Deadman on campus: Eat, play, learn …. in a necropolis

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You know the necrosis is setting in Pakistan’s education system when primary-level students of a Mardan village are forced to share space with the departed.

The school is located near a main road, inside a graveyard complex in Lond Khwar, a famous village in Takht Bhai tehsil of Mardan. It has four teachers for 200 students, including 50 girls, and operates under the open sky, without the safety of a boundary wall.

If students get thirsty, they walk to the nearby mosque for a drink of water. Children bear the brutal summers and harsh winters of Mardan while sitting on the ground, getting frequent holidays on account of rain. These are just run-of-the-mill problems, discounting the ghoulish experience of sitting next to a grave, inhaling decomposing rose petals.

As Basmina, a third grade student said, the creepy crawly factor begs for a change of venue. “We get scared sitting close to people buried six-feet under. At times, insects creep up from the ground and scare everyone.” Surely almost everyone can recall lying in bed at night as a child, conjuring up ghosts in the dark and wanting an adult to dissipate the demons. The school is just fertile fodder for nightmares.

Hello minister, this is a grave emergency

The area lies in the constituency of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MNA Ali Muhammad Khan. More importantly, it’s where the provincial education minister Muhammad Atif was elected from, but the graveyard school is yet to blink on the to-do radar of both representatives.

The institute was established in 1975 as a maktab (religious school) where children used to be taught Islamic education by the cleric of an adjacent mosque. It is now known as Government Primary School Lond Khwar but is yet to have a building of its own after 39 years.

The graveyard which doubles as a school is the property of late Ghulam Muhammad Khan, a renowned figure of the Pakistan Movement.

One of the four teachers, Arifullah, told The Express Tribune they informed the education department of their problems repeatedly and submitted an application for the construction of a proper building for the school but there is no response yet.

After several requests, the department responded, saying they will build a school if the village can provide them with land as they were “short of funds to purchase property”.

Arifullah added he has been teaching kids in this graveyard since 1986. “Despite severe problems, our students are outstanding in both curricular and extra-curricular activities.” The teacher  proudly shared his students got the top 10 positions among 300 students of Takht Bhai in the final exams for grade five in 2013. He appealed to the government to provide them adequate facilities to secure the students’ future.

Wanting more than bare bones

Waqas Khan, a fifth grade student, said: “We demand Imran Khan provide us a building for our school as we cannot study properly sitting inside a graveyard. We are also unable to focus as the traffic is noisy on the adjacent main road”.

The graveyard is located in an area which is home to some prominent politicians of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa; former Pakistan Peoples Party provincial president Rahim Dad Khan, former Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal minister Fazal Rabbani and incumbent winner from one of the area’s provincial assembly seats, Jamshed Khan. But all these politicians are yet to take note of young kids from their hometown learning their ABCs next to the dead.

According to residents, the education minister has crossed the school several times; both during his election campaign and after become the head of the education ministry, but has not done anything about it.

Locals termed the government’s hyped-up mantra of education reforms as mere eyewash. Takht Bai Assistant District Officer Abul Khaliq told The Express Tribune it was sad the children were studying inside the boundary wall of a graveyard but said it was government policy to get land for a school building free of cost, which the locals had refused to do. Khaliq claimed in spite of this glitch, he has been struggling to get a rented building to shift the schoolchildren but he was yet to receive funds for the purpose.

Source: The Express Tribune.