KARACHI: Political slogans are spray-painted on the entrance pillars and an old flag of Pakistan flutters on top of the main building of Narayan Jagannath Vaidya (NJV) High School reflecting the poor state of Sindh’s first public school.
Established in October 1855, NJV school started off with only 68 boys and a makeshift building. It started in a small building near the present premises of Dow University of Health Sciences, and shifted to its current location in 1876, pointed out Sindhi writer Gul Hassan Kalmati. “It was the first school made by the government for civilian residents of the city,” he said.
A British architect, James Astrachian, who was a municipality engineer at that time, designed the current campus for NJV school, recalled Kalmati. The same architect also designed DJ College, Sind Madressatul Islam, Frere Hall, Mama Parsi girls school, and other buildings, he said.
Over time, the establishment lost its grandeur and fell victim to the apathetic government. In 2015, Akhuwat Foundation – an NGO promoting social entrepreneurship – adopted this school and has nearly completed the renovation work.
The school has around 800 students enrolled from pre-Kindergarten up to class 12, but the attendance does not usually exceed 350, shared the new curriculum head, Uzair Qarni. There is a total staff of 160, out of which 60 are teachers, he added.
“After taking over charge of the school in August 2016, the first thing I fixed was the bathrooms and the the choked sewerage lines,” said Qarni, who has been appointed on a one-year contract. Electricity supply was restored, the classrooms and corridors were painted, the marbled floors were polished and clean drinking water was provided. The walls erected over time to divide the main building into smaller parts were also taken down.
The workers tried removing the political graffiti on the walls but so far none of the chemicals are working, said Akhuwat Foundation brand and corporate affairs manager Sheena Ahmed. “We will not use paint on it as we want to keep its originality alive,” she said.
Apart from giving the NJV Building a facelift, Akhuwat’s adoption policy also included a redesigned curriculum for the school. “We are working on four main things in this restoring project – civil works, academics, administration and community engagement,” shared Qarni.
The biggest problem the team faced when they took over this project was from the 60 teachers who either failed to come to school or did not take interest in teaching. “To make them interested in their jobs, we asked them to maintain a daily diary of the lessons,” said Qarni, adding that the average attendance has now risen to 90%.
The medium of instruction in school is English, Urdu and Sindhi. “I wanted some subjects, such as math and science to be taught in English at least the typical terms of the subjects,” said Qarni.
To make sure the children learn other skills besides academics, the administration has started an exercise with classes six to eight for now. Their first period of the day has been fixed for ‘home class’, which is the time when students are taught manners, hygiene and social behaviours. Students are also encouraged to share their happy and sad moments in this class. “We are bound to follow the Sindh board’s curriculum but, in between, we try to pinch in other activities, online resources and other events,” he added.
Akhuwat Foundation also bears the expenses of the two vans and a bus that picks and drops students from Ibrahim Hyderi and Shanti Nagar. The project will also restore the compound around the buildings by planting grass, making a playground, an assembly area and a gym for older students.
According to NJV school’s oldest employee Fatehullah Soomro, who has been working since 1989, the school was renovated in 2005 by the Education and Literacy Department, which set up the Reform Support Unit office in the main building of the school.
Site of first Sindh Assembly after Partition
The historical NJV school building also takes pride in hosting the first Sindh Assembly meeting after the 1947 Partition.
“The meeting was held in a hall on the ground floor of the main building,” recalled Sindhi writer Gul Hassan Kalmati. “The old chairs of the then chief minister and the other leaders were there in the hall until 2008 and were then shifted to the Sindh Assembly,” he pointed out.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 18th, 2017.