The border district of Sialkot is one of the most prosperous in Punjab, enjoying a global reputation for its sports, equestrian, surgical and leather exports. The district's economic miracle appears even more amazing when seen in the backdrop of its natural endowments — there are none except paddy fields.
The educational situation of the district does not paint an equally rosy picture; the district with over a billion dollars in annual exports has a large number of out-of-school children. Economic gains come with a hefty cost to Right to education. While rhetoric on free and affordable education gets louder, the poor parents lured by short term gains to supplement family income, continue to put children to work.
With a population of one million and the primary school age children estimated to be 120,000, of these 16% are out of school, 10% never enrolled and 25% dropout at the primary level. Overall in the district there are 88 schools which do not have drinking water facility, whereas there is absence of electricity in 361 schools. There is no boundary wall in 198 schools and in 161 schools in the district lack toilet facility.
The district of Sialkot has come under international pressure for its child labour practices. The football manufacturing industry has been under scrutiny from authorities for employing children as labour. Similarly, the leather and surgical goods industries employ children as cheap labour. The government and NGOs agree that the best way to keep children out of factories is to build child friendly schools to provide an attractive environment for learning. The innovations, first of its kind to be put to practice in the construction of new classrooms are part of the effort to build better schools. Work is ongoing across the Sialkot District for the construction of 196 new classrooms, 33 new bathrooms, and a host of missing facilities like drinking water, electricity, libraries and boundary walls. This will directly improve the educational environment of almost 8000 children.
Enrolling children into school is one thing but keeping them in school is quite a separate matter. On the face of it, the issue seems to be an economic one – parents would rather put their children to work to contribute financially to the family than send them to school. A closer examination of dropouts and non-enrolments in Sialkot district, however, has shown that overcrowded, derelict and often dangerous public school infrastructure is heavily contributing to parents pulling their children from schools and putting them to work. School EnrollmentThere is also a heavy reliance on expensive private schools by financially well-off and religious seminaries by the poor, marginalised and disadvantaged. There is a dire need to build schools and equip them all the basic facilities to turn free and affordable schooling into a reality.
Humqadam-SCRP has taken on the challenge of improving Punjab's education infrastructure in earnest. At the core of our efforts is the belief that a safe and nurturing educational environment can be the catalyst for any educational reform. This belief is reflected in our designs – Humqadam-SCRP's engineers are using innovative construction techniques to ensure long-lasting child friendly schools.
As part of the efforts to foster active community engagement, Humqadam-SCRP has formed 104 Community Committees for School Infrastructure (CCSIs).