At least 25,000 children have been deprived of their right to education in Kati Pahari and its adjoining areas as 30 government schools have been closed and some 400 teachers have stopped coming to work after the area was hit by a wave of targeted killing and violence in July 2011.
The closure of schools has only exacerbated the already appalling educational standards in the area. The education rate in Kati Pahari is a paltry 17 percent, drug use among youngsters is rampant and the poverty so excruciating that half of all households eat the same stale bread for dinner as they do for breakfast, according to an Education Sector Reform Assistant Programme (ESRAP) report by the USAID.
The road which cuts between the two hills of Kati Pahari is filled with signs of the area’s troubled past. On one side lies a drug den where teenagers flock to buy heroine or charas. The wall of a nearby school is punctured with bullets; three other schools lie in ruins, with one of them being used as a garbage dump.
The lack of schools is felt most in the areas that surround Kati Pahari, such as De Silva Town, Qasba Colony, Bhutto Colony, UC-13 Orangi Town and Manghopir Road Colony.
The education department was taken by surprise when contacted about the shutdown issue. Unfortunately, Secretary Education Siddiq Memom could not comment on the issue because of a health condition.
Niaz Leghari, Director Schools, after asking for a day to give his comments on the issue, informed The News that “the schools were closed due to prolonged violence in the area; the teachers were being harassed, and the students felt insecure”.
Though the education department could not come up with a list of affected schools, Leghari maintained that notifications to inquire into the matter had been sent after he had been informed by The News about the issue.
However, there is a glimmer of hope for the people of Kati Pahari. This hope comes in the form of a 23-room co-educational school run by the Bright Education Society. The school imparts education to some 700 students from all backgrounds in an area torn by ethnic violence. The Muslims, Christians, Punjabis, Pakhtuns and Urdu-speaking eat together in the school’s dining hall during the lunch, and once a month they gather to watch a movie.
Headmaster Abdul Waheed Khan says that the school follows the principles laid down by Socrates for his own schools. “No one is allowed to fight and everybody has to wait for his turn,” he says.
Khan was born in the locality. Though his fair sun-burnt skin and accented Urdu gives him the air of a Pakhtun, he says that he is actually a “mixed-breed”. “My mother was Urdu-speaking and my father was a Pathan,” he says proudly.
When the school first came into existence back in 1997, it was nothing more than a collection of straw huts. Now, 14 years later, the school features a spacious building, boasts a 90 percent A1 result in the last matriculation exam, and has teachers trained by the Aga Khan University-Institute of Education.
Khan recalls how the students were affected by the wave of violence last year. “They would come with toy guns in their bags, and play “kill the other ethnicity. The teachers had a tough time getting them to mend these habits.”
However, the school has not been completely spared by the violence in which it finds itself. “From August 1, our funds will be exhausted,” he shares. Khan does not take foreign funds, as he is scared that the community may brand him as an American agent. Instead, he relies on philanthropists and businessmen from the locality. But the violence has had its toll on the finances of philanthropists and businessmen too.
But this school is unable to cater to the needs of all the students in the area. Given the dearth of local education facilities, youngsters have drifted to drug abuse and political vandalism in the area. The few private schools that are still functioning have seen a marked drop in attendance.
“Students who once went to school now roam around on the streets, waiting for a law and order situation to erupt, for this is when they can pick pockets and indulge in petty crimes,” says Sajid Hussain, a private schoolteacher from the area.
He maintains that during strikes, political parties use these children for arson, stone pelting and blocking roads. “They say criminals are born here: how can they not be? What has the government and society done to provide them with a good life? They will react by burning the factories of the rich.” Over 7,000 of Sindh’s schools are closed; however, the education minister recently claimed to have made about 3,000 closed schools functional.