A signboard outside a school located in a slum area of the metropolis reads, “Integrated Education Learning Programme (IELP) – all expenses will be borne by the Sindh Education Foundation (SEF)”. Inside, students sit engrossed in their battered books. Until a year back, these 5- to 12-year-olds were carpet weavers. With time, they learnt to bathe, comb and love books. But the effort is about to be wasted.
More than 1,300 schools being run by the SEF, providing education to 150,000 students in Sindh and employing 3,500 teachers, is at risk of closure as the provincial education department is delaying the promised funds it assured to these schools under the IELP project.
The project began in 2009 with the help of foreign donors, giving 16-month contracts to private parties interested in opening and managing schools in slum areas — at a profit. The private entrepreneurs were ensured that all financial expenses would be borne by the SEF.
However, in the beginning of the current month, all entrepreneurs received an invitation to a closing ceremony for the programme with a notification that subsidies till September would be paid and the project officially ended.
The ceremony will take place at the Marriot Hotel on June 28. No funds were allocated to the project in the provincial budget for the year 2012-13.
What the entrepreneurs fear
“We have taken the school buildings on a lease of at least five to ten years from the owners; and also spent money on blackboards and benches. Rooms with the right length and breadth were constructed as per the requirement of the SEF, washrooms were built and clean water was made available. What will happen to all that effort?” said one concerned entrepreneur.
For another, the worst setback was the education awareness programme she had conducted in her community. “I went to each house, sat with families, motivated them to register for the schools because they were free of charge. Now when they finally realise the importance of education, I might have to close it down. They will think that I was a liar and a cheat,” she feared.
Another entrepreneur recalled that when these children first started attending the school, the classroom stunk with the stench they carried with them. “They were beggars and cleaning up did not suit their profession as no one pays a clean-looking child. They did not even have the sense to wear clothes of their own size. Clothes for them were just a mean to cover their bodies. I taught them personal hygiene and how to dress up.”
Although most appreciate the SEF as a transparent organisation where corruption is absent, they believe that “the few good programmes running by the government in the country should not come to a halt”.
The entrepreneurs feel that they will be left with only two options; either shut down the existing schools or charge fees. Both will have the same results – discord with communities, adverse impact on the lives of thousands of students and embarrassment for the several entrepreneurs who promised the communities free education for an unlimited period of time.
What the SEF says
Aziz Kabani, SEF programme director, denied that that IELP was on the verge of closure. “We have been assured by the education secretary that the schools will not be closed.”
The project will end on June 30. “An evaluation report will then be sent to the education department in July. PC-I will be granted to the project and funds released.”
Kabani also said 60 percent of the schools were in areas, where no other education facility was available.