PESHAWAR: A teacher bangs on the desk as he struggles to gain the attention of dozens of noisy young boys.
Though the classroom is small, the sheer number of children, most talking at the same time, creates a cacophony which resonates loudly.
This is the Government Primary School in Faqeer Band, Mardan. The school had been set up in 1979. However, owing to a growing population and more parents sending their children to school, there was a need to expand the capacity of the school.
Hence the previous provincial government had added an additional floor and expanded the number of the rooms at the school to nine to accommodate around 668 primary students studying till the fifth grade.
However, in the 7.5 magnitude earthquake on October 26, 2015, a number of schools were either totally destroyed or were partially damaged. According to the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Elementary and Secondary Education Department, as many as 110 schools were completely destroyed while 703 were partially damaged.
GPS Faqeer Band was in the latter category after its walls suffered cracks while its upper floors were dangerously damaged.
As a result, as many as 130 students are cramped into a small classroom located on the ground level which is devoid of furniture, save a desk for the teacher. The children mostly squat on the floor
The locals have repeatedly complained to the government about the dilapidated condition of the school but to little effect.
Abdullah Shah Baghdadi, a local, said that they had complained several times to the authorities concerned about the school’s situation. Apart from the fact that the rooms which were built during the previous regime now have cracks running through their walls after the October 2015 earthquake, he said that the students have little to no facilities for sanitation, hygiene toilet or clean drinking water.
However, Baghdadi said that it seems that their repeated complaints have paid off after the government finally approved plans to construct additional rooms at the school.
But locals have urged the government not to construct another portion over an already damaged building out of concerns for the safety of the children.
Instead, Baghdadi said, they have urged the K-P Elementary and Secondary Education Minister Atif Khan to purchase additional land for the school for a new building or to shift the students to a rented building in the area.
Education activist Sajjad Ahmad is of the view that the overcrowding in classrooms of GPS Faqeer Band can be counterproductive.
He said that with 130 students in a single room, a teacher cannot handle them. He added that GPS Faqeer Band requires new building where students can be easily accommodated and there are proper facilities for washrooms and clean drinking water.
Ahmad demanded that the K-P government undertake a survey of all such damaged schools in the province and allocate funds for providing basic facilities at such institutions in the upcoming budget.
K-P Elementary and Secondary Education Media Advisor Najjiullah Khattak confirmed that GPS Faqeer Band requires additional rooms and that a request has been sent to the education department to include it in the school improvement plans (SIPs).
Last week, in a meeting with newsmen, Education Minister Khan had said that their government had improved a number of schools.
“We do not claim 100 per cent improvement in schools, but we have 90 per cent success in providing basic facilities to schools across the province,” he said.
The minister added that this government had so far built 16,000 additional rooms and distributed 1.4 million chairs in schools so that students can get a quality education in a clean environment.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 29th, 2017.