KARACHI, Feb 26: Students, teachers and operators of primary schools that are part of the integrated education learning programme (IELP), an initiative of the Sindh Education Foundation (SEF), staged a protest demonstration outside the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday.

The protesters, stakeholders of some 1,300 schools set up in 23 districts of Sindh, including 70 in Karachi, were demanding funds from the Sindh government to run the schools. They said they were finding it increasingly difficult to keep the schools open while the SEF had not paid them a rupee for the past eight months.

Rehan Siddiqui, who owns three small coeducation schools in Bin Qasim Town, said there were some 550 students in his schools whose fate hung in the balance due to his having run out of funds.

“There are 250, 200 and 100 students, respectively, in each of my schools and they don’t have bags or books for the new session starting next month. It has taken everything in me to keep the schools running while the SEF and the government play their games,” he complained.

“We were reassured on June 28 and again on Aug 25 last year by Sindh Senior Minister for Education and Literacy Pir Mazharul Haq and SEF Managing Director Anita Ghulam Ali that our commitment to the cause of educating child labourers and other poor children wouldn’t go waste and the programme would carry on. But we haven’t received any funds to run our schools for the past eight months. We spend Rs30,000 a month from our own pockets to keep the schools afloat but we are not rich businessmen. We are poor folk trying to educate children from our own communities. There’s a limit to how far we can go without government support,” said Mr Siddiqui.

Participating in the protest, Ali Hasan said: “My school in Landhi is a girls-only school. There are some 500 girls studying there. Where will they go if I close down the school? I have no money left to get them their textbooks and I can’t pay teachers’ salary as well. Now schoolteachers, too, are thinking about leaving their jobs.”

Abdul Ghaffar Memon, who has a co-ed school in Gulshan-i-Hadeed, Steel Town, said the SEF and the education ministry in Sindh had just turned their backs on them. “We try to meet SEF MD Anita Ghulam Ali but after telling us that things would improve in a day or two for several months she doesn’t want to see us anymore. If the government is no longer interested in funding this project, the SEF should at least let us know. I beg them to please not keep us in the dark,” he said.

“We leased land and constructed rooms and washrooms according to SEF requirements in our schools. We also went from house to house to create awareness among the local communities to send their children to school. All our efforts now seem to have gone to waste,” said Ibrahim Maznani who had come from Dadu to take part in the protest.

Halima Shafaqat, principal of another SEF school in Yousuf Goth, said they had 10 teachers, four of whom had already left their jobs for not getting their salaries.

“When the project was launched some three years back, we were told that we would also be given special training,” said Ishrat Shaukat, a teacher at one of the schools. “But so far we have seen only one training session and that, too, was only for two teachers from every school.” She said the SEF schools were primary schools, some up to class five and some up to class eight or 10. “The teachers are not very qualified and would have benefited from the training. I have only done my Intermediate. This is my only job. No other school will hire me as a teacher if I leave this job,” she regretted.

Little children

Sobia Mohammad Ibrahim, a class one student of Model Street School, an SEF school, said that her school was the only one in her neighbourhood. “My parents say that I can’t go to any other school if this one closes down as the school is too far from our home,” she said quietly.

Her friend, Kiran Shahzad, standing beside her also pleaded. “Please don’t close down my school. My parents say they can’t send me to any other school as they can’t afford to pay the fees,” she cried.

Under the SEF scheme in 2010, schools were opened in remote areas in the province. There were plans to set up 1,500 schools but only 1,300 were established. Currently there are some 250,000 children enrolled in these low-cost private schools that also employ around 8,000 teachers.

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