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KARACHI: Once street schools were a distinct feature of Lyari, as they were not found in any other part of the city, but their number has come down from more than 60 to only six over the past few years.

Baghdadi Saifi Lane is known for three such schools, where a free education centre was established in the 1980s in Bombassa Street.

A corner of the street is reserved to serve as classrooms while the walls are used as blackboards. It is really fascinating to see children without any uniform taking classes in a street corner, separated by a hanging piece of cloth.

The project was designed by the area youth, who were mostly university and college students, to fight illiteracy and poverty and to protect children from the influence of drugs. It was a novel concept, which was then adopted and implemented in other localities.

Streetlights help this school, supported by a local NGO. The school remains open till 11pm. In some of the schools, primary classes begin from 4pm and end at 6pm, while secondary classes start at 6pm, higher secondary at 8pm, followed by graduate and higher studies classes that continue till 11pm.

There are two main reasons why these street schools were set up and why they were immensely popular. Firstly, Lyari is notorious for its gang warfare and the associated problems. Secondly, area people can hardly afford to send their children to private schools, while the level of education offered at government schools is far from satisfactory.

The education centre, popularly known as Baloch Free Education Centre, Baghdadi, was a ray of hope of many poor families who could not afford to send their children to formal schools. However, it gradually disappeared as the gang warfare gripped the area.There was a time when there were more than 60 street schools in Lyari. At present there remained only six, three in Baghdadi and three in other parts of Lyari, a school teacher said.

Nadeem Baloch, a senior teacher of a Rotary street school besides holding an executive post in another school being run by Anjuman Raza-i-Mustafa, said that there used to be 200 students in the school. But half of them left due to frequent incidents of firing in the locality.

He said, “Parents do not send their children to the school out of the fear of violence, which is a common occurrence in the locality.”

“Most teachers are providing free service though our street school charges a nominal fee of Rs35 under the teachers support programme,” he said, adding that students were helped by the administration in terms of fees if they decided to continue their studies.

About ratio of male and female students, he said, “Over the past few years, girl students showed more interest in studies and are more regular than boys. At present, girls make up almost 60 per cent of the total students.”

Mr Baloch said the gang warfare hampered their system very much. “We hardly have regular classes now. Every other day we come to know that the situation in the area is tense so parents are afraid to send their children to school,” he pointed out. The schools that were supposed to have resumed three or four months ago could not do so due to uncertain law and order conditions.

Students complain that because of the prolonged intervals between academic sessions they forget much of what had been taught to them. “Most of the children belong to families that are not very educated. So when there are no classes in session, the parents hardly ever bother to teach their children themselves,” the teacher said.

He was of the view that in the absence of a proper education system, the children of Lyari were greatly influenced by gangsters. “Teenagers seem to be fascinated by the very idea of guns and violence. And the reason for this is the lack of recreational facilities and constant disturbances in their education. The youngest gang member is said to be an eleven-year-old boy who has been given a gun,” he said.

When asked if the parents were aware of the situation and the direction their children were heading in, he said, “Of course they are aware. But they cannot ask the child to leave the gang as they fear that their child will be killed the moment he does so.”