NationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 02

Nature again plays havoc on schools, but no remedy in sight

Educational institutions’ destruction by natural calamities is not new in Pakistan. A report released by UNICEF in the first week of November 2022 said that schools for more than two million children in Pakistan remain completely inaccessible after the most severe flooding in the country’s history destroyed or damaged nearly 27,000 schools.

UNICEF Global Director of Education Robert Jenkins visited flood-affected areas of Pakistan during the last few weeks and presented his report. “Almost overnight, millions of Pakistan’s children lost family members, homes, safety, and their education, under the most traumatic circumstances,” he said in his report. “Now, faced with the uncertainty of when they’ll be able to return to school, and having already endured some of the world’s longest school closures due to the pandemic, they are experiencing yet another threat to their future,” regretted Robert Jenkins.

The UNICEF report said more than two months since the devastating floods engulfed large areas of Pakistan, the tops of school buildings are only just becoming visible in some of the flood-hit areas. It is estimated that it would be weeks, even months before the flood waters completely subside.

Earlier, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across Pakistan were fully or partially closed for 64 weeks between March 2020 and March 2022 – some of the world’s longest school closures. Less than six months on, the destruction caused by the extreme floods means schoolchildren are once again locked out of learning. Excessive damage to infrastructure including electricity and internet connectivity has left remote learning largely inaccessible.

Also, 17 years ago, on 8th of October, a massive earthquake rocked various parts of Pakistan including Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. More than 18,000 children died and thousands more were injured when over 58,000 schools were destroyed. A report, telecast by a private TV channel last month, revealed that a large number of schools destroyed in the earthquake and later in huge floods in 2010 had not been reconstructed yet.

The official data showed that a total of 3,669 schools and colleges were extensively damaged in the 2005 quake in KP. The second natural calamity that struck educational institutions across the country including KP was floods, caused by rains in 2010. According to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), about 10,000 schools and colleges were damaged or destroyed in the mega floods that year. Since then, another 10,000 schools were damaged in floods in 2016, the authority said. However, the most worrying aspect for all concerned has been an indifferent attitude on part of government authorities. Most destroyed schools, either by the earthquake or by floods in 2010 and 2016, remained unconstructed for long.

A news channel team visited dozens of destroyed schools in different districts of the KP province, showing that either no work for rebuilding the schools was ever launched or it was left incomplete in various cases. A female education officer in Abbottabad told the channel team that around 100 girl schools were still at the preliminary stage with no construction work in sight in the near future. Another school visited by the team was Government Girls Middle School, Dhamtor, Abbottabad, that was damaged in the earthquake in 2005, and now that had become a dumping ground for solid waste.

A teacher at another school told the team that prior to the earthquake, the strength of the school was 300 students, but it was reduced to 150 due to non-construction of the building. He said the number could further drop if the school was not reconstructed. An education department official said that 900 government schools had been damaged only in Hazara division in the October 2005 earthquake. Instead of repairing the buildings, they were demolished completely to auction the debris, he claimed. He said that the schools were not included in the 2,909 fully damaged schools. Of them, around 150 were reconstructed by different NGOs while the provincial government had taken responsibility for the reconstruction of 750 schools.

From 2005 till date, three different governments, led by major political parties of the country, have ruled the KP province. But it is an irony that these ruling alliances failed to pay attention to education, one of the most neglected sectors. Now the same fate is looming over 27,000 schools destroyed by floods in Balochistan, Sindh and parts of Punjab. If hundreds of school buildings destroyed in the 2005 earthquake and 2010 and 2016 floods could not be constructed so far, what would happen to these 27,000 schools destroyed by massive floods this year, appears to be a million dollar questions.