News reports of roofs collapsing in schools and existence of dangerous buildings are not new; such incidents have become frequent due to buildings becoming old and lacking repair and maintenance with their condition eventually becoming dilapidated. In fact, a couple of incidents were reported from Punjab within two months only.

A healthy learning environment in schools is only possible when students and teachers are provided with adequate facilities, not only related to teaching and learning, but also safe and sound infrastructure. Weaker structures due to aging and lack of maintenance are some of the reasons why incidents happen such as the recent roof collapse in Multan (and Dera Ghazi Khan) that left a number of students injured.

There is growing evidence from across the globe that the condition of school infrastructure has a strong impact on learning outcomes of students. Considering that the learning outcomes in Pakistan are below par according to the World Bank report on ‘Student Learning in South Asia’, there is an even greater need of addressing the infrastructural challenges in our schools.

It is also disturbing to note that despite hefty allocations for infrastructural needs in Punjab, many schools are still running with buildings partially or critically damaged. According to the School Education Department statistics, currently more than 800 school buildings in the province are critically dangerous whereas around 3,800 are partially damaged.

The buildings in Rahim Yar Khan are in the worst state where 80 are critically damaged and 173 partially. Eighteen of the 36 districts of Punjab have 100 or more partially damaged school buildings. The best situation can be witnessed in Hafizabad where only two school buildings are critically dangerous and 24 partially. However, even two such school buildings can be very dangerous and definitely deserve immediate attention of the authorities.

Disaggregating this data on educational levels, 91pc of the critically dangerous buildings and 57pc of the partially damaged are of primary schools.

Punjab budget 2015-16

According to the budget white paper issued by the Punjab government, reconstruction of 4,727 critically and partially dangerous school buildings is one of the major targets fixed for the fiscal 2015-16 in school education. And for this purpose, Rs 8.52 billion have been apportioned. However, this is not the first time budget has been allocated for this purpose.

According to the budget books, Rs2.75 billion were apportioned for reconstruction of dangerous schools in 2014-15, however, the revised estimates present a sorry state of affairs where no such utilisation was made.

The efforts of think tanks like the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences (I-Saps) should also be applauded for generating an informed debate around dangerous school buildings and the need of budgetary prioritisation in this regard. Education budget proposals for Punjab in 2015-16 developed by I-Saps and signed by all political parties during a recent multi-party conference held in Lahore also proposed a significant amount to be allocated for dangerous school buildings in the province. However, it still remains to be seen as to how much of the allocated budget of Rs8.52 billion will be spent during the year.

It is high time that we prioritise these schools so that our children can have a safe and sound learning environment where they can focus on their studies rather than cracked roofs and walls. It is expected that the government would utilise the funds allocated for maintenance/reconstruction of these school buildings in the upcoming fiscal year and address this grave situation on priority.

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2015

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