Even the hardy mouth of irony twists itself in a half-amused, half-sad smile at the sight of over a hundred children taking lessons under the open sky near the house of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Education Minister Matloob Inqalabi in Kotli’s Battal village, some 180 kilometres from the capital city.
Established in 1986, the Government Primary School is not just without a building, but also lacks desks and benches for the students. Both boys and girls take their classes patiently seated on red rugs spread over stones.
Even after 28 years of its inception, the education department has not yet approved the construction of a much-needed building for the school.
“In the rain, we cannot study while in the scorching heat, we have no shelter to protect ourselves from the sun which beats down directly upon us,” said Mahrukh Anwar, a fourth grader.
Their only respite in the summers is a tree located in the middle of the school, under which all the students huddle together for shade, she said.
Sitting on a filthy rug in front of a black board, a fifth grader Bilal Jamal said it was difficult to concentrate in the long summer days especially, in the absence of fans.
To add to the students’ woes, the school has no toilet facilities. The students instead rush behind bushes in the open fields to attend to the call of nature. Moreover, there is no sign of any road connecting the village to the school.
“I don’t think the current Education Minister is solely responsible for the present condition of the school,” said Khalid Hassan, a senior teacher at the school, while talking to The Express Tribune.
Since 1986, many public representatives from the Khui Ratta constituency (subsuming Government Primary School Battal) have been made minister but none has given any attention to the sorry state of facilities at the school, lamented Hassan.
Zaffar Ahmad Zaffar, father of a second grader, woefully stated that many poor parents like him have no choice but to send their children to the school. Many people from the area are now settled in the Gulf States, United States and Britain allowing for top-of-the-line educational facilities, while we are forced to send our children to this school sans a proper building even, he complained.
Access to modern education is the fundamental right of the people and its provision is the government’s responsibility, Khwaja Saleem, another teacher who has been teaching at the school for five years, commented on the sorry state of affairs.
If a six-room building could not be constructed since 1986, one can expect very little from such elected representatives of the area, said the disillusioned Saleem.
Haroon Anis, father of two students, said even if constructing the school’s building falls at the bottom of the state government’s priority list, some philanthropists can partner with non-governmental organisations to construct a building. An alternative solution could be canvassing the expatriate Kashmiris for funds, suggested Haris.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2014.