MUZAFFARABAD: Tired of waiting for the government to come through on its promise to rebuild their school damaged in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, school principal Tahira Mughal has hired out a dilapidated old building, on rent, to house the Government Girls Higher Secondary School in Muzaffarabad’s Gojra area.

Most of the over 500 students here study in withered tents or crummy shelters. Whenever the weather becomes particularly unkind, be it the sweltering summer or frosty winter, she gets extremely worried.

“We have been educating our students in the most appalling conditions for over a decade now. These tents cannot withstand the onslaught of harsh weather, so I have no choice but to declare a holiday [on days when it rains],” Ms Mughal told Dawn.

According to the District Education Rankings 2016, all 10 districts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) are the lowest ranked in terms of school infrastructure.

The region scores a miserable 22.33 on the school infrastructure score, which is determined by factors such as the availability of electricity, water and toilet facilities, the presence of a boundary wall and the overall condition of the school building. To put things into perspective, the national average is 60.17, while Gilgit-Baltistan and Fata scored 42.53 and 41.73, respectively.

The nearby Boys High School in Gojra presents a similar scene, as students attend classes in an incomplete building, exposed to the elements; the dusty winds or the hot, unforgiving sun.

Government officials say that still at least 150,000 students are compelled to take classes under the open sky, due to non-completion or non-construction of more than 1,400 schools.

But despite this adversity, all 10 AJK districts rank among the top 40 in the country, with Kotli being ranked the third best in the country, while Mirpur is also among the top ten.

“In such conditions, one cannot expect good academic performance, but most of the students do very well,” Ms Mughal told Dawn. “Appalling conditions apart, I am proud at the willpower of my students.

A 10th grade student said that despite the dilapidated condition of their school, they had not given up.

“We have to show everyone that we have not lost hope; we will achieve the dreams of our parents and teachers.”

“There has been no census in AJK, so most of the information is extrapolated. The data may be inaccurate, but it is what is being reported by the government,” said one of the researchers involved with the preparation of the report. However, the researcher said that AJK districts had historically scored on the higher side, so this trend was not anomalous.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2016