In Pakistan nearly 60,000 children are born into the families of Afghan refugees every year.
With no rights to attend school in Pakistan, and families urging them to work and earn an income, most of those children receive very little education.
But in Peshawar, one child prodigy is reaching new academic heights, despite the odds.
Asia Calling reporter, Mudassar Shah met Sabawoon Nangarahi in Peshawar, Pakistan.
11 year old Sabawoon Nangarahi wears a three piece suit, complete with vest and tie - unusual dress for a kid his age.
Sabawoon’s face is young. But his words are wise beyond his years. The boy talks like an old professor. Witty comments and quotes from several languages cut through his conversation.
Evening classes are about to start here at the University of Spoken English, in Peshawar, 50 miles from the Afghan border.
At the gate, students two and three times his age arrive and greet Sabawoon. They tell me he’s the world’s youngest lecturer.
“He is younger than us, but he has vast knowledge and wisdom,” says 28 year old Zakir Khan, who takes Sabawoon’s IT and freelancing classes.
Despite the unusual age difference, he tells me he’s very satisfied with his young teacher.
“He has a good command over his subjects, and he shares information from Google and YouTube, which other teachers rarely do. These qualities make him the best teacher,” Khan said.
Every wall of the school is covered with English idioms and quotes from prominent scholars and world leaders.
One reads “seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave”. And it seems to fit nicely, as Sabawoon, the boy lecturer, takes his place.
Sabawoon tells me he has been teaching since he was nine years old.
“I was the youngest student of my class and I was always in first position. My teachers were very happy with my performance. One day our principal asked me to take an English language class and the students liked my teaching,” he recounted. “That’s how I came to teaching.”
Sabawoon spends his mornings studying. And in the evenings he trades places with the teacher, and lectures in English, entrepreneurship, freelancing and IT.
Sabawoon is the child of Afghan refugees. And like many refugee children, he needs to earn an income to help support the family.
When he’s not at school, Sabawoon freelances as an IT specialist.
But Sabawoon knows how lucky he is. Most refugee children have little access to education or jobs like his.
“I would be either a cobbler, or earning daily wages labouring in a restaurant or as a scavenger, like thousands of other Afghan refugee children whose futures have been ruined through lack of education, had I not had the support and guidance of my teacher of my institute,” he said.
There are currently 1.6 million registered Afghan refugees in Pakistan.
Refugee children aren’t allowed to attend Pakistani schools. And in the rare cases that they can attend independent Afghan schools, many are required to leave school early and work. Girls receive the least education of all.
But an ambitious Sabawoon says he’s determined to make the most of his gifts and opportunities.
“I am sure that I will complete my PhD at the age of 16 so I would be the youngest PhD degree holder in the world,” Sabawoon announced.
“I will dedicate my entire life to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistan is like my teacher where I am learning, while Afghanistan is like my parents. Therefore I have planned to play my role in the education sector in Pakistan and Afghanistan.”
Education is crucial, Sabawoon says, for kids like him to be able to create a secure future.
And he hopes to be able to improve the education system in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“We never focus on creativity. Schools don’t focus on students clearly understanding ideas, they only emphasises that one should study to get a job. If we don’t take education seriously it will destroy the future for our generation,” he argued. “Jobs make people slaves.”
With his loyalty shared between the neighbouring countries, Sabawoon hopes Afghanistan and Pakistan will resolve their differences and focus on what matters most.
“Education for children in Pakistan and Afghanistan is my top priority. The government of both countries should know that children in both states need education, and they should focus on education more than anything else.”