Parents turn to private schools as Chakwal district’s schools crumble

Cows are tied in the courtyard of an abandoned primary school in the Dhalal village. – Dawn
Cows are tied in the courtyard of an abandoned primary school in the Dhalal village. – Dawn

CHAKWAL: Thoha Humayun, a village of around 2,000 residents 17 kilometres south of Chakwal city, has over a hundred school-going children, most of whom travel to the nearby Bhoun village for school.

Some students study at a private school that opened in the village a few years ago, and others at the Government Girls Primary School, which began admitting male students after the Punjab government allowed coeducation at the primary level.

Meanwhile, the building for the village’s Government Primary School for Boys is a crumbling eyesore that was shut down a decade ago. While the Punjab government continues to construct new schools in the province, 33 schools have been abandoned in the Chakwal district, including the boys’ primary school in Thoha Humayun.

The school buildings are crumbling – their boundary walls have disappeared, bricks have been taken by villagers and some of the buildings’ doors have been stolen. Villagers and officials have given different reasons for the closure of these schools, but it is apparent that parents are fast losing their trust in public sector schools, and many prefer to send their children to private schools instead.

“The private school in the village in running well, and people prefer to send their children there,” Fida Hussain, a retired army official, said.

“The school in our village was built in 1961, and was running well until a decade ago. I myself studied at this school,” Mr Hussain recalled.

“But the teachers from our village who were appointed at the school did not devote themselves to their work, and instead performed half-heartedly,” he said.

Mr Hussain said he has filed many applications with the concerned authorities, asking them to either revive the school or convert it to a dispensary.

“No one paid any heed despite my repeated attempts. If the government cannot revive the building, its land could be used for another purpose for the welfare of all the villagers. If the government does not pay attention to this building, I fear the remains will be taken away and the land will be occupied.”

A similar situation can also be found in the Dhalal village, just a few kilometres from Chakwal city. The building for the local boys’ primary school, built under the Peoples Programme during Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s tenure and operational until eight years ago, is now abandoned.

The school closed down after a few private schools opened in the neighbouring Tatral village, and the number of students fell. Now the building lacks a boundary wall and is missing bricks. The classrooms are used to house donkeys at night, and cattle can be seen tied up in the school’s courtyard.

Bilqees Begum, the school’s head teacher, said the main reason for the school’s performance was the poor performance of its teachers.

Other abandoned schools in the district include 22 girls schools and nine boys schools, located in various villages.

According to an official, the government does not have a concrete plan regarding the use of the school buildings or their land. “Many schools were built when there was no need for them. Politicians connived with village elders to build these schools to woo voters and collect commission,” the official added.

However, the executive district officer education Dr Ghulam Murtaza Anjum told Dawn the abandoned schools will be converted into informal education centres, and added that a proposal in this regard has been sent “to the higher authorities in Lahore”.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2016