New academic session: Displaced children remain in flux and out of school

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On September 1, schoolchildren in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) fondly looked back at their summer holidays as they made their way to school early in the morning. However, for children displaced from North Waziristan, there were no back-to-school jitters because most of them have not been enrolled in any educational institute.

Their parents have no idea how long they will be away from their agency or how long they are expected to live as refugees in the province. This uncertainty along with the prohibitive cost of private education and transport has prevented many parents from enrolling their children. But not without a nagging concern for the next generation’s future.

Waiting to go back

Kamal Shah is one of those who had to leave North Waziristan and now lives on Warsak Road. Shah told The Express Tribune most parents do not want their children’s academic year to go to waste but they worry that once enrolled, schooling will inevitably be disrupted if the government decides to repatriate them.

“We have decided to wait for a month and then make a decision. If by the end of September the operation has not come to end, we will get children enrolled in schools [in K-P],” said Shah.

“Exams in schools are generally held in February or March. Even if our children go to school here, it would take months for them to adjust to the new environment, let alone the curriculum,” said another displaced person, now residing in Peshawar.

Only prompt repatriation and rehabilitation can save their children’s academic year, he added.

A private matter

For many families, being able to afford private schools is the more pressing matter.  Mujeeb Ali took his son for admission to a private school in Hayatabad. He was told to submit a Rs11,000 admission fee, a security deposit as well as the Rs3,000 monthly fee.

“I am willing to pay the money just to get my son in but what happens if the government asks us to head back to North Waziristan tomorrow?” questioned Ali. “My son’s studies will be affected and the money will go to waste.”

Tenth-grader Shahab and his seven other siblings used to go to the government school in their hometown in the agency. But they remain out of school in Peshawar.

“There is no government school nearby. My parents cannot afford to send all of us to private schools,” said Shahab.

School in a tent

Meanwhile, the government says it is doing all it can to facilitate the displaced people.

K-P Minister for Education Muhammad Atif said the education department, through an advertisement, has asked IDPs to get their children enrolled in nearby government schools.

“There are no hurdles in the admission process. The requirement of a school-leaving certificate has been relaxed for displaced students,” said Atif.

The minister added tent schools will be set up in IDP camps and areas where a large number of displaced families have taken up residence. “In these schools, the services of displaced teachers will be utilised,” said Atif.

He, however, maintained the government cannot provide transport to displaced students as no such facility exists for K-P’s students either.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2014.