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First person: Lessons on wheels

February 16, 2013

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Shehzad Roy. -Photo by Mohammad Farooq

Shehzad Roy has been working towards societal reforms by way of education through Zindagi Trust, and recently his team conceived the idea for a show which aired last week during the prime time slot titled Chal Parha.

The purpose behind Chal Parha is to make people realise and fully understand that our biggest problem is education or the lack thereof. In the show, the camera follows him as he travels on his bike from the bottom end of the country to the top, covering about 200 schools, and underlining what difference good education brings into our lives.

When asked why on a bike, he responds, “A lot of people do not know this about me but I am an avid biker. This show was the perfect excuse for me to travel across Pakistan, not in a car or a jeep, but on a bike. It was a liberating and extraordinary experience, even though certain moments were very risky and tough. I love Pakistan and have tried to capture my country’s breathtaking beauty in this show.

“I hope that people will be able to see Pakistan through my eyes and appreciate it for all the good things as well. I have a passion for bikes since long. I chose to ride the bike all the way to Attabad Jheel, Gojal and many other places which have been shown in the show as well.

Shehzad says the experience he gained by reforming the SMB Fatima Jinnah Government School in Karachi has been invaluable to him during this journey. Although the achievement has been at a micro-level, he adds that he has now realised that macro-level advocacy is essential if government schools are to be improved on a national scale.

Being a widely recognised singer has greatly aided him in this regard. “I have been able to appeal to a wider audience and impress upon them the need to bring educational reforms. By combining advocacy with actual implementation on the ground, quality education can be provided to all citizens, irrespective of their socio-economic status,” he says.

Back to Chal Parha, Shehzad says, “In each episode we highlight an issue from public schools for example, corporal punishment, medium of instruction, population, textbooks, curriculum, teachers, etc. I want to share the lessons that we have learnt; both good and ugly. We want people to know the obstacles standing in the way of improving the structure of education in government schools while also highlighting the remarkable individuals committed to the teaching profession. These people prove the power of individual efforts.”

In the show, Shehzad travels across Pakistan from Attabad Jheel, Gulmit, Gojal to Thar and covers more than 200 government schools. “We hope to create awareness for the basic right to good education but we will also go a step further in actually bringing some changes in these schools. For example, we have installed thumb-printing attendance machines in the five provinces to bring transparency to the issue of teacher absenteeism. We are now collecting this data and are happy to report that teacher attendance has increased considerably in these schools. Similarly, in the episode on corporal punishment, we are proposing a law banning physical abuse in schools and we plan to diligently pursue this issue in the media.”

On an important note, not to be ignored is the girl singing with Shehzad Roy in the new video. Summaya hails from Faisalabad and when Shehzad came to know about her while visiting one of the schools, he asked her if she could work with him. He says her reply shocked him, ‘Kehte sub hain, karta koi nahin’! (Everybody offers, but none deliver).

When asked for a parting shot, Shehzad Roy quotes a famous personality: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”