Lower Dir students demand school rebuilt

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Eighth class student Abdul Wadud was among the large number of students who sat on the ground under open sky as it rained while attempting the question paper during their examination.

“Please build our school. We cannot study under the open sky any more. You won’t believe how difficult it is to attempt the paper when it rains. Holding umbrella in one hand and writing material in the other to solve the paper is really arduous,” argued the student from the Government High School Bandai in Maidan area of Dir Lower district.

Wadud longs to shift to a private school in the nearby locality, but he cannot afford to do so due to poverty. He is not alone in having such a wish as around 1,000 students of his school also have the same desire.

According to Wadud, he and other students always bring umbrellas to school during examinations as the weather in this hilly area is unpredictable and it could start raining all of a sudden.

The militants demolished the Government High School Bandai and three other adjacent primary and middle schools for boys and girls in 2009.

“Five years have passed, but nobody has taken any interest in getting the school buildings reconstructed,” a resident Hanifullah said.

A photograph of the school showing children taking papers in rain under umbrellas that appeared in newspapers and was publicised in the social media helped focus attention on the issue. The teams of the government and non-governmental organisations rushed to the area to have a look at the situation.

The students hope their school would now be rebuilt. “I think the school building will be reconstructed. We have requested everyone who visited our area to construct our school,” Wadud said.

Senior English Teacher Hayat Khan, who runs the school in the absence of its in-charge Jan Badshah, clarified that the students shown in the photographs were not studying in the secondary classes.“The secondary students have been allotted hall at the Islamic Foundation Public School in Kumbar located some five kilometres away from our school,” he said.

“Around 759 students from grade 6 to 8 are facing this problem as it is difficult for us to accommodate them in the nearby mosques and hujras,” he added.

He said they had been facing the problem for five years. “We have submitted some 20 applications to the quarters concerned, but to no avail,” he said, adding some 2,000 students were getting education at the school before it was destroyed.

“Almost half of the students migrated to the private schools. The ones who cannot afford to study in the private schools are still studying here,” he said.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Shaukatullah took notice of the situation after seeing the picture and ordered an inquiry. Senior Minister Sirajul Haq, who represents Dir Lower in the provincial government, called a meeting of the Education Department officials of the district and instructed them to take steps on war footing to reconstruct the building.

The security forces deployed in the area also took notice of the picture. Major Shahid Rasheed visited the school along with other officials of Pakistan Army and pitched some tents as an immediate remedy for the situation.

Talking to The News, Major Shahid said that they have been visiting educational and other facilities routinely to see if anything needed to be done. “But the situation in this particular institution was pathetic. The students were holding umbrellas to attempt the paper. We immediately arranged tents for them and would take further steps in collaboration with the civil authorities,” he said.

Saeed Gul, Member of Provincial Assembly from the area, told this reporter they were not ignorant of the issue. “Rs400 million have been allocated for the school, but there are some issues with the contractors due to which the construction could not be started. This is not the only school affected by militancy in my constituency. Some 98 other schools had also been damaged and most have been rebuilt,” Saeed Gul said.

Those found to be the least concerned about the sorry situation were the ones at the helm in the elementary education department. Minister for Education Mohammad Atif Khan and the administrative secretaries could not be reached on their phones despite numerous attempts. This reporter also visited their offices for comments only to find them absent.

All that the department did was to issue a letter to the board of intermediate and secondary education Malakand to know as why the students had not been allotted a proper hall for the examination.

Chairman of the board Mohammad Rafiq in his reply stated that the students appearing in the board examination from the same school were allotted a proper hall in the Islamic Foundation School, Kumbar. He stressed that no student was appearing in the examination under the open sky.

The situation in majority of the militancy, flood and earthquake affected schools in Malakand division, elsewhere in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the tribal areas is no better. “The PTI government that had announced education emergency in its first-ever budget for the province last year should focus attention on this serious problem,” a senior academician said.

Source: The News.