NAWABSHAH: It is a mystery of the missing students from the schools that even Sherlock Holmes might find hard to solve, but the education department and our provincial lawmakers must have a clue to.
What are three schools doing in such close proximity in Long Khan Brohi village in Ghand Tar UC in Shaheed Benazirabad district and why was there not a single student there?
“Well, what are students going to do without a teacher?” said Syed Adnan Ahmed, the drawing teacher appointed at the middle school.
The middle school, in fact, had three staff members — an office boy, a sweeper and the art teacher. As for the two primary schools, one on the left for boys and the other for girls, only a few feet from the middle school, they had no one there.
“If the primary schools get a teacher or two, the students will go there, of course. But right now there is no one there to teach children at the primary level here and what of this middle school when no one here has passed class five to be promoted here?” the art teacher said.
The three schools have been built on a request of Sumar Khan, son of Long Khan Brohi after whom the village has been named. “He’s our village elder, our wadera, who visits the education department every month with requests for teachers so that the schools should be able to fulfil their purpose of imparting education,” said Ahmed.
“People at the education department always tell me not to worry and that they will appoint teachers for the schools. I tried again during the summer vacation and was again told that it would happen soon. Now the vacation is also over and pretty soon the school year will conclude as well with as usual no progress in the matter. These schools were built in 2008. This has been going on for six years now. God alone knows for how much longer our children will have to remain without basic education,” said Sumar Khan, the village elder.
According to the data available with Abdul Jabbar Bhatti, executive director of the Institute for Social Change, a local NGO researching education in the interior of Sindh, there are about 40 households in Long Khan Brohi Goth and some 150 children of school-going age.
“But only 30 of them study and for this they travel on foot to the only primary school in the next village, called Jan Mohammad Brohi village,” he said.
At Jan Mohammad Brohi Goth, there are around 47 boy and girl students but no school building. The children sit under the shade of date palms near a graveyard as the school building nearby is now a dangerous structure after the 2010-11 floods. Still, they are attending classes as despite no school building, they have a teacher at least.
“Our school building was flooded and it is not safe any longer,” said Sher Mohammad Khaskeli, the primary schoolteacher, at Jan Mohammad Brohi Goth reading out the lessons to his 47 students, which they repeated after him in a singsong style.
In nearby Salimabad, another school remains without students. Although it has a teacher since 2011, the teacher is not interested in teaching. “There is a shrine of Pir Sakhi Jam Dattar here and he is related to one of the khidmatgars of the gaddi nasheen at the shrine, which allows him to get away with it,” said Mr Bhatti, the researcher.
Similar is the case at Mithal Naich Girls School in Jam Sahab UC, Taluka-II. The school was built in 1987 and was even renovated four years ago with School Management Committee funds. And with it not having a teacher, the National Commission for Human Development appointed one for a year on a Rs2,500 salary. But she, too, left after a year and again there are no teacher and no students there as well.
“Parents of girls here have no issues if a school closes as they are not interested in educating them anyway. Had there been pressure from the parents, maybe the education department, too, would have been pushed into finding and appointing teachers in the school,” said Mr Bhatti.
“It is simple,” said a village sage, pointing towards the lush cotton, sugarcane and rice fields. “If everyone here starts giving importance to education, and starts sending their children to school, who will grow up to work in the fields? The Zaradaris, Jamalis, Rinds, Brohis, Keerios and Dahiris do not want that to happen.”
According to the data from Alif Ailaan, there are 2,695 government schools in Shaheed Benazirabad. Of them, only 210 are either middle or high schools.
According to the government’s own data, 299 schools are marked ‘closed’.
According to a Supreme Court petition regarding the miserable condition of schools in Dec 2013: “As per report of the District & Sessions Judge, Benazirabad, ... 202 schools are non-functional and 355 schools are in the nature of ghost schools. Encroachments exist on the properties of 112 schools by influential persons and villagers. ... On the question pertaining to litigation concerning schools lands, it has been stated that two matters are pending in the courts in this regard.”
Going by the district education rankings of 2014, Shaheed Benazirabad is ranked 90th of the 146 districts. The net enrolment of girls in primary schools is 40 per cent and it drops to 8pc in middle school. For boys the enrolment in primary schools is 58pc and 20pc in middle schools. Also 69pc of class five students cannot read a story in Urdu or Sindhi from a class two book. And 79pc of class five students cannot read a sentence in English from class two book. The school infrastructure is ranked 69th in 146 districts. Then 75pc of all government schools are housed in a building termed ‘condition unsatisfactory’.
The district has been a Zardari family and Pakistan Peoples Party stronghold since 1988. The former president’s sister, MNA Faryal Talpur, has served twice as a district Nazima, with another sister, Dr Azra Pechuho, has been elected from the same constituency thrice (2002, 2008 and 2013). Hakim Ali Zardari, their father, served as an MNA in 1970, 1988, and 1993. And, of course, the district, formerly Nawabshah, was named after the former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, in 2008.
“Well, the MNAs elected from here hardly ever visit the area though the MPAs take some interest,” Mr Bhatti said.
MPA Syed Fasih Shah from the rural side of the district agreed that there was a definite problem. “The teachers who have been appointed by the education department don’t take their jobs seriously. Education minister Nisar Khuhro has taken notice of this. We have also been asking the teachers to pull up their socks. But it has only worked to an extent,” he said.
Meanwhile, MPA Tariq Masood Arain from the city side was happy to report that the schools in the city were doing far better. “But, yes, there is a problem in the villages as during previous governments most school buildings were built as a gift to please landlords in exchange for political favours. Even a village with 10 homes will have two schools.
New census and research is needed to see how many homes there are in a village and how many schools are needed where,” he said.
“Also it would be better to appoint a teacher from the same village for a school there. If someone comes to teach from somewhere else, he or she won’t care. A local teacher can at least care about his village and also be pressured by the area residents to do the job right.”
Published in Dawn, August 15th, 2014