Footprints: Putting the 'model’ back in schools

Published March 4, 2016
STUDENTS seated in a newly renovated classroom — inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Feb 19 — while a teacher writes on a whiteboard in Azaan Khan Shaheed Model School in Islamabad.—Photo by writer
STUDENTS seated in a newly renovated classroom — inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Feb 19 — while a teacher writes on a whiteboard in Azaan Khan Shaheed Model School in Islamabad.—Photo by writer

THE tall pine tree on the left flank of the main gate of Azaan Khan Shaheed Model School for Boys in the city’s F-8/3 sector is majestic. Not much attention has been paid to it, though the boundary wall in its shade and the adjacent light green gate have been refurbished. Still, this tree and many others growing here make this compound in an upmarket residential area look serene.

The walls are now topped with gleaming barbed wire. It may be considered an eyesore, unsuitable for an educational institution, but it does provide a sense of security.

Inside the gate, the wall facing the main corridor of the school building bears bold silver letters proclaiming ‘Wall of Fame’. Beneath are portraits of slain soldiers awarded the highest military honour for gallantry, the Nishan-i-Haider. On one side is a picture of the Quaid-i-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and on the other is a portrait of the national poet, Allama Mohammad Iqbal.

On another wall of the corridor are pictures of the youngest Microsoft professional of her time, the late Arfa Karim, tennis star Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and Dr A.Q. Khan, considered the architect of Pakistan’s nuclear bomb. Beyond is a plaque saying that Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif “inaugurated the education reform programme and the physical upgradation and student-teacher learning” on Feb 19, 2016, at the school.

This school has got glossy new tiles and automatic hand driers in the lavatories, new fibreglass sunshades at the cafeteria and grass in the grounds, whiteboards in the classrooms and 30 new computers in the IT lab, on top of a newly furnished library and a whole new set of chairs for the students. Outside these classrooms and library, a large picture of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been placed to reassert that all this refurbishment was possible due to his personal interest in it.

In the primary school branch, a whole new playing area has been arranged with artificial grass and plastic swings and slides; the classrooms have been painted and decorated with colourful pictures of children, cartoons, flowers and trees. Above them, lettering in bright colours says “Prime Minister’s little stars”.

In one classroom, teacher Humaira Chaudhry gets four-year-olds to memorise the spelling of ‘chair’. The children look fascinated, seated on small plastic chairs around round tables, and are staring at the whiteboard on the colourful wall. “We were teaching nursery classes earlier too, but this new environment is nice and feels good,” she says.

But Riffat Mashkoor, vice principal of the junior section who has been teaching at this school since 1987, points out that the improvement in furniture and the uplift of the building will hardly impact the quality of education.

“We are thankful to the prime minister for this initiative and for providing us furniture and repairing our shaky building, but we are still lacking staff,” she says. “Raising the quality of education or catering to more children is only possible through sufficient and efficient staff.” We walk out of a classroom and I’m shown a newly refurbished dining area for small children.

“We don’t have a maid to take care of the four-year-olds, we have only one janitor and we need at least four more teachers to effectively teach all the classes,” she continues. “We have made requests for this staff and the prime minister knows about it, but we are still waiting.”

Prime Minister Sharif launched his programme for reforms in government schools to bring them on a par with well-equipped private schools after criticism that the government did nothing for education and health, and that it invested billions of rupees in high-profile road and bridge projects to earn cheap publicity.

The initiative also came in the wake of rival political party Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf launching a scheme in the province they govern, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, introducing English-language education to all newly enrolled students in the prep section and also training for teachers. (However, teachers there too complain about insufficient facilities and a hostile environment because they have been asked to carry weapons and take care of security in case of an attack.)

Azizullah Soomro, vice principal of the senior section of the Azaan Khan Shaheed Model School, says his school is among 22 institutions in the federal capital where the central government has undertaken reforms.

Unfortunately, no such improvements are under way in the rural areas of Punjab and Balochistan, where the prime minister’s party rules; Sindh is nowhere close to reform.

A study, launched last week by the federal government’s Academy of Educational Planning and Management, says that 24 million children are still out of schools in the country and 23,138 schools across Pakistan have no buildings.

Mosharraf Zaidi, campaign director for Alif Ailaan, an NGO working to promote education, believes that the rural areas far away from Islamabad need more attention. “Hundreds of schools have been destroyed by militants in Fata and hundred others in Azad Kashmir, which collapsed during the 2005 earthquake, still await reconstruction,” he points out.

Published in Dawn, March 4th, 2016

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