Asadullah Babar – Intern, 2011

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It was a hard decision, being a recent graduate and going for an internship rather than look around for a job. But fortunately, it turned out to be a great experience indeed. Not only has it helped me internalize the idea of “doing a job” but also, equipped me with skills that you need in order to deal with the world of social sector. From office setting, reading and writing, analyzing data and discussing policies to field setting; meeting policy-makers, visiting area under development and seeing the progress as it entails, all this is what provides you with the information and processes one needs to know in order to become a part of the development sector. This is exactly what I learned at Tareen Education Foundation.

 

Tareen Education Foundation& Agricultural Research and Advocacy Center: what is it about?

 

Tareen Education Foundation was established at the wake of poor educational standards faced by Pakistan where especially Southern Punjab needs to be highlighted. Lodhran; a remote district 60 km off Multan is where 85 government schools have been adopted by TEF and where reform initiatives started with a baseline survey. I was given a chance to work on the data from the survey and it was surprising to see the very high student-teacher ratios, lack of infrastructure, furniture, walled boundaries, electricity, water & toilets and thus, the corresponding low attendance of students. TEF has started off by first building infrastructure for the schools with the generous funding provided by Jahangir Khan Tareen and then with the help of BookGroup and Center for Advanced Studies Karachi, the designing and implementation of various teacher training and professional development programs and provision of modern oxford standard books to the children is under process. Besides TEF another venture in which I was able to get involved was Agricultural Research and Advocacy Centre (ARAC), the purpose of which is to conduct research on various agricultural issues facing farmers and then lobby high echelons for policy recommendations. ARAC is conducting various research projects, some of which I was given a chance to work on. I was required to assist the Research Associates with their ongoing research projects; in this regard I worked with Junaid Khan and Zaineb Majoka with their respective projects being, ‘Compilation of all the Agriculture related publications in Pakistan’ and ‘All the Policy Research Institutes.’ ‘Comparison of wheat support prices of Pakistan with India and international market’ being another major project in which I was able to chip in.

 

Objectives of the internship:

 

The purpose of this internship was to familiarize myself with how a nonprofit organization conducts its operations. From surveys to policy-making methodologies, their implementation and then evaluation. Besides that, practicality and implementation of ideas and concepts while working in the field is another thing that this internship was to teach me. Learning how to make reports, documentation of completed work in schools, learn as much as possible while in the field, make observations and talk to people about the viability of operations and then report them back to the head office. In a nutshell, getting yourself out of the academic world and preparing for the practical world of affairs was the objective of this internship, which encompasses all that you learn ablout work ethics, work environment and coordination with colleagues to work as a team.

 

What I did and My Learning Experiences:

 

Starting on June 6, I was assigned a desk and chair and it is here when you feel like ‘part’ of the organization and start learning. One of my first jobs was to analyze the TEF data of adopted schools which was a detailed document, containing all the information that you need to know in order to assess the condition and quality of schools and their educational standards. It was playing with this data, presenting various ratios, from teacher-students, students-furniture and number of rooms available per number of students, I learned the quantitative research methods. Many thanks to Dr. Ahsan, Executive Member of TEF, who guided me all the way, identifying various variables and to develop a cause-effect or correlation between them. Not only was it worth that it added to my graph making and quantitative research skills, it also added to my knowledge of social conditions of the area, which really gave me an insight into the low standards of educational facilities there. A practical manifestation of this learning experience came with the news that all the interns were being sent for a field trip to Lodhran. A passion for travelling to South Punjab, which I didn’t have earlier, as I had not got a chance to explore much before and to see actually the operations that TEF is undertaking on ground, I looked forward to this trip and it turned out to be a great learning experience.

 

Lodhran Field Trip; visit to schools, TEF office and TEF summer school

 

It was a brief two days visit, where we were supposed to not only visit selective schools adopted by TEF but also visit the colorful summer school and meet teachers and students to record their experience of a different learning environment provided by TEF. The summer school initiative was the first of its kind in the history of Lodhran. The trained athletics/teachers were engaging students in different sports activities. From cricket and football to javelin and discuss throw and long jumps, students were coming up with a tremendous talent. Most fascinating was to see the female participation in all these activities side by side with male students. Where this trip gave me the opportunity to interact with the students and people of the locality, listen to their views about the effectiveness of TEF operations, it also chattered my old conceptions about the region being very harsh towards women education and their extracurricular participation. The dramatics, movie sessions, art classes and health and sanitation sessions were all innovations of TEF staff at Lodhran which added a new dimension to the students’ learning.The schools that we visited included 3 for boys and 3 for girsl. All 6 schools were at quite a distance from each other and from the TEF office. With the hard work of TEF’s engineering department, all 6 schools were equipped with electricity, water, toilets, furniture, walled boundary, extra rooms and plants, where one or more of these facilities were lacking in each school before adoption. One thing I learned from these advancements and interviews with students and teachers, that the participation was on the rise owing to these reform inititaives by TEF.

 

Writing a Field Report:

 

One word that is common to all the development organizations is ‘field reports’ and I always wanted to produce one of my own. TEF gave me this opportunity where I was supposed to write a report on the Lodhran Field Trip. Confused what a field report would need to look like, Dr. Ahsan guided my way through the technical aspects and I was able to develop one over night. The developments, capacity building and the effectiveness of summer school initiatives of TEF were to be highlighted in the report that was an itinerary of what we observed, and the developments in educational standards of schools that we noted.

 

Agricultural Research and Advocacy Center ‘s Research work:

 

Research writing and policy recommendations are one of my favorite subject areas. Here at ARAC, I had the opportunity to involve myself in some of the research initiatives being undertaken by ARAC. My first job was to compile a database of all the agricultural publications; magazines, newsletters, research journals, policy papers etc that are published in Pakistan. Not only did this assignment give me an insight into what areas of agriculture are being more researched upon in Pakistan but it also polished my research writing skills. I coordinated with Junaid in this respect who guided me what issues and topics of research and policy recommendation to look for while writing the description of each publication. The purpose of this research initiative was to provide a single platform for agricultural-economists, researchers, farmers and policy planners to refer to various publications from across the country. I myself learned a lot about various agricultural problems faced by farmers from Gilgit-Baltistan to Sindh and Baluchistan, what policy lapses hurdle the reach of farmers in international market and especially how can we modernize our agriculture.In line with the above research project, another initiative of ARAC was a list of all the major policy institutes of Pakistan and their research publications. My job here was to coordinate with Zaineb Majoka to find missing information about each policy institute, research on what each policy institute does, how they do it and what their objectives are. Being a student of social sciences, I was always interested in studying new research areas and economic development policy papers. Working on this assignment not only gave me the chance to communicate with heads of various policy institutes of different universities; adding a lot to my knowledge of research work in Pakistan but also helped me improve my technical writing skills.Besides this, the Wheat support price article, written by Zaineb Majoka, which demonstrated the comparison between wheat prices in India, Pakistan and international market was another project in which I assisted . Once again a policy recommendation article, playing with graphs and then deducing results was what I learned from this assignment. Thus all in all, working with ARAC was a great learning experience; viewed from research publications and studying policy issues facing agriculture in Pakistan.

 

Conclusion:

 

I would like to conclude this report by saying that the Internship Programme by TEF has prepared me for any sort of job in the social-development sector. I am confident that whatever management, research and writing skills I have acquired while working for TEF/ARAC would pay me off in the future.

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