Years of neglect of the school buildings turned a sizeable number into “dangerous structures” declared unsafe for class work. This set in motion a process of holding classes in the open exposing children to harsh vagaries of weather. Kasur district is one of the 16 districts where Humqadam is reconstructing new class rooms as part of its programme for improving educational environment.
One of the dangerous buildings that has been demolished and in its place a brand new building with latest construction innovations is rapidly coming up is Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Raja Jhang in District Kasur. Spread over sprawling premises of over 5 acres of donated land, the schools with over 2100 students has only 3 small blocks to hold classes from grade one to Twelve. One of the worst dilapidated blocks is being replaced by safe, secure and child friendly class rooms with quality construction.
It has taken a long wait to materialise meaning over a thousand students, ranging from 5-year-olds to high school students are attending to this day attend classes on the unkempt grounds of the schools. Not only learning in such open environment is hugely disruptive due to noise but it is also a health hazard for the students. The rising student absenteeism may have something to do with it. Some of the enthusiastic teachers who are not willing to dampen their spirit by the hard conditions play it by the ear and come up with some creative answer to the problem of lack of space.
Mussarat Yasin is one of the teachers giving practical lesson on the importance of keeping the process of teaching on, no matter how harsh the circumstances are. She has been teaching Chemistry at the school for almost 10 years now. To cope with the challenges of limited space, she resorts to some creative methods.
"Sometimes we have to hold classes in the lab, in the veranda or the store room to avoid rain and extreme cold. Teachers then take turns holding their classes in these spaces," she said. "Mostly we hold multiple classes simultaneously on the grass in the front lawn. Sometimes it can get so noisy that we take turns in teaching – one teacher speaks to her class for 10 minutes, while the other classes wait for their turn."
Nadia Khurshid has been a student of the school since Kindergarten. Now she is preparing for her 12-grade board exams, after which she will graduate. “It can be so difficult attending classes outside. The different classes aren’t separated by a wall so the noise makes it hard to concentrate. One class could be giving a test while another is being chastised for not doing its homework,” she said.
The old dilapidated academic block was first constructed in the early 80s, when the school was upgraded to the status of higher secondary school. Built on a filled-in pond, the old academic block has visible cracks on the wall despite numerous efforts at repair by the school administration. This has led the School Education Department to declare the building dangerous and forbid the school staff from using it to hold classes. Despite this, faced with extreme weather, teachers are still forced to use these rooms from time to time.
“When it rains, the roof starts to leak and we get soaked. The last time there was an earthquake, we were terrified that the roof would collapse and were afraid of coming to school for a week after,” said shy 12-year-old Alveena Arshad, sitting on a plastic matting in the spring sun.
“One day a section of the roof we had repaired multiple times collapsed. Thankfully, it was on a Sunday and no one got hurt,” said Mussarat Yasin.
“When we go to other schools, we see that they have proper classrooms with furniture. We can only dream of these things in our school,” said 11th-grader Irum Afzal, who has been a student of the school since she was five.
The school in Raja Jhang is one of 32 dangerous schools across Punjab where Humqadam-SCRP is constructing new academic blocks and providing missing facilities. Behind the old building, a towering new structure containing 17 classrooms and 17 toilets is under construction. Specially-designed in coordination with the school council and Community Committee on School Infrastructure, the new structure contains a wide array of construction innovations that will help battle the traditionally extreme heat and cold of Kasur.
Mohammad Akram, a retired school teacher and a CCSI member, has been overseeing construction. Strolling through the new hallways, one cannot miss the spring in his steps that the long neglected schools in Rajha Jhang will soon have a new building comparable to the best structure that a school can have.
“My own daughter went to school here, so I know how hard it is for a parent to send their children to a school where they study in the sun or the rain. But the people of Rajha Jhang are committed to educating their daughters. I have no doubt that these new classrooms will bring more girls to this school”
The positive attitude is catching up. Principal of Government High School, Khudian Khaas – the other dangerous school in District Kasur where Humqadam is constructing new classrooms remarked “ you give us good building and we will take good care of it and impart quality education and we will not have to turn away any child due to lack of space”.
“The saying that for education you just need a book and a teacher has no place in the modern world. You can imagine what effect the lack of a proper educational environment can have on the morale and motivation of the students and teachers. Without improving the school infrastructure, we cannot hope for increase in enrolment and curb drop-outs.”, said an old community member.
The construction at the both dangerous school sites in Kasur is entering into its final stages and it is expected that the new classrooms will be handed over to the school administration in June 2016.
When asked about the prospect of returning from the summer vacations to new classrooms, timid Alveena’s eyes lit up and she spoke excitedly, “We look at the construction with excitement every day. When you have a new roof, you have fans, well painted walls, brand new windows, you will enjoy coming to school. I can’t wait to sit in a classroom with fans.” Upon return from summer break, she remarked.