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Confusion, security fears mount as winter vacation nears end

Updated January 10, 2015

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The boundary wall of an army public school on Iqbal Shaheed Road in Karachi's Saddar area being reinforced. — PPI
The boundary wall of an army public school on Iqbal Shaheed Road in Karachi's Saddar area being reinforced. — PPI

KARACHI: With just two days left in the reopening of schools after the winter vacation, there is no official word about any mechanism the government may have adopted to check the implementation of a ‘comprehensive security plan’ in more than 6,000 registered private schools and 437 government schools across the city.

In the situation, school managements and parents along with children are in a real fix regarding security arrangements. Confusion persists among private educational institutions as they believe the government is demanding too much from them for what is, essentially, the prime responsibility of the law enforcement agencies.

The situation has led to abrupt announcement from a few schools about extending the vacation for another two days, it emerged on Friday.

With a series of meetings by government, security officials and schools representatives mostly putting the onus of schools security on one another, the private schools administrations and parents see the much-publicised stress on security as creating a sense of fear among them about children’s safety.

The frequent meetings also suggest a serious level of real threat being faced by schools, after the last month Peshawar school tragedy, as former president and co-chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party Asif Ali Zardari on Friday chaired another sitting at Bilawal House. It was attended by Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah, Sindh IG Ghulam Haider Jamali, Karachi police chief Ghulam Qadir Thebo and other senior officials.

“Former president Asif Ali Zardari has directed the Sindh government to draw up a comprehensive security plan for the schools and academic institutions throughout the province and in Karachi in particular to guard against any militant attack on them,” said a Bilawal House statement quoting Mr Zardari’s spokesman Senator Farhatullah Babar as saying.

“The PPP co-chairman directed the government and the police department to draw up a plan in consultation with the management of private and government academic institutions for providing foolproof security to them and also involve the Rangers in this task.”

The meeting at Bilawal House was not the only one on the subject held on Friday. Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad Khan also held a meeting on the same subject for a second consecutive day and insisted on what he had stated the previous day during the first meeting. “All schools have been issued directives not to resume educational activities until security plan is in place,” said a Governor’s House statement issued after the meeting attended by senior government officials. “The governor said that only those schools should reopen for classes on Jan 12 after the winter vacation where foolproof security arrangements have been made. He said a committee had already been set up under Karachi commissioner to hold security audit of Karachi schools.”

As if two meetings were not enough, came another one, called by Karachi commissioner Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqi at his office, where he said foolproof security arrangements be made in all schools before their reopening on Jan 12.

“He directed that the schools should install metal detecting walkthrough gates so that everyone entering the premises could be checked,” said a statement issued after the meeting. The Karachi commissioner said coordination be arranged between school managements and relevant agencies such as Rangers, police and administrative officials. He said that barbed wires be fixed on the boundary walls and stickers be given to school vans and parents’ vehicles. The data of all school staffers and van operators should also be collected.”

The flurry of meetings, however, failed to provide much-needed confidence to parents and private schools management. After the hype created by the law enforcement agencies and the government, the question about the approved plan implementation still remains a question.

“The question is that whatever is being demanded by the government from school managements is humanly possible or not,” said Khalid Shah of the All Pakistan Schools Management Association while speaking to Dawn. “They are asking schools for appointment of private guards, CCTV cameras, secured parking arrangement with stickers on every vehicle visiting schools, round-the-clock vigilance on movement of people and traffic outside schools. The schools charging high fees are already doing that but is that possible for those charging low fees?”

He said the school managements were solely responsible for the discipline, secured environment and better education to their students and were never before asked to come up with such security arrangements. Majority of schools, he said, would not be able to meet the government demand and the feared results started emerging.

“My nine-year-old daughter is a student of primary section of one of the country’s largest school systems and her campus is situated in Gulshan-i-Iqbal,” said Naureen Yousuf. “I received a text on my mobile phone from the school management that her school is going to open on Jan 14 instead of 12. No reason was mentioned, but we think it’s because of the security issue.”

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2015

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