A Speed Literacy Program for Pakistan

Azhar Aslam, Pakistan

Antigua Forum 2013



Azhar Aslam is a plastic surgeon with a practice in London and deep ties to his home country of Pakistan, where he is an active philanthropist. He’s also the developer of the Speed Literacy Program, which gives illiterate children the basics of reading and writing after six months of studying only a few hours per day. 


Azhar came to the Antigua Forum with a problem: How to dramatically scale a tool that’s been proven to work with a few dozen children in Pakistan, when the country has twenty million young people and many of them are illiterate?


Working with a team of participants at the Antigua Forum, Azhar quickly realized that it would not be enough to simply hire teachers or raise funds. Azhar and team evaluated strategies and options, then developed an approach that focuses on strategic partnerships to achieve broad distribution at low cost, along with better tailoring of the program to meet the needs of users.

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“During the exercise that we performed in dissecting my project and rebuilding it to see the long-term tangible benefits, I could see the model for the first time as an outsider. With the help of other delegates, we dissected it into fine details to see what was working well and what was not.”  Azhar Aslam, Pakistan

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Since his participation at the Antigua Forum, Azhar has taken the Speed Literacy Program to new levels. Important design changes include modifications that make the curricula available to multiple audiences, including children who are not enrolled in school (the poorest families cannot afford for their children to study full-time) as well as children who are studying within existing schools in Pakistan (often with very limited resources).

Examples include an intensive program for largely illiterate children at a camp for Pakistanis displaced by the Taliban, where ninety-five students achieved elementary proficiency in a four-month period. To reach other children outside the country’s existing school system, Azhar’s program has built ten low-cost centers that teach literacy in the national language of Urdu, provide an introduction to English, and also teach basic life skills.

While these high-profile efforts help the neediest children, the Speed Literacy Program expands its reach most effectively through the use of strategic partnerships. Recently, Azhar signed a MOU with one of Pakistan’s regional governments for a program that will reintegrate children who have fallen away from school. Another regional government also is considering a similar proposal. In addition, Azhar and team are far along in talks with the country’s federal institute of Madrassas and the Pakistani Red Crescent to establish educational centers that would use the Speed Literacy Program to reach many, many more children.

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