by: Aslam Chandio
Islamabad: First few drops of rain were no good sign for ambitious but underprivileged students who looked towards the sky and anticipated that they would again not be able to attend their classes in a makeshift school set up in an open ground in the posh sector of Islamabad’s F-6/3 where the rich and the elite usually send their children to modern and highly equipped educational institutions.
The Green Capital of Pakistan, ‘Islamabad’ is known to have more rains as compared to the rest of country and when it rains the students of the makeshift school are usually seen collecting their pencils, notes books, and books running in search of shelters.
Latter, it forces into their unwillingly return to their homes with a day going waste without study.
They never knew how many days it would take rain to stop, but all they know was that they are now going to miss their classes for few days.
This happens because this makeshift school is being operated under the wide blue sky with no walls or shelter.
The school does not enjoy any kind of arrangements to cope with this kind of situation, however, it do not bothers these students any more, if they sit under burning sun or to being intercepted by sudden rain storm.
Aakash 14, a Christian student, is one of those students who want to get her family rid of poverty by make waves and ‘Makeshift school’ is their only hope that according to them could make reality their dreams.
Expressing his passion and love for education he excitedly stated, “You know, my passion is education and I love to study irrespective of it whether it is a well-equipped class room of modern school or an open ground of a residential sector.”
We have to sit on the ground, Aakash told while adding that, It’s a problem both in the winter and summer season.
When it rains, there is no available shelter and we all have to leave the school.
My father is a sweeper but I dream to be a police officer, so that I can serve my nation in a better way.
I also sit on the green belt and study under street lights in the evening,’ he said.
The harsh realities in the heart of the capital city can speak volumes of the state of affairs in other cities especially far flung areas of Pakistan where dropout rate at the primary level is gradually increasing due to mismanagement and disinterest of the ruling class.
At the time when there are less number of schools for the nation comprising 180 million population and having literacy rate of nearly 57.7 percent some 8,000 ghost schools have also been identified by the concerned departments.
On his petition the Supreme Court took up the matter in March 2013 and ordered a nationwide investigation of “ghost” schools that revealed that funds were provided for the schools but their buildings were either abandoned or occupied by cattles.
According to the official record with a cumulative 57.7 per cent of literacy and highest dropout rate in the world, Pakistan stands at second in terms of primary out of school children.
Master Muhammad Ayub, the driving force behind the makeshift school, is also not happy with the current situation but he has not lost his hope as he has services of seven volunteer teachers who impart education to 260 students up to grade 10.
Renowned Pakistani pop artist Shehzad Roy has been working towards societal reforms by way of education through Zindagi Trust, and recently his team conceived the idea for a show which aired on a private television channel titled ‘Chal Parha’.
The purpose behind magazine show ‘Chal Parha’ is to make people realize and fully understand that Pakistan’s biggest problem is education or the lack thereof.
In the show, the camera follows him as he travels on his bike from the bottom end of the country to the top, covering about 200 schools, and underlining what difference good education brings into lives of the people.
Some educationists pointed out that the situation was also not much different when it comes to the higher education sector that is also facing numerous challenges even at the hands of the incumbent government.
Higher Education Commission (HEC), the sole authority to deal with the higher education sector in Pakistan, is currently in the line of fire mainly due to its active role in the degrees verification process that put a question mark over the future of those elected representatives who had used fake/bogus degrees to reach corridors of the powers.
According to statistics, some 56 former elected members were barred from contesting in the recently held elections as their degrees were declared fake/bogus by HEC.
It is pertinent to mention here that there was a graduation condition to contest polls in 2008 due to which many contestants used fake degrees to get their nomination papers approved by the Election Commission of Pakistan.
HEC is currently facing shortage of funds and the students who are studying abroad on scholarships are said to have been pushed into troubled waters as they are not getting required funds to continue their studies.
Nadeem Ahmad, who is studying in the United Kingdom on the scholarship provided by HEC, said his institution has served him with a notice for submission of fee, otherwise he would not be allowed to continue his studies.
“I have contacted time and again to the official of HEC and every time I was asked that the government is not providing the required funds as pledged in the annual fiscal budget. Now I am uncertain about future of my studies because if I fail to submit dues then I would have to leave this institution,” he said.
Besides this, the education sector is also facing numerous other challenges such as gender inequality in the society.
We see clear educational inequalities on gender basis, told Dr. Farzana Bari, an educationist and social activist, adding, this can be understood from the South Asian experience where women are not supposed to go to schools. Their role is confined to home keeping. For a long time it is considered appropriate that women should not go beyond primary education.”
Master Ayub, said one of the main features of the makeshift community school is that the students comprise some 30 percent of the female students who are actively pursuing their educational career.
Arusha, a 6-year old student of the makeshift school said, “My parents never allowed me to go school but when my neighbors started attending classes in this school then I pushed my parents who finally agreed to give permission for my studies.”
But surprisingly there is also a higher learning institution that depicts a situation that is quite different from overall education scenario in the country.
Established in Islamabad’s sector H-9, National University of Modern Languages (NUML) has over 60 percent female students out of total 7,000 students.
In some of its departments the female students comprise two-thirds of total enrolment.
Rashida Iqbal, a student at Mass Communication Department in NUML, said the female students enjoy a very cordial atmosphere in the university as it has become a source of encouragement for other institutions that are now opening up their doors for female strata of the society.
“There is no female quota in the university but due to its reputation more and more females try to get admission here as it enjoys a reputation of comparatively far more female-friendly institution.
Former HEC chairman Dr. Attaur Rehman said the higher education sector in the country is fast improving with each passing day but still it needs proper financial support from the government to overcome various serious issues.
He said it is quite deplorable that former Pakistan Premier Raja Pervez Ashraf diverted funds worth Rs. 22 million, initially allocated for higher education projects, towards his home constituency to win support of the voters.
Despite all these irregularities and problems one can see number of students who put in extra ordinary efforts in the face of hardships and finally manage to achieve their targets.
But there is a need for an effective action plan to streamline the affairs right from the primary to the higher education.
A 31-year-old Waseem Khokhar, may also become source of encouragement for other students who generally face numerous problems.
For this Christian guy, who was born to parents of a poor origin in Gunna Gojra – a remote village in Tehsil Chak Jhumra of Faisalabad District in the Province of Punjab, higher education was a dream.
“I have successfully completed my MPhil in the American Studies from very reputed institution, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.
I faced many hurdles during my studies. In my College times in Lahore city, I used to work in the factory and taught in different private academies during the evening shifts and had to study in the mornings. The government did not support me when I was facing hurdlers regarding education.
For my graduation, my sister-in-law had to sell her ornaments for my educational expenses. But, I am very happy today as I will become a PhD scholar within few months – a dream comes true”, he explained.
HEC is also playing its role in running different scholarship programmes to enhance the academic qualification at various levels on merit basis in the country.
The programme has many success stories like Muhammad Tahir. Born on September 8, 1978, to parents of humble origins in a small farming family of a far-flung village, Muhammad Tahir spent his early education years in his native village of ‘Shehr Sultan’ – a remote, inaccessible village in Jatoi tehsil of Muzaffargarh District in Southern Punjab.
After matriculation, Tahir studied in Government Degree College, Alipur, entailing a daily commute of 46 kilometers. “It was very tough period of my life, when I had to cover daily commute of 46 kilometers on the roof of buses. I completed my BSc in 1999, ranking first in the College and won a scholarship for higher studies. I came to Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad and completed my MPhil degree in Physics in 2004”, he explained.
Tahir then took up a position of Lecturer at the University of Sargodha. He was awarded a scholarship by the HEC for a foreign PhD programme at Imperial College London under the supervision of Prof. Angus Mackinnon.
Tahir went on to publish seven articles in the American Physics Society Journal.
He said, “The scholarship programme of HEC is benefiting people across the country and as a result students from the lower-middle class and from far-flung areas get a chance to study in the top class universities of the world”.
This is a prime example of how, with continued support, guidance and perseverance, one can achieve the near impossible.
Noor Aftab, a senior investigative journalist from leading local daily ‘The News International’ and covering education sector for last many years stated that the HEC has to formulate a policy framework to ensure new partnerships and the involvement of all relevant stakeholders in all aspects of higher education; the evaluation process, including curriculum and pedagogical renewal, guidance and counseling services; and, in the framework of existing institutional arrangements, policy-making and institutional governance.
Given the overall situation in the country it is generally regarded that the key to improve higher education learning lies with the primary education institutions that can considerably enhance the number of students for further studies in the higher learning institutions.
This article was written by Aslam Chandio and originally published on twocircles