ISLAMABAD - More than 5,000 members of the civil society, local community, politicians and teachers gathered on Monday at the Army Garrison School in Pattan, Kohistan to demand improvement in the condition of schools and quality of education in the district. Organised by Alif Ailaan, the meeting was one of the biggest ever convened in Kohistan and spurred new enthusiasm amongst the participants to campaign for every child’s right to an education.

The event commenced with 23rd March celebrations followed by an in-depth discussion about the education issues plaguing the district. Shortage of teachers in government schools and teachers absenteeism were cited as major hurdles in children’s education. It was pointed out that in 35 per cent of all government primary schools only one teacher per school has been appointed. While, according to the Kohistan Education Department, there are currently only 4 functional headmasters out of a total 17 positions for males and seven for females.

Community leaders expressed frustration over poor state of school infrastructure. According to the Kohistan Education Department, 481 schools have been left non-functional and unsafe in the aftermath of the floods and earthquake and have not been rebuilt since.

According to a survey conducted by the Supreme Court in 2013, there are 878 non-functional schools out of a total of 1,039 government schools in Kohistan. Additionally, lack of basic facilities is also major issue. Of the total government schools in the districts 49 per cent are without drinking water, 73 per cent are without toilets, 94 per cent do not have electricity while 71 per cent do not have a boundary wall making.

“Lack of facilities is a major hurdle in ensuring an education for all children,” said Imran Khan, Civil Society Campaign Manager. “Parents will be reluctant in sending their children to a school where the building is unsafe, there is no water to drink or a boundary wall to ensure security. The lack of boundary wall is especially a major issue for parents of young girls who find it unsafe for their daughters to sit in an open environment,” he said.

Of 231,570 children between ages of 5 and 16, 150,752 are out of school, meaning 65 per cent of all school-going aged children in the district do not go to school. Of this 86 per cent are girls. This represents a grim situation for a district which according to Alif Ailaan’s 2014 Education District Rankings already comes last in the list of 25 districts of KP.

Severe lack of school monitoring by government officials was also highlighted at the event. Contrary to the usual practice of pinning all responsibility on the government, participants accepted that they were also stakeholders in improving the quality of education. It was agreed that the responsibility also falls on parents, teachers and School Management Committees. Parents vowed to take an active interest in their children’s education and to be in touch with their child’s teacher to discuss progress on a regular basis.

To promote a healthy competition and encourage teachers to perform better, the participants lauded the efforts of those teachers who had worked relentlessly to ensure good results for their students.

Prizes and shields were distributed by the chief guest Abdul Sattar Khan (MPA) to appreciate teachers for their exceptional performance throughout the year. “I promise that I will take immediate notice and action to address the issue of damaged school buildings,” said MPA Abdul Sattar Khan. “It is essential that students have a proper environment to study and the government must take urgent action to make this a reality,” he said.