Salima Begum: A Champion of Girls Education in Gilgit

For the first time, a Pakistani was in the top ten finalists of this year’s Global Teacher Prize. Salima Begum was selected from amongst 20,000 applicants worldwide. She hails from a remote village Oshikhandass in Gilgit, where for the past 25 years she has been fighting a crusade of educating females.

Currently she is head teacher at the Elementary College for Women in Gilgit, and is also pursuing her Ph.D.

The Beginnings of Salima Begum

At a time when female education was given no importance, she with the support of her father and her passion to learn; bravely ventured out of the village to acquire knowledge. She completed her SSC from Hunza and her HSC from Gilgit. While waiting for the result of her intermediate, she taught science to 9th and 10th grades at one of the private schools for several months. Then she applied for a vacancy announced by the Department of Education. Having passed the test and interview, she was thus appointed as a primary teacher at the village government school in 1992.

With the course of time she realized that it was imperative for her to get formal degrees in teaching in order to impart quality education. So after taking permission from the Department of Education, she did BS.c and B.Ed from Islamabad. Upon her return, she initiated grades 8, 9 & 10 in the village school. Also she made great efforts to introduce a practical schema of teaching, as she wanted to inculcate in the students the keenness to learn about the world around them and the understanding of how the application of subjects such as biology, chemistry and physics could improve their lives.

Biggest Challenge Faced by Salima Begum

In her region, girls were traditionally educated till grade 7 and then married off. Salima Begum had to motivate the community into changing that concept. For that she met up with the mothers on weekly basis, to convince them that it was very important to give their daughters education. The greatest obstacle was of course the monetary constraints. Salima Begum then started an entrepreneur program for the mothers where they did vegetable farming, reared hens and made cushion sets. This improved the financial situation considerably. She also introduced the concept of Parent-Teacher Meeting, as she believed that if parents were made aware of the potential and progress of their children, this would serve as a greater incentive to send them to study. Furthermore she gave 35-40% of her salary toward paying for the fees, uniform, books and stationary for the very poor girls. She also involved the community and most of them would give a small portion from their salary towards this cause as well.

Development Programs Implemented Under Salima Begum

In 2002, she received a scholarship to do Masters in Teacher’s Education from Aga Khan University Institute for Educational Development (AKUIED). On her completion she was hired by the AKU Professional Development Centre, North in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), to lead the Whole School Improvement Program in five to six districts of Gilgit-Baltisan. She completed five cycles and trained 7000 teachers. During this time she also developed an Organic Fertilizer from garbage decomposition which was an excellent environmental project for her students. Local people are using it to grow their vegetables successfully.

Also for two years she successfully served as Assistant Professor at the Karakorum International University.

In 2010 once again AKU engaged her services for the Educational Development and Improvement Program for GB funded by Aus-Aid. She returned to her village, and till 2013 led four schools. Her key focus areas were a) high quality education b) moral and social development of students c) women empowerment d) teacher development through mentoring and sessions on interactive skills. A Mothers Committee was also established which was instrumental in solving the financial, social and educational problems of girls. This is still functional.

She has also worked with US-AID and has taught Advance Diploma in Education, for which she devised a handbook. Then in 2014, based on her excellent performance, she was selected for a training program by GIZ-GFA, a German association which wanted to initiate a program in GB. She did so well, that they appointed her as National Coordinator. She worked with them for a year and a half, training 8,500 teachers across the country.

The Success Story of Salima Begum

She has effectively broken away from the traditional methods of education and established classroom innovation. She has inspired the community in believing that education is the key to character formation and economic development. Above all she is the reason that thousands of girls who could never have dreamed of receiving education let alone be able to take up a profession, have been able to make a difference in their community and their own personal lives as well!

The Global Teacher Prize

The Varkey Foundation is a NPO which works for uplifting the educational standards for the underprivileged children around the globe. Understanding the significance of Education in nearly all spheres of life, the foundation is focused on enhancing the very practice of teaching all over the world. It knows that the ‘teacher’ is the key in any educational system that is why all efforts are concentrated on promoting of this profession. This is done by a) teacher training programs b) motivational campaigns to highlight teaching excellence.

In 2013, the Global Teacher Prize was initiated, in order to recognize those outstanding individuals who were making a difference in their communities through their teaching.