PESHAWAR: The elementary and secondary education department has closed down around 1,000 government primary schools across the province owing to low enrolment and shifted their students to the nearest schools, according to sources.

They said that the abandoned school buildings, which had cost billions of rupees, were constructed by the education department at unfeasible places and in violation of criteria merely on the directives of the then rulers to oblige their voters.

“Despite the closure of 1,000 schools, the PTI government has been following the past practice to construct schools at the behest of rulers. As in the past, currently the government schools are constructed on the directives of Chief Minister Pervez Khattak,” said sources.

A senior official told Dawn that education department was helpless in that regard as it only followed the directives of the chief minister. “We have no power to decide about the construction of a school on need basis, rather we have to wait for the directives of the chief minister,” he added.

No decision has been made so far about use of vacated school buildings

Sources said that chief minister was approving schools in the constituencies of lawmakers to oblige them. “Not only the chief minister decides the construction of the new primary school but he also decides upgradation of primary schools to middle, high or higher secondary level,” said the official.

He said that each year, the provincial government reflected in the budget the establishment of schools in bulk that was approved by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly. “After the passage of the budget, the chief minister issues directives to the education department from time to time regarding construction of each school,” he said.

The official said that opinion of education department about construction of new schools was often rejected rather schools were set up wherever the chief minister and MPAs wanted.

A district education officer said that education department closed those schools where enrolled students were less than 40. He added that most of the closed schools were located in the rural areas.

The number of closed schools in Peshawar is 45, in Mansehra 100, in Abbottabad 65, in Bannu 60, in Battagram 90, in Kohistan 87, in Charsadda 58, in Chitral 55, in Mardan 60, in Haripur 60, in Swabi 55, in Lakki Marwat 60, in Dera Ismail Khan 12, in Malakand 15, in Swat 10, in Tank 10, in Torghar seven and in Nowshera is four.

Sources said that most of the closed schools were established around two decades ago. “If at present the enrolment in such schools is below 40, how much it would have been at time of their establishment years ago,” they questioned.

According to the criteria, a new school is to be constructed in the area having 1,000 population in the surrounding which will ensure admission of 160 students in the school. Under the criteria, a primary school should not exist within the radius of 1.5 kilometre in the proposed site for the new school.

Sources said that the criterion was rarely followed as the district education offices couldn’t resist the directives of the chief minister and MPAs concerned.

“If the education department resists construction of school at a proposed site for not fulfilling the criteria, on the next day it receives instructions from the chief minister that criteria shall be relaxed,” an official of the education department said.

He said that education department opposed establishment of a primary school in Bahadarkhel area in Manki Sharif ward of Nowshera as a primary school with 146 students was already functioning in a distance of 800 metres. However, the chief minister relaxed the criteria and directed the education department to construct the school, he said.

Minister for Education Mohammad Atif Khan was not available for comments.

Asked what the education department would do with the abandoned buildings, a senior official of the education department said that the department was yet to make a decision what to do with the buildings.

He said that several proposals were under consideration for the usage of the abandoned buildings. He said that non-formal schools could be launched in abandoned buildings that would be run by the Elementary Education Foundation.

The second proposal was to hand over the vacated buildings for establishing schools under the public private partnership, the official said.

Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2017