A recent report in this newspaper about a six-year-old child being brutally killed by his peers at a government school in Faisalabad is both ghastly and terrifying. Shahzaib was enrolled at Government Primary School number seven, Islampura, Faisalabad. When the six-year-old wanted to leave school during recess, other students physically bullied him and according to his grandmother, “Rained down blows and sticks on him.” While neighbours report hearing the poor child’s desperate screams and shouts, the teachers and staff of the school did not intervene, resulting in injuries so severe that the innocent first-grader died on the spot.
Not only is the gruesome act of a little boy being bullied and whipped by other children to the extent that he was fatally wounded is tragic to say the least, but the fact that it happened in a school during recess, which is crowded and supervised, is extremely shocking. It is unfathomable as to how a primary schoolteacher was negligent enough to let such young children be left unmonitored and depute other students as gatekeepers, who felt so empowered that they physically assaulted another student. There are numerous debates over the supply and demand of education in the country. UNESCO’s recent ranking placing Pakistan as 180th in terms of literacy is a bitter pill to swallow. However, the inability of teachers and the school administration to safeguard the lives of their students is beyond any explanation or redemption.
Recently, the government is on a mission to conduct ‘emergency enrollments’ to ensure that the greatest number of children attend school. While ‘education for all’ is an important priority (and makes great headline news), it is even more vital to have a steady foundation with a robust curriculum, trained teachers, a low student-teacher ratio and basic facilities in schools intact before more children are added to this complex mix. The biggest issue facing public schools is lack of teacher training and motivation. Teachers are the gatekeepers to knowledge and are role models who children look up to and emulate. Unfortunately, teachers in public schools are mostly permanent government employees and are assured that despite whatever performance they put up, they will get a steady paycheck at the end of the month. They are under-qualified and lack ambition. When students ask teachers questions, they get reprimanded and ridiculed, which often leads to a large number of children dropping out of school. In fact, Pakistan has the highest school dropout rate in the world.
Furthermore, students appearing in the 2010 Punjab Education Commissions mathematics examination for class five reported an average score of 33 per cent. One out of five of the 1.4 million students taking the exam scored less than 20 marks. These indicators are reflective of the lack of analytical and numerical skills a vast majority of Pakistan’s children have. Couple that with children being bullied and incidents such as this six-year-old boy being tortured to death during recess, and you have a massive failure in the name of education and schooling.
The government must explain how this incident occurred and who is to be held responsible. It must take action to ensure that horrific incidents such as Shahzaib’s death are not repeated. A precious life has already been lost. Education in its true sense can only be imparted when teachers are selected under a strict criterion, are better trained and regulated and not so heedless as to let an innocent child be tortured to death under their supervision.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 12th, 2014.