By Sidrah Roghay
At 11:30am students at Government Primary Sindh School in Peerano Goth were asked to come out for an assembly. It was a strange request, but they obeyed. Some stood barefoot, their tiny feet scalding in the sun.
If the teacher noticed their discomfort he ignored it, and carefully rehearsed Pakistan Zindabad with them. The teacher screamed “Pakistan”, and the students responded with “Zindabad”.
Pir Mazhar ul Haq, senior minister of education and literacy, arrived. His security protocol entered with guns inside the school and filled up the already congested place to its brim. The teacher used the opportunity to scream “Pir Mazhar”. The little students who had memorised “Zindabad” followed suit.
A man hanging from the balcony threw rose petals on the minister. The minister drew the curtain from a marble plaque. The school was officially inaugurated.
The minister checked the two classrooms on the ground floor — the very important man, had no time to visit the four rooms upstairs.
He proceeded into a room, probably the headmaster’s. A man in his team screamed, “Nobody is allowed inside.” His voters cued outside; each went in with an Ajrak for the minister, the Sindhi way of paying respect.
They had complaints. It was the first time in several years a minister had visited their area, that too a minister who belonged to the political party they have voted for generations. “We do not have any roads, there is no electricity, there is no high school in the area,” they complained.
The minister hurried towards the gate, careful to keep his face in front of the ever-probing media, and not to offend his voters too much. He sat in his big white car and fled off.
The visit lasted 20 minutes, and left a crowd of men disappointed that their lives would continue as they were.
“Do you know when we last got electricity? In Benazir’s tenure,” said a man from the community. “They say we steal electricity. Do you see any wires on these electricity poles?”
The school, which was just inaugurated, had lain in ruins for the past 11 years. A leading multi- national paid it heed, and constructed six rooms in it. The building is freshly painted, the children full of energy. Some of them are attending school for the first time in life. Like everyone, they too dream big.
“I want to study and become a pilot,” said Ali Nawaz, a first-grade student, who does not know his age.
“I will become a doctor,” said Yaseen.
But they study the old-fashioned way, mimicking alphabets after their teacher, their eyes set outside the classroom, where much hullabaloo is created by the visiting “strangers”. A day of school has been wasted, and no one cares.
If erecting buildings helped education, teacher absenteeism would have gone down, and more primary school children would have been able to read and write.
According to statistics by Zara Sochiye, the Geo/Jang Group campaign to promote education, only 25 percent of teachers in Pakistan make it to school every day, and only 41.8 percent of primary school students can read a sentence in Urdu or their own language.
Studies by Society for Protection of Child Rights for 2011 reveal that in Sindh, 10,722 schools are without a building, 24,001 without boundary walls, 24,001 without latrines, 24,559 without drinking water and 41,230 without electricity. One can only hope that a multi-national or a minister reaches them.