Walking through the unpaved path between the houses made up of bricks, leading to a village government school in Charsada, made me feel excited and filled with enthusiasm that I couldn’t wait to see the learners & the teachers. While walking, I recalled my field visit to a district training in Sawabi (KPK), where I was amazed to see 35 women volunteers with immense commitment, dedication & courage to overcome the societal barriers to conduct ASER Survey. One of the female volunteer told me that “initially it was difficult to convince my brother to let me go & conduct this survey but my mother supported me and encouraged me to participate in this process”. Young mothers bringing their infants to the training facility, in such a vulnerable situation in order to make sure that they attend the training, clearly indicated their passion to contribute to a bigger purpose. These reminisces made me feel that at least we have started moving in the right direction.
While we were 100 meters away from the school, we were tapped by the breeze of adorable voices. Kids were reading, singing & talking. As soon as we reached & stood up in-front of an ancient, brick walled house without windows & doors which was named as SCHOOL, we experienced pin-drop silence. Young kids, sitting on the floor outside the school started staring at us. The students’ passion for pursing education, in such conditions where school does not have toilets, drinking water & a boundary wall, overwhelmed me with emotion. The simplicity of the situation was so beautiful and how well behaved they were! As soon as the teacher started speaking again, they hushed down right away.
Apart from feeling this purity, I was really disappointed by the fact that every commodity, including latest brands of junk food, automobile models, and mobile phones with latest internet packages, can reach this area, but EDUCATION CANNOT??? Why isn’t education a priority??? Is this situation going to improve with Rs. 4000 annual fund (as informed by the head teacher) being allocated to this school?? As the situation has not improved since 1939, when the school was established. And most of all, Are these kids SAFE in this school without a boundary wall, in such a vulnerable area? In this village of Charsada, this primary school was not accessible to ALL. There was no other primary school in the nearby area so parents have to send their kids to this school. I certainly want to salute these parents, who are sending their kids to this school, this clearly indicates their understanding of “WHAT EDUCATION REALLY MEANS”. But unfortunately this school has only two teachers and learning levels are not up to the mark. Now the question is, how could the state take formative years (early school) education so non-seriously?
Leaving the facility of this school, I was drenched in discontent & grief. Then we visited another government school, which was a high school, catering to 475 students out of which only 225 were present during the field survey. The school facility was better than the primary school but still not acceptable. Although rooms are available but due to unavailability of furniture, learners were sitting on the floor. The school does not fit in to the high school model as it does not have laboratories. In contrary to this situation, after such despair, I felt uplifted when we visited a private middle school in Charsada. I was delighted to see that students were able to understand Urdu & English both, apart from Pashto. When we entered in the school facility, pre-school kids were involved in poem singing and activity based learning. As compared to the government schools, where last teachers’ training was conducted six years ago, this private school has a lot of emphasis on teachers’ training & development and it runs training program once every year.
EDUCATION IS A PRIORITY. As Right to Education Act (25-A) states, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law”. In KPK,draft bill has been presented to the assembly &that is still under review – WHAT IS THE PROGRESS?? WHY is the state not taking its constitution seriously? The situation which I have seen during the field survey clearly indicates that Right to Education remains an elusive reality in spite of a high demand for education amidst a national /provincial commitment that is hugely lacking.