Better than before education facilities in Pakistan Administered Kashmir attract parents and children alike
By A. Sami Malik
Bagh, Azad Jammu and Kashmir, May 2010: Looking down from the hill top, the newly constructed building of the Government Girls Primary School (GGPS), Thaterkot shines like a jewel in a picturesque background. It stands out amongst other structures in the area including the nearby two-room dilapidated building of the same school used prior to the 2005 earthquake.
The recently completed new school building with all necessary amenities has become an attraction for parents and children alike. People living in the vicinity are keen to send their children to the new school. Though primarily meant for girls, the school also has some boys enrolled as the community prefers sending their children to the Thaterkot School compared to any other public or private school in the area.
“This is not only just a new building. We have started educational activities here with a new vigour....says the Head Teachr, Shamim Akhtar,
GGPS Thaterkot building has been constructed by UNICEF with generous contribution from the Australian Aid for International Development (AusAid) at a cost of Pak Rupees 9.2 million (US$ 110,000 approx.). The school building has three spacious and well equipped class rooms, six toilets, lawn for outdoor activities and can accommodate up to 120 students. It has a current enrolment of 84 which is expected to go up as admissions for the new academic begin.
“This is not only just a new building. We have started educational activities here with a new vigour. The community is so happy to have the new school building that the School Management Committee (SMC), which comprises of two teachers and five parents, meets every month while the frequently held Parent Teacher Meetings (PTM) have already generated a demand to raise the level of this school to middle standard”, says Shamim Akhtar, the head teacher. “Our classrooms are spacious and we have six toilets in the school with running water and sanitation facilities”, she adds.
Exuberance amongst the students in the school is evident from their renewed interest in education and regular attendance. “I was in KG class when the earthquake came. We were sitting in the old school building. Everything started to shake and we ran out in the open. For a long time we did not come to school. We were afraid of sitting in the old building. Then, the new school was built. It is very nice and we like to come here every morning. I like my school so much that I want to become a teacher here”, says 9-year-old Hira Ashfaq, a grade 4 student at the school.
“I was in KG class when the earthquake came. We were sitting in the old school building. Everything started to shake and we ran out in the open. For a long time we did not come to school. We were afraid of sitting in the old building. Then, the new school was built. It is very nice and we like to come here every morning. Says 9-year-old Hira Ashfaq, a grade 4 student at the school. “This is a girls school but I come here because it is the best in our area”, says Adnan Waheed, who has been recently promoted to grade 5. “My little sister, Alishma, also comes with me. She is four years old and is enrolled here in KG. When her class is over, she comes and sits with me in my class. My older brother and sister go to the high school in Dhirkot but they always praise my school building it is better than theirs”.
The building of GGPS Thaterkot is designed to preserve rain water. UNICEF Construction Officer, Shiraz says, “It rains a lot in this area and all the water from the slopping roofs of the school is collected through a network of pipes into a fibreglass tank. This water is used in the toilets and to water the grass in the front lawn. With support from our donors, we plan to make this system more effective as finding underground water in this hilly area is quite difficult”.
Known as the ‘Children’s Catastrophe’, the 2005 earthquake in the Pakistan-Administered Kashmir and the Northwest Frontier Province killed an estimated 18,000 students in their classrooms while nearly 2,000 schools were destroyed. UNICEF started its relief and rehabilitation operation soon after the tragedy to revive educational activities for children in the affected areas. With support from the donors such as AusAid, Government counterparts and implementing partners, UNICEF has completed construction of 425 schools, 144 permanent structures and 281 transitional shelters. More than 428,000 children have been re-enrolled including over 186,000 girls. Among these are 36,000 new enrolments - children who were not going to school prior to the earthquake.
For UNICEF, it is not just about constructing good school buildings but also ensuring that these schools are child friendly and include democratic participation, child focus and inclusiveness
In order to do this, UNICEF plans to conduct a survey in all the newly constructed schools and the transitional shelters to assess the gaps in provision of services. This survey will include data collection of the current enrollment, community perception on the need for basic education, formulation of school development plans, availability of teachers and absenteeism and basic health services accessible to these schools.