Barriers to education: Of frozen backsides and neglected schools

School sans furniture, facilities cries out for attention.


The children are braving difficult conditions hoping it leads to a better life. PHOTOS: KASHIF ABBASI/EXPRESS

RAWALPINDI:


Zero interest on the government’s part in improving the education sector of the country has forced students of many government-run schools to study while sitting on cold floors.


One such school is in the Dhoke Kala Khan area of the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Government Primary School Millat Islamia Dhoke Rahim Bux looks like a haunted house and is a constant reminder of the sorry state of education in the city.

The school falls within the NA-56 constituency, currently represented by PTI chief Imran Khan. Just like the Punjab government, he has not bothered to take note of the school’s condition.

http://i888.photobucket.com/albums/ac89/etwebdesk/etwebdesk001/schoo_zps70cfde4b.jpg
The children are braving difficult conditions hoping it leads to a better life. PHOTOS: KASHIF ABBASI/EXPRESS

Students here are facing an acute shortage of furniture, a shortage of drinking water and other basic facilities. The only thing they have in abundance is exposure to a hostile environment, with congested classrooms, shabby rugs, foul smells and a poor sewerage system in the school building.

The school, situated in a rented building in the heart of the city, exposes the reality of the Punjab government’s tall claims of providing better education facilities to students. As many as 500 students — both girls and boys — study here, and the vast majority are from underprivileged backgrounds.

“We have around 500 students…of these, 200 are from poor Christian families,” said schoolteacher Tariq Satti.

He said that teachers and the administration joined local residents to bring the issues to the authorities’ attention, but to no avail.

The school houses five classrooms. Due to a shortage of furniture, students in grades I, II and IV are forced to sit on worn-out rugs, most of which the teachers have provided out of their own pockets.

“We have 500 students and only a few desks. Under such circumstances, how are we to manage things?” asked a female teacher. She said that during the harsh winter, many students fall ill due to the severe cold in the building.

“In the winters, sometimes we can’t even move our hands properly,” said fourth-grader Hizkiel Farooq.

Farooq said that despite the hardships, he wanted to continue his studies. “I want to be a government officer and work on the schools of Rawalpindi. After becoming an officer, I would improve the condition of every school,” he said.

Like Farooq, first grader Ihtisham Hafiz also complained about the cold and the lack of basic facilities. “Some of my friends are studying in a private school and they have a playground.  Here, we can’t play during break time as we don’t have one.”

Aside from the students, teachers in the school are also facing a shortage of facilities. At present, seven teachers must make do with just two officially-provided chairs.  Some of them have bought their own chairs.

Moreover, due to the congested space, the school does not have a staff room for teachers, and the kitchen has been repurposed to meet this need.

And then come the land grabbers

A few years back, a philanthropist named Haroon Bilal donated 6 marlas to the school for the construction of a proper school building. The PML-Q government at the time sanctioned a request from then-MPA Fiazul Hassan Chohan to allocate Rs1.2 million for construction of the school building. However, the government changed before work began. Land grabbers saw this as an opportunity to squat on the land.

Since then, the land grabbers have tried to use legal wrangling to take ‘formalise’ their encroachment, with the education department seeming not to care.

Chohan attested to this, saying “The money was allotted in 2007 and land grabbers took over the plot in the meanwhile. We would have gotten it vacated, but our government had completed its tenure.” He said that responsibility fell on the next government — the same one in power — to get the school plot vacated.

Where is Naya Pakistan?

While teachers demanded that Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and local MNA Imran Khan intervene, local residents also called on the PTI chairman to pay special attention to his constituency and announce a special grant for this school.

“I voted for Imran Khan so that he works to improve this area, but he has been ignoring this constituency ever since he won,” said Haji Mahmood, a resident of Dhoke Kala Khan.

However, Chohan, now a senior PTI figure in Rawalpindi, said that as an opposition party, PTI does not have special funds for the school. “After the 18th amendment, the Punjab government is solely responsible for looking after the affairs of the education sector in Rawalpindi,” he added.

Executive District Officer (EDO) Education Qazi Zahoor could not be approached for his version. However, last week he told The Express Tribune that funds have been released to provide all schools in the district with the required furniture.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2014.

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