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Dilapidated govt school in posh part of city

KARACHI, Sept 27: Diogenes Laėrtius, a biographer of Greek philosophers, once said that "the foundation of every state is the education of its youth." The platform for education is a school and we looked at one such school situated in Zamzama to see how much the government cares about its "foundation."

The 'Government Girls and Boys Ik Ik Primary and Lower Secondary School' is dilapidated, unhygienic and has only a handful of teachers some of whom don't even come to class to teach. These are not the features of every school in the city of course, but are the features of government schools in particular.

The student body consists of around 500 children studying in the primary and lower secondary classes. The school is large with a few swings set up near the main gate and a central courtyard. However, while the land allotted may be plentiful, there hasn't been much effort in maintaining the school's buildings.

Litter is scattered behind the swings. The walls and the floors are lined with cracks. Certain areas of the school are so neglected that the faculty fears the roof may fall at any time. The classes in these areas have been vacated for fear of the students' lives. A soggy smell and a greenish-brown hue of the lower walls indicate that, since the school is at a lower level than the road outside, more than two inches of water had submerged the central courtyard.

"There was also water in our offices," said Mohammad Tayyab, the secondary section's science teacher, who is currently also trying to serve the duties of headmaster. He gestures at a rusty tin cupboard in the office. "This cupboard holds all the school's important records. The two lower shelves of the cupboard were drenched in the rain. We had to take all the papers out, dry them in the sun and then put them back in. The base of this cupboard could collapse any day now and we are going to get it reconstructed. Buying a new cupboard is beyond our budget."

The school's student body mostly comes from the nearby Neelam Colony. The majority of their parents work in low-income jobs as sweepers, gardeners and maids. "We don't charge our students any fee," informed Mr Tayyab. "However, we are doing this of our own free will and haven't gotten any letter from the government instructing us to do so. We only read in the newspaper that fees should not be charged, but, for a policy to be implemented in a government school a signed letter has to be issued by the authorities."

Textbooks are also supposed to be provided by the government. "This year, the books arrived on time, but last year they didn't. The students had to buy them themselves," disclosed Mr Tayyab. "Furthermore, the textbooks on computer science just go to waste. Presumably, the government is supposed to arrange for a few computers and an instructor along with the textbooks. We only receive the books. We have issued complaints regarding this but to no avail." In desperation, the school's staff decided to charge nominal fees from the students and set up a computer lab on their own. Their plans were thwarted by the Sindh Education Foundation, who warned them that they could be accused of acquiring money from students for their own personal use.

The school is besieged by staff problems as well. "In the lower secondary section, we only have six permanent teachers, with other teachers being temporary. There is also no headmaster," said Mr. Tayyab. "Our headmaster is supposedly sick and nobody has been sent to replace him. As a result, junior teachers like me end up in charge. We haven't been trained to run a school and we don't have much authority over the other teachers. By law, if a teacher takes more than 25 days off in a year without a valid excuse, his or her pay is decreased. At our school, teachers are absent for a number of days but since there is no headmaster, their pay is not cut. The attendance sheet goes to the Distributing Drawing Officer (DDO) who sits in Bolton and is supposed to sign salary cheques for teachers from around 200 schools. He doesn't have time to rifle through the records and ascertain how many days each teacher has been absent."

The staff of the school said that if only they were provided with a headmaster who had signing authority, the school could be run more efficiently and a check could be put on teacher attendance. "Right now, if a fan is broken, we have to go all the way to Bolton and get a cheque signed by the DDO," complained Mr. Tayyab. "The students end up sitting in the heat without a fan for four whole days."

If this wasn't enough, the school is also a victim to small-scale robberies. Currently, their night watchman is serving his duty during the daytime. The authorities have as yet failed to provide another watchman. Consequently, the building remains unguarded during the night and fans and electrical wires get stolen.

Nevertheless, the small staff of the 'Government Girls and Boys Ik Ik School' musters along. They can cope with the government's mismanagement and the unhygienic surroundings. What discourages them most is the students' disinterest in studies. "I teach English to the lower secondary section and I am sometimes appalled that even sixth grade students can't recognize the alphabet," said Mrs. Suraiya Bhatti. "Mainly, the students are disinterested because they hail from families where education is not given much importance. Their parents work all day and are too tired in the evenings to cajole their children into studying. Also, the textbooks provided are very boring. The English books, for instance, are only filled with grammar lessons and dialogues. There are no stories or poems that could interest the child into trying to learn the language." Daily Times
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