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Pakistan's Ghost Schools, Rusting Symbols Of A Nation's Lost Potential

Beyond the Taliban's attack against Malala, there is also widespread corruption and poor state monitoring that leads to many Pakistani schools being simply abandoned buildings.

Waiting for teachers to arrive in Pakistan's ghost schools
Waiting for teachers to arrive in Pakistan's ghost schools
Naeem Sahoutara and Shadi Khan Saif

KARACHI — It’s 8 in the morning on a normal day at a local school in the Ghagar region on the outkirts of Karachi, Pakistan. But, there are no students here — and no teachers.
The classrooms are damaged, and there are no colorful drawings inside.

Village resident Muhammad Azeem Marri, 40, lives just next to the school, but his three school-age children are missing out on an education. “The school building has been there for the last 14 years,” he says. “But the teachers never come. There are no classes. The teachers are being paid, but the students are not getting taught.”

According to official figures released last year, there are about 25,000 so-called "ghost teachers" in Pakistan. And the majority of them are in Sindh province.

Half a kilometer away, there's another government school. It’s dirty, with broken chairs and no benches for the children.

In fact, it is just one of 35 non-operating schools in this locality alone, which is home to 60,000 people.

Iqbal Gabol also lives close to the school, and his three children would begin going to school in the coming years were it open. “Not a single teacher has been appointed here since the school was built in 2005,” he says. “There’s no electricity. The building is of no use. We’ve requested many times to the chief minister, the education minister, even the president to make it functional, but nothing has happened.”

There are hundreds of thousands of government-established schools all over the country that are not functioning, either because of widespread corruption or the lack of an effective monitoring system.

Little 8-year-old Maria Ali from this village had to stop her studies in grade three. “I want to become a teacher so I can teach others,” she says. “But I can’t go to school because we don’t have one here. The teachers at the school where I used to go got fired, and no new teachers were appointed.”

Earlier this year the Pakistan Supreme Court ordered a countrywide inspection of the government-run schools to find out how many are running.

Here in the southern Sindh Province, the inspection found that about 20 percent of the government schools for both girls and boys are either non-functional or do not exist at all.

Making do with little

On a scorching hot morning at the only girls school in Ghagar, the students are studying outside. “We only have four classrooms for the 450 students,” says school headmistress Mithal Sayal. “There are up to 100 students in one room. There is only one toilet, and both water tanks are out of order. The student and teachers bring water from their homes.”

Last year Pakistan and UNICEF established a global fund to educate all girls by 2015. Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain donated $10 million to support the global initiative in the name of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban for campainging for girls’ education and was subsequently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“So let’s wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism,” she said during a speech at the United Nations. “Let’s pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”

In 2010, the Pakistani government made a constitutional amendment, declaring free and compulsory primary education as the fundamental right of every child. Legislators in the southern Sindh Province recently adopted a bill to make this a reality. But education activists say nothing has changed.

“The politicians themselves have ruined the education sector,” says Lal Khan Panhwar, a member of the Sindh Graduates Association. “There is no difference in the mindsets of the Taliban terrorists and our politicians. Both think the same way: They’re against education.”

Nisar Khuhro, minister of education in Sindh province, defends his government record. “There were the teachers, who got themselves transferred to other places,” he says. “But we’ve taken care of that. There will be fewer numbers of non-functional schools when the teachers return. There is no other political reason.”

But for now people are coming up with their own solutions. Nabi Dad Nabol, for example, has established a madressah outside a government ghost school. There are currently about 10 boys studying here but no girls.

“They are not getting a modern education,” he says, “so I thought at least we can teach them religion. But we can’t teach them everything here, and the students will be behind.”

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