"Please do not take photos," a school teacher gestures towards a cameraman. Around him, in the mountainous village, some 40 children in loose yellow uniforms stare at our vehicle. The dirt road we are parked on leads to one of the government-run schools in this village, Killi Inayatullah Machka. The Afghan border is nearby.
Even from the distance, one can see the school has no roof or windows; it offers no shelter.
"Come inside first and talk to us," the teacher, Muhammad Ismail, says with a handshake. "Then you can take photos."
A school for the poor
Located almost two kilometres east of the Quetta-Chaman national highway, Machka Killa Abdullah primary school was established in 2003 during Pervez Musharraf's regime for the children of the poor neighbourhood. The village's populace consists of daily wage labourers, roadside restaurant staff, and taxi drivers. Many students' fathers move to Karachi, where they can earn more and help their families.
Legislators, ministers and officers pass through school everyday. But the building's miserable plight is hardly noticed by the VIPs travelling between Pakistan's bordering town Chaman, and the provincial capital Quetta.
The one-room space was constructed by the villagers themselves to serve as the classroom. The enclosure of crude mud walls shows strains of time, its roof is broken and there are no doors. The ceiling, and much of the room, once collapsed in the aftermath of heavy rainfall.
The students have been studying in the roofless, door and windowless room for more than three years. There is no boundary wall, no toilet, no clean drinking water. "The children bring drinking water from a nearby tube well," says their teacher, Ismail.
Ismail, who comes from Punjab, has been teaching in this room for the past 13 years. He says he teaches grades one to five, a total of 70 students, but there are only 40 kids in the room.
The number of government-run primary, middle and high schools in Balochistan has risen to 13,500, according to data available with the province's education department. However, the department says it cannot verify the existence of 955 schools, and more than 1,200 are yet to be made functional. Independent sources portray an extremely abysmal picture of government-run schools across the province.
"We have cut off funds to schools we could not verify," confirms Saboor Kakar, Secretary Education Department Balochistan.
The provincial government claims that it gives education the highest priority among all sectors. It has allocated more than 40 billion rupees to the sector, with the goal of providing quality education to all students. The department has also launched a school-enrollment campaign in Quetta and other districts in hopes of maximising enrollment. "Our objective is to enroll out-of-school children," explains Rahim Ziaratwal, the province's education minister.
However, there exists a conflict between the government and the media, who do not agree on the figure of total out-of-school children in the province. Sardar Raza Muhammad Bareech, former education adviser to the province's chief minister, cites the figure at 1.6 million. Media sources estimate the figure is much higher.
Machka Killa Abdullah is not the only primary school functioning despite infrastructural limitations; a number of them portray a bleak picture when visited. Students are at the mercy of weather changes and climate hazards. "We go back to our homes in case of rainfall, wind or chilly weather," says Musa Jan, who studies in class one.
The weather, whether hot or cold, often interrupts the students' learning. But these schools are not solely limited by their shaky foundations; the quality of education and the presence of sufficient teachers is also a concern. At many of these schools, students can neither write nor speak in Urdu.
When asked to name the founder of Pakistan, grade four student Naqeebullah says he does not know. Three students venture a try but they also fail to answer.
At this point, a skinny fellow intervenes in an attempt to ease his friends' helplessness: "Allah made Pakistan," he says confidently.