkari landlords (PCDP, 2015). In addition, as a result of their precarious living situation, most Parkaris are not registered with the National Data Registration Authority (NADRA), meaning that they have no access to government facilities, and are excluded from legal help and political participation. The community’s mother language is Parkari, but primary education, in line with to the government’s primary curriculum, is offered in Sindhi, the recognized language of the Province. For the Parkari community, this is an additional obstacle in accessing education.

The written form of the Parkari language only began to be developed in 1983, by the Parkari Language Committee. Within ten years, a large number of Parkari-language materials had been produced, on many topics. However, because of the high rate of illiteracy within the community, very few people have been able to read them.


Programme Overview

The Parkari Community Development Programme (PCDP) was founded in 1996 in order to create and distribute the first of these texts to the Parkari community. It soon developed a wide range of activities to help members of the community to become independent readers.

Today, the PCDP runs several projects to promote the social and economic development of the area and to reduce poverty. These include an advocacy and awareness project, a health care programme and a development and relief project. One of the core PCDP programmes is the Parkari Literacy Project (PLP), a community-based literacy development programme launched in 2000. PLP aims to enhance both children’s and adults' literacy skills. Up to now, thirty-eight adult education classes have been completed, and eight are currently running. Moreover, twenty-four PCDP primary schools have been established for children. Overall, the project has reached 510 isolated villages.

The most innovative feature of the programme is its multi-lingual education (MLE) approach. At the early stages of education, the medium of instruction is Parkari, the students' mother language, rather than Sindhi, the language of the provincial primary curriculum. This helps learners to transfer reading skills later, when Sindhi and English are introduced in the MLE curriculum.

Communities, through the establishment of village committees, are encouraged and trained to manage the schools and adult centres independently, in preparation for the handover of responsibilities to the communities after two years of PCDP support. There are currently fifteen community-operated self-help schools running.

Aims and Objectives

Overall, the Parkari Literacy Project endeavours to develop ‘an empowered Parkari community; literate, healthy, self-reliant, socially integrated and free from socio-economic oppression’, through skills training and community involvement.

Its specific objectives are to:

  • Enhance literacy and numeracy skills among adults and facilitate literacy acquisition through the use of their mother language.
  • Empower adults through courses focused on civil and political rights.
  • Promote awareness among adults of the importance of education, both for them and their children.
  • Promote capacity-building and support autonomy among members of the village committee in the management of schools.
  • Promote the use of the Parkari language as the most effective means of involving members of the community and as a symbol of unity and self-determination.
  • Expand the number of written texts and materials available in Parkari.

Programme Implementation

Adult education is key to the empowerment of the Parkari community. Through the strengthening of their reading, writing and numeracy skills, men and women can become more involved in the community, participate actively in the development of village activities, and be more aware of their basic human and political rights. Better literacy skills, for example, enable farmers to check their accounts with landlords, and help them become more aware of their rights.

During 2013/2014, PCDP ran 37 adult literacy centres and the literacy course was completed by around 925 community members. Literacy learning activities currently take place in fifteen adult education centres, which are part of the wider PLP project to promote capacity-building among members of the community. Two village committees, one for men and the other for women, are established in villages willing to participate in the project. PLP provides the committees with training in the management of school, so that men and women can cooperate in the smooth running of their community-based schools and adult centres.

The community’s responsibilities include providing land and building the school (usually a hut), selecting teachers from among village members, taking part in village committees to manage the school, ensuring regular school supervision, and organizing meetings and other events with parents. The community is also responsible for arranging fees to provide salaries to the teacher when the project passes from PCDP’s hands to theirs.

Content and Methodology

In the adult education centres, literacy courses are developed to reflect human, civil and political rights-based themes relevant to the lives of Parkari community members. The course lasts one calendar year, with classes meeting five times per week, for two hours.

The medium of instruction is, in the beginning, Parkari. Students are supported in acquiring the written form of the language in which they are already fluent, which gives them a better insight into the curriculum. Sindhi and English are introduced later, as second and third languages, in accordance with PCDP’s multi-lingual education approach.

PCDP fosters development in Parkari communities through a structured cluster mechanism called the ‘Community Development Network’ (CDN). Each cluster contains five units and each unit consists of five villages. Currently, there are 13,822 households in 510 villages registered with the CDN. The governing mechanisms introduced in the villages include village committees and discussion groups for community members.

Classes were designed to engage and maintain the attention of adults during literacy instruction. Classes always start with oral discussion of a topic arising from the storybook. Themes are based on the daily needs of the community and the struggles and challenges community members face. The teachers are trained to lead discussions by asking open-ended questions. In this way, adults have the chance to speak about their personal issues, and also discuss appropriate solutions. Afterwards, the teacher reads a story and opens up further discussion related to the given theme.


Recruitment and Training of Staff

The programme trains adults from local communities to become teachers and facilitators (the latter being responsible for the supervision of teachers). The village committees propose a list of potential teachers from within their community, and PCDP selects them on the basis of their skills, qualifications, experience and interest. The minimum certification teachers must hold is a middle- (Grade 8) to intermediate-level qualification (Grade 12), while facilitators must possess a qualification between intermediate and degree level.

Teacher training reflects the multi-lingual education approach, according to which literacy skills are initially taught in the mother language of the learners, with other languages introduced only later. Besides being tailored to adult learners' needs, the teacher training is also focused on equipping teachers with leadership, advocacy and social mobilization skills, and on improving their language and ICT skills. On completing the training, teachers are ready to establish and manage an adult education Centre, and receive certification. This certification is not recognized at national level but is acknowledged and accepted by other local NGOs, creating opportunities for PCDP-trained teachers to work for other NGOs in the future.

So far, the programme has recruited and is offering its services through:

  • thirty-nine teachers working in multi-lingual education schools;
  • forty-seven teachers employed in community self-help schools;
  • five teachers employed in secondary schools;
  • fifteen teachers running adult literacy projects.

Teachers are guided and trained by PCDP facilitators who have been trained for their role by Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) International literacy consultants. Facilitators are responsible for providing training to those the community has selected as teachers for adult literacy classes.

With the literacy rate in the Parkari community only around 2 per cent, it is very hard to find people within the community who have the literacy skills level necessary to become a teacher. The teachers selected often have little experience of teaching. The typical teacher is between the ages of 18 and 35, with few older than 40. Facilitators, on the other hand, usually have 15 years' experience as PCDP facilitators.

Enrolment of Students

Students are recruited through a baseline study that collects information of the interests and needs of a community. Through the collection of data, PLP also finds out which adults might benefit and which would like to attend the programme.

Teaching and Learning Materials

One of the teachers' books

One of the teachers' books

The curriculum was initially developed by Parkari teachers, community members and school supervisors in writers' workshops, supervised and supported by SIL International literacy specialists. The community-based adult literacy programme aims to promote and teach literacy to adults in their mother tongue. In developing the curriculum, community members, including men and women from a range of age groups, were invited to participate in the writers' workshops. They were presented with a series of topics and asked to identify which should be included in the curriculum. A brainstorm session followed in order to develop drafts of stories in collaboration with participants from the community, who were divided in groups. At the end of the session, each group presented their draft to other participants and SIL International literacy specialists, who took notes on the grammar and language used in each draft. Feedback was provided, including what changes should be made to each story. By the end of the workshops, drafted material was ready for final revision by the literacy consultants.

PLP provides the Parkari community schools with a local library of books, mostly in Parkari. The books cover issues such as community development, human rights, health, culture, language and environment. Teacher training books and didactic materials related to the syllabus used in the community schools are included as well. Moreover, a collection of audio-cassettes on different cultural topics is available so that those who struggle with literacy are not excluded and can be supported in the process of literacy acquisition. The printed and the audio materials are produced by PCDP and distributed throughout the community during regular field visits. The programme’s materials include:

  • Teachers’ resources:
    • Teacher guide.
    • A book on Parkari history and culture called Lok Sager Ja Moti (The Pearl of the Ocean).
    • A book of Parkari proverbs and riddles called Gayon ro Gupt Dhan (The Hidden Treasure of Wisdom).
  • Texts for students:
    • Rights-based storybooks for students in terms 1 to 4 (each book contains between eight and ten stories).
    • Maths book in Parkari.
    • Parkari literacy book (big book and small book).
    • Transfer primer: transition from Parkari (L1) to Sindhi(L2).
    • Parkari early reader book.

Another example of teaching material

Another example of teaching material

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

By the end of their training, teachers are able to plan and organize monthly oral and written tests for their learner, for example reading out loud from a text or dictation. The mid-term and final exams are conducted by the PLP project team.

Monitoring and Evaluation

The quality of programme implementation is assured by field visits carried out by PCDP monitoring and evaluation staff. PCDP staff regularly meet with beneficiaries and stakeholders in the targeted villages where PCDP is working. Feedback is collected to improve the programme and plan future activities effectively.

The head office programme team conducts field visits once a month. Field staff (i.e. school supervisors) conduct visits on an almost daily basis and prepare reports about teacher and student performance, shared during monthly meetings at the PCDP head office. Twice a year, all adult literacy centres carry out examinations to assess the performance of teachers and facilitators.

The programme is also externally evaluated periodically every two years by one of the donor agencies.

Impact and Challenges


When the project started in 2009, PCDP had planned to establish seven adult education centres. However, more than 30 villages applied asking for support, suggesting that the Parkari community was strongly interested in adult education and empowerment.

Since its inception, PCDP has opened 75 adult education centres and offered 78 courses. So far, 1,649 Parkari adults (1,199 men and 450 women) have successfully completed the course. Between January 2015 and August 2015, fifteen new adult centres were opened (the remaining 60 closed as learners had completed their courses), offering classes to a total of 264 adult learners (193 men and 71 women), from 25 different communities. All participating communities become part of PCDP’s Community Development Network (CDN).


The overall positive impact of the Parkari Literacy Programme can be summarized in the words of an elderly participant who had never been to school before or seen the written form of his mother language: ‘I am lucky that before my death I have seen this good thing. I never even dreamed that this marvellous work could happen. This whole work shows and proves that the bad days for the Parkari community have all gone and the future looks bright’.

The programme and the governance mechanisms introduced in the villages (village committees and discussion groups) have been successful in stimulating a sense of ownership within the Parkari community. A clear sense of community empowerment can be observed in the following changes and activities:

  • The Parkari community has built a strong network with other communities.
  • Learners and programme alumni participate more in community events and encourage each other to participate.
  • Community members have made preparations within their clusters to provide help to victims of natural disaster. Such help involves the collection door-to-door of food and non-food items.
  • Parkari community members have created savings plans in order to buy land for permanent settlement and break free of the control of landlords.
  • Community members have started self-help activities, such as running community self-help schools, young people teaching literacy skills through the Each One, Teach One campaign, and initiatives to address water, sanitation and hygiene issues.
  • The entire community has committed to school ownership by financially supporting them.
  • Increased participation of women in decision making.
  • Increased self-respect and self-confidence among girls and women.
  • A positive behavioural change among men in the Parkari community. Men show more respect to their wives and do not prevent them from attending community meetings and programmes. Some might stay at home with children specifically so that their wives can participate in village meetings. Parents value their daughters’ education and send them to schools.


Daji s/o Ratno

Daji s/o Ratno

Before attending the class I was very unconfident and nervous to do any job or to start any business… I started to go [to PCDP’s Parkari Literacy Project] just to pass time but … day by day my interest was growing and I noticed that things were changing in me. I was learning numbers, doing simple sums in maths, reading and writing Parkari, my own mother tongue. But, alongside that, I felt that my personal development was improving … I am able to think about the basic problems of my community by using rights-based books … After completing one year, I can see the big change in myself. I am now more confident and in the position that I can choose the ways to improve myself. While attending the class I have started a small shop and it is running very well. Now I have some more future plans for me and my family.’Daji s/o R., from the Tharparker district.

Veenjho (in the centre) with some of his family members

Veenjho (in the centre) with some of his family members

I have been working as a labourer in the irrigated area for many years … this is the only way to fulfil the needs to my family. I am an uneducated man because my family was quite poor so they could not stand educational expenses … When I meet my oldest and childhood friends … especially those who are educated, I have noticed that they all are very confident … They have all necessary things in their homes and are living happily. I felt sad deep down in my heart and start thinking of how good it would be for me to read and write like my other friends. In 2012, I migrated from the irrigated area to Nagarparkar, the desert area … There, I got the chance to attend a meeting conducted by PLP … [It] was about starting the adult literacy centre in this village. It did not take me time to decide that I also wanted to be a part of this class. When the adult education centre began, I started my study … After the class, I used to go in the field to work but I [would bring] my books with me for studying … Soon … I realized that I could read and write a bit so I decided to open a shop … Now my shop is giving me a good income and I can keep simple financial records properly on a daily basis. Now my home situation is getting better day by day and my family became very happy … not only I am able to do this trade but my all children are also going to PLP’s … school. I am grateful to PCDP.’ V., from Nagarparkar.


Large areas of Lower Sindh are affected by severe drought which causes famine and forces villagers to migrate to find grazing for livestock and temporary work. This causes discontinuities in course attendance and can hinder the improvement of literacy skills. Socio-cultural constraints play a role as well. The programme has faced bitter opposition from landlords who felt they were being deprived of their inexpensive labour source.

Other difficulties encountered in the implementation of the programme concerned specific didactic issues. At the programme’s inception, the Parkari community resisted the opportunity to study in their mother tongue, since formal school syllabuses in the area are in Sindhi. The community felt there was no point in learning literacy and educating their children in Parkari. Although this had a negative initial effect on motivation, applications to form new adult centres steadily grew.

Another issue concerned the skills of the teachers. Some teachers have little experience of good schooling, and this can have a negative impact on their capacity to give teach Urdu, English and Maths in schools. To address this, PCDP organizes special training and monthly teacher meetings to help teachers and facilitators in these subjects. Overall teacher training has improved, as have the capacities of training facilitators.

Lessons Learned

Since its establishment in 1996, PCDP has been committed to the empowerment of the disadvantaged Parkari community, supporting schools in which children can learn literacy skills in their mother language. However, in an area where the majority of adults have never had the opportunity to go to school themselves, the adult component of the Parkari Literacy Programme is also crucial. The establishment of adult education centres supports adults in developing the literacy skills they need in everyday life, for example in their working relationships with landlords.

The adult component of the programme is the key to effective and long-term achievement. According to a recent survey (PSLM, 2013), the main reason for girls aged between 10 and 18 in the rural areas of Sindh not attending school is that their parents did not allow them, or that they had to help at home. To break this cycle, the involvement of families in the education process is essential. The experience of PLP through the adult education centres demonstrates that the literacy course, while offering direct benefits to adults, also indirectly benefits their children, because the family is more willing to allow them go to school. The impact is evident in the increased enrolment of both girls and boys.

The programme’s role in fostering community empowerment was another important source of lessons. The use of the mother language in the early stages of education is not only a means to facilitate the learning process, but also an important symbol of unity and self-determination. Being able to read and write in mother language means being able to record, transmit and have access to the cultural heritage of the community.



The programme is funded by foreign donors, SIL International, the Canadian International Development Agency, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and Wycliffe Norway. However, sustainability is assured by the village committees, which assume ownership and responsibility for managing and running the adult centres. Village committees provide the land for the schools, and build and maintain them. They are offered five days of training at the beginning of the programme, during which they learn to manage and allocate community resources. PCDP supports the committees in their responsibilities for the first two years, and trains the teachers. These responsibilities are then fully transferred to the village committees, which thereafter oversee all income-generating activities to maintain the schools. These activities have included crop-sharing as a means of paying school fees during harvest season. With the support of the community, school management committees and PCDP have organized events to raise funds and contribute to the schools' sustainability. These include a special day on which students give performances based on what they have learned.



Mr Poonam Paschal

PCDP Executive Director
Mrs Erona Matthew
PCDP Managing Director

PCDP Head Office
G.P.O Box #20
Near Mohammad Medical Collage
Rattanabad, Mirpurkhas
Sindh – Pakistan 69000

Last update: 9 December 2015

For citation please use

U. Hanemann (Ed.). Last update: 26 July 2017. The Parkari Literacy Project, Pakistan. UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning. (Accessed on: 28 March 2023, 02:41 CEST)

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