The Aagahi Adult Literacy Programme

Country Profile: Pakistan


181,193,000 (2013)

Official Languages

Urdu, Pashto, English, Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi

Poverty (Population living on less than US$2.00 per day)

45% (2013)

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP

2.5 (2013)

Access to Primary Education – Total Net Intake Rate (NIR)

Total: 72.9% (2014)
Male: 78.6%
Female: 66.9%

Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years)

Total: 73.7% (2015)
Male: 80.2%
Female: 66.8%

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2010 - 2011)

Total: 56.4% (2015)
Male: 69.5%
Female: 42.7%


UNESCO Institute for Statistics

Programme Overview

Programme TitleThe Aagahi Adult Literacy Programme
Implementing OrganizationThe Citizens Foundation, Community Development Unit (CDU)
Language of InstructionPrimarily Urdu. Teachers may use other local languages such as Sindhi, Pashto and Punjabi at their discretion to support learners.
FundingDonations by companies and private individuals
Programme PartnersLiterate Pakistan Foundation
Annual Programme Costs21,000,000 PKR in 2016 (approximately US $200,000). Net Cost per Learner: 2,200 PKR in 2016 (approximately US $21)
Date of Inception2005

Country Context

Pakistan was ranked 106th out of 113 countries in the Education for All (EFA) Development Index (UNESCO, 2012) and 147th out of 188 in the Human Development Report (UNDP, 2015). Although there have been some positive signs of economic recovery in the past decade, Pakistan is still among the countries with lower rates of human development and faces multiple challenges regarding poverty, security, education and gender disparities.

While the headcount poverty rate has declined from 64.3 per cent in 2001-2002 to 29.5 per cent in 2013-2014, the number of people vulnerable to poverty remains high (World Bank, 2016b), with up to 45 per cent of the population living on less than US $2 per day (UIS, 2014).

Due to the persistence of conflict in many regions of Pakistan, especially in border areas, the country continues to face tensions related to insecurity and significant governance challenges that hinder its potential for development. In 2009, conflict arose in the provinces of Swat, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other border areas. Around 2 million people were displaced as a result and most schools were fully or partially damaged (World Bank, 2016a).

Adult literacy rates in Pakistan are among the lowest in the world. A total of 53,483,715 adults aged 15 years and older lack literacy skills or possess only low levels, out of which 34,396,588 (64.3 per cent) are women. Adults with low or no literacy skills represent 28.9 per cent of the country’s total population. Among the youth population (aged 15 to 24 years), nearly 10 million have low or no literacy skills, out of which 6 million (61.2 per cent) are young women (UIS, 2015).

Large disparities remain regarding access to education for girls, young women and adult women: in 2014, there was a significant gender gap in formal school enrolment rates, with the male net enrolment rate surpassing that of females by nearly 12 percentage points in primary education and by nearly 10 points in secondary education (UIS, 2014).

Moreover, in 2014 there were over 5.6 million out-of-school children (of which 58.8 per cent were girls) and over 5.5 million out-of-school adolescents (of which 53 per cent were teenage girls). Many of them were or are likely to join the group of youth and adults with low or no literacy skills later in life (UIS, 2014).

Among the multiple reasons for the low literacy skills level are:

Programme Overview

The Citizens Foundation (TCF) is one of the largest non-profit organizations in Pakistan and its mission is to bring about positive social change through quality education. Established in 1995 in the city of Karachi, the foundation has grown into a network of 1,202 school units that provide formal education to children in the most disadvantaged regions of Pakistan. Enrolment in TCF schools currently amounts to approximately 175,000 students.

The Aagahi Adult Literacy Programme was launched by TCF in 2005 at the request of its education department to support TCF school students by providing non-formal literacy, numeracy and basic skills training to their family members, in particular, their mothers. Its initial objective was to facilitate written communication between teachers and parents and to contribute to the development of a holistic approach to children’s education. Over the years, the programme has become an opportunity for out-of-school girls as well as for young, adult and elderly women from disadvantaged neighbourhoods to learn how to read and write.

The word ‘Aagahi’ comes from Urdu, one of Pakistan’s official languages, and means 'creating awareness'. The programme’s curriculum is designed to enhance basic skills and improve participants' ability to perform tasks such as household budgeting and daily communication.

The programme primarily targets young and adult women aged between 12 and 65 who reside in rural and urban slums located around the foundation’s schools. Although the majority of enrolled participants in the Aagahi programme are female (approximately 97 per cent), men are also encouraged to participate. The programme also welcomes girls below the age of 12 or women over 65 who are interested in improving their literacy, numeracy and basic skills.

The programme’s main language of instruction is Urdu, while other regional languages such as Sindhi, Pashto, Punjabi, Saraiki and Balochi are also used. Since its inception, the programme has reached communities in forty-three different cities and towns across Pakistan.


A total of 19 programme phases have been completed so far, allowing around 48,350 learners to acquire and improve their literacy and basic skills. The programme aspires to provide literacy training to 10,000 individuals per year (The Citizens Foundation, 2016).

TCF implements the Aagahi programme through the Community Development Unit (CDU), whose staff is in charge of overall programme coordination. A dedicated Aagahi programme manager from the CDU team is responsible for programme design and implementation. Operational teams at various tiers (region, area and school) support the CDU to ensure effective on-site execution.

For this programme, TCF has partnered up with another Pakistani organization, the Literate Pakistan Foundation, which provides technical expertise in curriculum development and training. To cover the programme’s costs, the implementing authority has raised funds from private donations. Since its inception, the programme has been free of charge for all enrolled learners.

Aims and Objectives

This programme’s goal is to provide basic reading, writing and numeracy skills training to young, adult and elderly people, primarily women, in the form of non-formal literacy classes.

The programme’s specific objectives are:

Programme Implementation

The programme takes place twice per year in phases that last four months, from February to May and from September to December, coinciding with the academic year of TCF schools. Each phase includes ninety days of class and an additional period for planning and coordination. The stages of the programme’s implementation cycle are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Programme implementation cycle. Source: The Citizens Foundation (2016)

Figure 1. Programme implementation cycle. Source: The Citizens Foundation (2016)

The literacy and numeracy classes are held six days a week and last for two hours per day, amounting to a total of 180 learning hours distributed over 90 class days for each programme phase. By the end of every phase, participants can perform tasks such as reading local newspapers, writing simple letters, reading prescriptions, filling in and signing forms, opening and managing a bank account, doing basic arithmetic for household budgeting, understanding public signs, paying bills, and reading and sending text messages on mobile phones. On aver-age, the teacher-learner ratio is 1:15.

Learning sessions are held at a centre selected for the convenience of participants. The foundation defines a ‘centre’ as a congregation of learners, not necessarily a physical structure, but a venue in which the programme’s beneficiaries meet to partake in the literacy and numeracy classes. Learners may gather at one of the foundation’s schools, an independent school or a community space such as a teacher’s or learner’s home, the latter being commonly called a ‘community-based centre’. Since 2006, the programme has been implemented in a total of 3,200 centres. Their geographical distribution is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Centres’ geographical distribution. Source: The Citizens Foundation (2016)

Figure 2. Centres’ geographical distribution. Source: The Citizens Foundation (2016)

Teaching and Learning: Approaches and Methodologies

The literacy classes are based on a phonetic teaching and learning method that allows participants to learn letters and words by associating them with their respective sounds and pronunciations. This way, learners become aware of vowels and consonants gradually. They also improve their ability to identify changes in word meanings with the addition of diacritics.

During a typical session, participants learn to trace the alphabet and, later on, to construct words. As they become familiar with letters and numbers, they can recognize numeric dates as well as the days of the week. The teacher assists learners with writing exercises in workbooks. Learners create wall posters to strengthen skills and develop knowledge on a particular subject area. Other lessons incorporate role-play and text message writing exercises.

Although the main language of instruction is Urdu, teachers may also use some words or phrases in local and regional languages such as Sindhi, Pashto or Punjabi as required for maximum comprehension by participants. The programme includes a few basic English lessons towards the end of the course, including familiarization with the English alphabet as well as basic words and phrases.

Programme Content and Teaching Materials

TCF develops the programme’s content and teaching materials in cooperation with its technical partner, the Literate Pakistan Foundation, which is actively involved in the curriculum’s design and responsible for the production of materials.

The literacy module is based on the 'Jugnoo Sabaq' curriculum, which was developed by the Literate Pakistan Foundation to teach literacy in Urdu language. This curriculum is used in literacy programmes at public schools and was adapted to teach literacy in peri-urban and rural areas in a non-formal context. TCF has introduced some innovations into the Aagahi programme curriculum, focusing on the development of learners' everyday life skills and their awareness of health and hygiene.

The Jugnoo Sabaq curriculum comprises four workbooks, one to teach basic numeracy and the remaining three to teach phonetics-based sound recognition and basic literacy skills. These workbooks are produced in the Urdu language. The programme’s contents are distributed among the four workbooks in the following way:

TCF and its technical partner provide each learner in the programme with their own set of work-books.


Recruitment and Training of Teachers

Teachers are paid and employed on a part-time basis. They can be either TCF staff members, teachers or principals that work in the foundation’s schools or other schools, or any individual who has passed the tenth grade exam carried out by the national and provincial examination boards successfully. TCF student alumni have also become teachers in the past. Usually, teachers working for this programme are members of the community in which the learning centres are located.

TCF is in charge of teacher recruitment. To that end, a principal or a senior teacher is appointed as an ‘Aagahi representative’ before the beginning of every phase. These representatives are responsible for recruiting teachers directly at the class locations. They are required to upload and update teacher information in the foundation’s internal Management Information System (MIS). The information uploaded on the MIS is useful for sourcing replacement teachers and also during the needs identification stage, since teacher availability is one of the shortlisting criteria to establish a literacy centre. If there is no qualified teacher available at a particular location, the non-formal literacy classes will not be held there.

All teachers must participate in a training of trainers (ToT) course that amounts to eight training hours distributed over two half days of training for each programme phase. A pre-service training session takes place prior to the commencement of classes and another in-service training session is carried out six weeks later, halfway through the phase. Training contents are divided into two parts that last four hours each:

While the implementing organization coordinates teacher recruitment and provides operational support for teacher training, the Literate Pakistan Foundation – its technical partner – is the main organization responsible for delivering the actual training sessions. No formal accreditation is provided to teachers for their participation in the training sessions.

During ToTs, teachers have the opportunity to discuss issues faced during the class with their trainers and fellow colleagues. Trainers develop teachers' skills in the phonetic method of teaching and learning as well as developing their ability to conduct assessments. They provide teachers with a list of words and phrases based on the programme content to test learning outcomes. They then coach teachers on how to keep to a daily schedule and how to work with activity planners. ToTs also develop soft skills such as confidence and empathy vis-à-vis learners of varying abilities and ages.

Both newly recruited teachers and those that have worked in the programme’s previous phases are required to complete the same training workload. Experienced teachers guide new ones on how to deal with issues on site.

Training sessions also include a chapter on operational skills that covers the following topics:


Enrolment of Learners and Needs Assessment

Before each phase begins, Aagahi representatives identify prospective participants who may be interested in attending non-formal literacy classes. Usually, they identify community needs during parent-teacher meetings, in which Aagahi representatives ask parents if they or anyone in their family or neighbourhood would like to improve their literacy skills. As most Aagahi teachers are community members, they can identify local literacy needs with relative ease. They encourage female members of the local communities in particular to join the literacy classes.

Aaghai representatives also recruit potential learners at other events or interactions between the foundation’s schools and the community. For example, during the schools’ morning assembly, the principals and teachers announce where and when the Aagahi classes will take place. In addition, alumni from previous phases serve as spokespersons and help raise community awareness about the programme.

After a phase has been implemented at a certain location, word-of-mouth becomes one of the most effective methods to reach interested candidates. Once the programme has already run a few times at a certain location, potential learners are already aware of it and may request that Aagahi representatives also conduct learning sessions in their community or neighbourhood. Once the literacy classes start, enrolment is extended for a further two weeks, allowing the learners themselves to help recruit new participants.

Learners enrol at the centres with the help of Aagahi representatives and teachers. Before each phase begins, teachers carry out a baseline assessment to ascertain the skill level of each learner. During this assessment, teachers ask participants to hold a pencil and to write down a few basic words and a sentence in Urdu language.

Assessment of Learning Outcomes

Learning assessments are carried out twice per phase, after the completion of the second and the fourth books. The programme’s expected outcome is that upon completion of a phase, learners can read and understand commonly used texts in daily life, and that they can do basic writing and arithmetic. Figure 3 explains the assessment schedule for every programme phase.

Figure 3. Learning sessions timeline.

Figure 3. Learning sessions timeline.

Teachers conduct written and oral assessments with each learner during class, evaluating their ability to read and write key words and phrases. Learners are also required to solve comprehension exercises. The assessments are not graded. Teachers use the results to group the class according to performance levels.

Participants demonstrating satisfactory performance in both assessments graduate and receive certificates from the Literate Pakistan Foundation, which attest to their successful completion of the programme.

This literacy programme allows participants to acquire basic literacy skills, however, it does not enable them to enter the formal education system automatically. However, some alumni have continued their learning after completing the programme successfully and, with the help of their Aagahi teachers, were able to pass the statutory examination to continue their education in the formal system.


Monitoring and Evaluation

TCF’s Community Development Unit (CDU) carries out centralized monitoring and evaluation activities. CDU monitors and evaluates the programme based on three key performance indicators: average attendance per class, net number of centres (subtracting centres that are no longer running) and number of successful learners.

Before the beginning of each phase, MIS assigns a unique ID code to each literacy centre. This code allows the foundation’s staff to identify each centre, its geographical location and its staff members (teachers, monitors, representatives, etc.) quickly and easily. Additionally, it contains personal information regarding the learners enrolled at each centre.

To collect information on learner attendance, the implementing organization has instituted a mobile phone-based data collection system that allows teachers to send learner attendance reports by SMS daily from any geographical location within Pakistan. The implementing organization records the data in their internal management system. The teacher composes the message containing the centre ID, class duration and class attendance and sends it to a special allotted number. The system automatically responds to the teacher with either a ‘thank you’ message after receiving a valid message, or ‘message incorrect’ if the message was not sent according to the prescribed syntax.

To use mobile messaging to collect attendance data, TCF researched multiple vendors and engaged a telecommunications provider to procure handsets and mobile SIM cards to run the system in forty-three cities. The CDU worked closely with the foundation’s IT department and technical vendors to solve implementation problems.

The SMS-based attendance system allows the CDU to monitor centres remotely and frequently. The CDU team monitors attendance, identifies low reporting/low attendance areas and reports back to the respective area’s Aagahi representatives as required. The purpose of the CDU’s monitoring is to ensure timely reporting of learner attendance, minimize the number of non-reporting centres and address flagging attendance. To this end, the CDU produces weekly reports that are later dispatched to the field teams to implement corrective measures.

The CDU has also created a field-level monitoring team comprised of ‘Aagahi monitors’. An Aagahi monitor is either a qualified member of the community or a school staff member selected by an Aagahi representative. He/she is in charge of conducting field visits twice per phase to ascertain data validity and identify areas for improvement. The Aagahi monitor periodically visits the community centres to verify that they are active, running properly and have all the required learning and teaching materials. As in the case of teachers, Aagahi representatives are required to upload and update information about the monitors in the foundation’s internal management system, in case they need to be replaced.

Aagahi monitors play an important role in evaluating learning outcomes: during their field visits they attend sessions and ask participants certain questions related to the programme’s contents. If the students are able to explain to an outsider what they have learnt recently, the monitors assess their learning level as satisfactory. During field visits, monitors collect information and report it through Aagahi Monitoring Forms (AMF), a monitoring tool designed by the CDU. Monitors are trained separately from teachers on how to conduct monitoring activities and report through AMFs. AMFs are tabulated and analysed to measure centre effectiveness across regions on the basis of the monitors' assessment. This enables the implementing organization to grade the literacy centres according to learners' performance.

Teachers also contribute to monitoring and evaluation by providing feedback on the overall implementation of the programme, as well as on trainers' performance and quality of training. They submit final evaluations after participating in ToTs.

The data collected during monitoring and evaluation of the Aagahi programme’s past editions is summarized in Figure 4.

Figure 4.Performance over the years (2005-2016). Source: The Citizens Foundation (2016)

Figure 4.Performance over the years (2005-2016). Source: The Citizens Foundation (2016)

Impact and Challenges

Impact and Achievements

Since 2005, the programme has completed 19 phases and established more than 3,200 learning centres, reaching 43 cities and towns across Pakistan. The programme’s achievements include, among others:

As of its 19th and 20th editions in 2015 and 2016, the programme has seen:

The numeracy component allows participants to perform simple arithmetic, improving their daily lives significantly as they no longer depend on others to help them count money or deal with simple commercial transactions. The Aagahi programme has also spread awareness of the importance of literacy for participants' daily lives, and has encouraged families to overcome their reluctance towards education. This reluctance is particularly prominent in communities in which women usually need permission from relatives to attend school and are often denied their right to education. In particular, it has reached young and adult women who reside in dis-advantaged neighbourhoods close to the foundation’s schools. By providing access to literacy opportunities for female family members of students that attend the foundation’s schools, the programme has also contributed to the development of a positive family learning environment and has improved communication between students, parents and teachers significantly.

Participants' Testimonies

“My children bring their homework to me and I am fully capable of helping them out. Aagahi has rekindled in me a desire to read and know more about the world around me.” –Shabnam
“I can now read Urdu instructions, prescriptions and road signs on the street. It feels like I can see everything around me now.” –Razia Bibi
“Aagahi for me is not merely an activity to pass time; it has given me a new life! I am self-reliant, confident and hopeful towards life.” –Kaneez Fatima

The testimony of Fatima, an Aagahi student who has transitioned into mainstream education

The testimony of Yasmeen, one of the programme’s alumni who later became an Aagahi teacher and Fatima’s mentor.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

As result of the programme’s development and expansion in scope and geographical coverage, the staff has faced multiple challenges and learnt many lessons. Challenges faced include:

The CDU took the following mitigating measures regarding process standardization:


The CDU plans to continue expanding the programme’s territorial coverage and enhancing outreach to more learners. To this end, the following strategies will be employed:

In addition, the CDU is currently working with its technical partner to strengthen the existing training process and to provide training for local mentors who will later become Aagahi trainers, so that the availability of trainers and the consistency of training across regions can be improved. The monitoring process is also being revised to improve Aagahi monitors' recruitment process and capabilities.

To ensure the sustainability of the programme’s financial resources, The Citizens Foundation relies on the support of the Literate Pakistan Foundation, particularly for the provision of course materials and teacher training. Since learning materials and training currently represent about 40 per cent of the programme’s total costs, TCF has designed a five-year financial plan and, in collaboration with its technical partner, a growth plan that takes future programme costs and inflation into account. The objective of the foundation’s financial planning is to improve the management of expenses and achieve a more effective allocation of resources.



Mr. Nabeel Khan
Manager, Community Development Unit
The Citizens Foundation
Plot No. 20, Sector No. 14, Korangi Industrial Area
Tel: (021) 111 823 823