Portrait of a lady: 92 year old veteran educationist Nasra Wazir Ali

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Karachi
It started with a single room school just after partition. Today the Nasra School is spread over five large campuses with 20,000 students. Yet its founder, 92 year old Nasra Wazir Ali, lives in a single bedroom apartment inside the education institute she cultivated with such joy and perseverance.
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Dressed in a printed shalwar kameez, she sits in an L-shaped room which serves as a dining room for her meals and a drawing room to greet visitors. The walls are filled with frames; there is one where she is accepting an award from former president Asif Zardari, another showcases the Sitar-e-Imtiaz she received for her services. One corner of the room is full of pictures of her family, her husband, daughter and son, and her numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. The only window of the room opens to the vast grounds of the school building. When she is bored, she likes to look down and watch the children playing, squealing, running, laughing.“My husband was a civil servant. In 1947, when Pakistan happened we were shifted to a government accommodation situated at Karachi’s Bandar Road,” said Nasra, as she begins the story which led to the school that eventually became the mission to her life.“I felt the need for a school which would educate middle class parents, many of who were government servants who lived in the locality. I emptied out a room in my house, added chairs, tables and a blackboard and began teaching whoever would attend class.”
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Her first student became her own daughter, Shahnaz Wazir Ali who grew up to become a prominent bureaucrat. The school became such a success that one by one the family had to empty out all the rooms of their house and convert it into class-rooms. Nasra, her husband and Shahnaz had to move out into the garage.
But as students increased the government began to have a problem. “They said this was a government property meant for residence and could not be used for a school.”So the search for a new place to relocate the school began. They initially found a few rooms near Empress Market where the school was re-located. “I never waited for anything big to come by. I tried to give my best with whatever resources I had.”Things changed when her husband bought a huge piece of land at Garden East, which was to serve as their private residence. But Nasra converted it into the first purpose built building the school owned, leaving out a small apartment for her private residence, where she lives to this day.
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Interestingly her husband supported her decision. “He was always very supportive of my work. Caring, responsible and sensitive.”
They had never met before they got married. “I saw him for the first time on the day of my marriage. We eventually fell in love.”As strength of students in the school multiplied her brother, a lawyer by profession, registered the school under an act. A board of governors was formed. “The school is owned by a trust. It is not an individual property anymore.”With tuition fee from students, enough was saved to expand the institute to four more campuses across the city; in Malir, Super Highway, North Karachi and Korangi. Fee in the school was always nominal. To this day it ranges between Rs800 to Rs1700 depending on which campus a child gets admission at. It has all the facilities a modern school needs; vast grounds, sports activities, computer labs, libraries and qualified teachers. Students regularly bag top positions in the Board of Secondary Education and Aga Khan University Examination Board.
Perhaps, its expansion while maintaining affordable fee structure is a slap on the face for newly established elite private schools, where schools are run like commercial enterprises, where each student is a client who brings enormous profit, digging holes in pockets of salaried professionals who have accepted the fact quality education comes at a hefty price.

Nasra, cannot hear anymore. She suffered a stroke last year. Her memory sometimes fails her. But her spirits are still high. She spends her time teaching English to her two maids. When she is not doing that she reads poetry. Inspiring poets like Khalil Gibran.

“Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you
You may give them your love but not your thoughts
For they have their own thoughts
You may house their bodies but not their souls
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday,” she reads out from a collection of poems, and quotations she keeps stacked in a plastic folder at her table.

When her teachers come to visit her she tells them she is getting old and tired. “But they tell me they love me, they need me, the school needs me. That and only that, is what keeps me going. Every day.”

The liberal PPP keeps its largely rural vote bank uneducated

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Karachi

Since its creation in the 70s, the Pakistan People’s Party has claimed being a liberal political force in the country. It hates the Taliban because they bomb schools and oppose critical thinking, and education, they claim, is the only road to development.

In their election manifesto for this term, the PPP promises to achieve universal primary education. For a party which has been in power for decades, educating its largely rural vote bank should have been a priority.

But a recent report on the state of education of the country reveals that Sindh lags far behind other provinces. Even the terrorism-hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is doing better.

The News quotes data from the Annual State of Education Report to present to its readers the abysmal learning levels of districts from which prominent leaders of the party hail from.

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Larkana

This is the land of the great Bhuttos. Here, inside a white-domed mausoleum, lie the PPP martyrs, the Oxford-educated Benazir Bhutto and her charming father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The district also happens to be the hometown of Senior Education & Literacy Minister Nisar Khuhro.

Here 15.8 percent children remain out of school. Among the children who do attend school, girls continue to lag behind.

Of the total students at government schools, only 31 percent are girls. In the private sector, representation of girl students is a mere 29 percent.

Learning levels in Urdu and Sindhi are such that 20 percent children in grade-five cannot read a single word in their mother tongue.

When it comes to English language skills, only 20 percent children in grade-five can read a sentence. Arithmetic skills are such that 44.5 percent children in grade-five cannot solve a two-digit subtraction sum.

This state of illiteracy is not just prevalent in the present generation. The past generation was affected by it as well: only 21 percent mothers and 48 percent fathers have completed their primary education.

Khairpur

This is the land of the great Bhuttos. Here, inside a The three-time Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah still has his ancestral house here. In Khairpur 21.1 percent children are out of school.

Among the children who attend school, girls continue to lag behind. At government schools their representation is only 35 percent and at private schools the number is even lower at 27 percent.

Learning levels in Urdu and Sindhi are such that 37 percent cannot read a sentence in their mother tongue.

When it comes to reading a sentence in English, only 42.5 percent children in grade-five are able to do so.

Arithmetic skills are so weak that 41.4 percent students in grade-five cannot solve a two-digit subtraction sum.

Only 20 percent mothers and 45 percent fathers in the district have completed their primary school education.

Dadu

This is the hometown of former education minister Pir Mazhar-ul-Haq. Here 31.3 percent children are out of school, most of them girls.

Among the children who are getting some sort of schooling there is again a wide gender disparity. Against every 13 boys at a government school, there are seven girls.

Learning levels of Urdu and Sindhi are so low that 19.3 percent children in grade-five cannot read anything in their mother tongue.

English language skills are also poor: only 27 percent children in grade-five can read a sentence. When it comes to arithmetic skills, 40 percent students in grade-five cannot solve a two-digit subtraction sum.

Only 22 percent mothers and 59 percent fathers have completed their primary education.

Through the efforts of the PPP, last year Sindh became the first province to turn Article 25A into legislation. It declares that free and compulsory education for children aged five to 16 is a right everyone is born with. But for now, it will take more than a legislation to send the children of Sindh back to school.

originally published here

illustration courtesy Faraz Maqbool