11-year-old Zaryab Khan, studying in a tent in the Matta area of Swat, misses his old school and friends. There are many boys with him in the tent but he doesn’t like this school. Zaryab says that this school doesn’t even have a name, my school had such a lovely name, my hands, feet and hair are all dirty with dust and dirt.
“Winds also keep blowing, it is very difficult for me to study here, but until my school is built,” he says, adding that “I will continue my studies here because I am the only son of my parents and they have a lot of expectations from me, only I can change the conditions of my home”.
Zaryab misses his old school and house that were washed away by floods, despite the difficult conditions, his parents protected him from the heat and cold, but the conditions forced him to live under the open sky.
“My dream is to grow up to become a lawyer and fight for people’s rights”, Zaryab concluded with moist eyes.
Massive floods have completely or partially destroyed more than 50,000 educational institutions in the country. 1,180 schools have been damaged in Punjab, more than 15 thousand (i.e. 69%) schools have been damaged in the areas of Sindh, 1677 schools in Balochistan and 1,024 schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while 5,500 school buildings are being used as temporary shelters for the flood victims.
The damage and the cost of reconstruction is immense: a comprehensive survey is being conducted to identify the exact number of destroyed schools, and the number of students studying in these makeshift institutions.
Most of the schools are in need of urgent reconstruction. Damaged schools need to be rebuilt on new sites to minimise future damage. The Department of Education is also assessing the cost of reconstruction, and the government is also trying to use other government buildings as temporary schools.
6-year-old Gulale is studying in a tent set up at a school in Kandiya, Kohistan region, where she sits on the ground with her new friends and writes something. Displacement and compulsions have brought all these girls together.
Gulale has never studied in any school before and thinks that perhaps tent schools are actual schools, and she likes her tent school very much.
It was further stated that Global Education for All (GEA), in partnership with UNICEF, has pledged $2.3 million for the reconstruction of damaged educational institutions in the province. The bank has also offered financial assistance to repair schools.
This number of educational institutions affected by the flood is only government schools, while a large number of private, community and seminary schools have also been affected and it is estimated that a total of 50,000 schools are affected across the country! It should also be noted that many flood-affected areas are still inaccessible, including parts of Swat, Chitral and Kohistan districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
In the tent set up in the Boisar area of Dera Ismail Khan, Ayesha is busy studying with her dream of becoming a doctor. “Exams are coming up and I have nowhere else to study,” 18-year-old Ayesha said. She added that “whenever the clouds come, I pray to God that it does not rain so that our house and school can be completed as soon as possible”.
According to a survey of the departmental flood response plan of the government, a total of 1,746 educational institutions have been destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and for their reconstruction, funds of more than seven billion rupees will be required.
“I am the eldest among my six siblings, i have topped every class since my childhood and my parents and younger siblings have high expectations from me, I want to pass my 10th standard exam with good marks and get admission in college but I don’t see my dream coming true”.
16 years old Kushmala Gul, a resident of the village of Sherakot in Kohistan district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa said.
Speaking in Pashto, Kushmala says that she has to take the board exam soon, but she has not been able to study for the past six to seven months. She wants immediate arrangements to reconstruct and reopen her school so that she can resume her education.
“In our area very few girls go to school, maybe one girl in 25 houses. I will be the first girl from my area to go to college after matriculation”, she added.
UNICEF’s Global Director of Education Robert Jenkins said on his return from a visit to flood-affected areas in Pakistan, “millions of children in Pakistan live in dire conditions, overnight deprived of family members, homes, personal security and education, they now face the uncertainty of whether they will be able to return to school, even though the school closures they faced due to the pandemic were one of the longest in the world, and their futures are now even more uncertain. There are dangers.”
After the closure of schools for two years due to the corona virus in the past years, the education of affected children is again at risk of being interrupted for 1-2 years, and that too in areas where one-third of girls and boys were out of schools before the current crisis.
The education system is already in trouble and examinations have been postponed many times, but this time, since the buildings of the educational institutions are no longer functional or even safe, it is feared that many academic years will be lost in the rehabilitation process.
To deal with this situation, UNICEF has set up more than 500 temporary education centres in the most affected districts of the country and started providing education to teachers and children. UNICEF is training teachers in psychosocial care and health monitoring to promote children’s mental and physical health, and ‘back-to-school’ and admissions activities in schools that have been cleaned and rehabilitated.
Robert Jenkins adds, “for children who have never been enrolled before, the schools established by UNICEF are their first experience of education. We will take all measures to ensure that the children continue their education when they return home.”
“I enjoy drawing here, reading, playing with my friends, but I also miss my old school and old friends”, said 9-year-old Abrash Fatima, who lost her home and school due to dangerous floods and is studying in a temporary UNICEF school.
Abrash hails from Mataltan in Kalam, an affected area surrounded by mountains, where the flood had so badly devastated that barely a house was left intact. All transport links were disrupted and even helicopters could barely reach there, still the UNICEF supply team with great difficulty delivered tents for the school and school bags, copies pencils, and other school supplies for the children. The teams also helped set up the tent schools.
Dr. Neelum Farhad, an independent scholar on education in Pakistan, said, “we urgently need 200,000 new schools and recruitment of 2,500,000 new teachers for our 25 crore out-of-school children, and the current 1.6 crore flood-affected children by 2025”.
It has been seven years since Pakistan signed the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Global Agreement in 2015, but unfortunately, due to the 18th constitutional amendment, the centralization of education has ended and the goals have not been achieved yet. In any case, the priorities of our political governments do not include plans to increase education and standard literacy rates. “Education should be restored at the district level and recruitment of 2 lakh new schools and 25 lakh new teachers should be ensured,” she added.
In the end, the children studying in tents in the affected areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa want authorities to take steps as soon as possible to build their schools, so that they too can study in a peaceful environment like the rest of the children in Pakistan.
It is feared that harsh living conditions and the difficulty of continuing education will affect the psyche of children in the camps, attempting to extinguish their hopes and dreams for a better life and a better future.