LAHORE: Who will educate the masses?

 By Saadia Salahuddin

A TRAVELLER saw a man beating his donkey. He tried to stop the man but in vain. The man beat his donkey so much that he broke its leg and it collapsed. At this the traveller asked the man how could he hurt his own animal. The man said: “The King of the land is out with his men and they are grabbing any horse or donkey the King takes liking to. Now that my donkey is lame, he will at least stay with me.” This is a story told by Saadi Sherazi.

It can be said that the same thing is happening to educational institutions in Punjab. The best government schools have been found to be the most threatened because somebody or the other wants to have them and the government has remained all too willing to hand them over for adoption and do away with the responsibility for running them.

At present, the Central Model School (CMS), Lower Mall has caught everybody’s attention. The last government tried to give the school to Abu Dhabi group for adoption under ‘Adopt a School’ programme which came into public view in December 2005 and was strongly opposed among others by two former chief justices of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Justice Nasim Hasan Shah and Justice Javid Iqbal, who are old students of this school. The adoption plan was apparently shelved but the ‘monster’ reared its head this year again. Just before bowing out of power, the last government constituted a new Board of Governors (BoG) and appointed Chairman Abu Dhabi Group as the chairman.

The Abu Dhabi Group claimed to make it a school better than Aitchison College, sources say, but the question is, will the children studying at the school still be there when that happens. The answer is certainly ‘no’ because these children cannot pay for such an education. Has anybody promised to educate them for free? So, any improvement is going to cost dearly. We would rather do with little improvement and let the children who are studying there, get education than build pockets for the privileged. Who wants improvement at the cost of people? Definitely, not anyone sincere to them.

In Lahore, the Defence Housing Authority recently passed a ruling on admissions to schools in the DHA according to which they have to admit children from Defence first and then anyone from the rest of the city. Shouldn’t children from the old city enjoy the same right. Central Model School largely caters to the population of the walled city, though it has students from all parts of the city, so let this school remain there for them. Central Model School Lower Mall was a laboratory school of the University of Education (UE), Lower Mall, former Central Training College – the first of its kind in Punjab.

Spread on hundred kanal land in the heart of the city, the two prime institutions call for government’s attention. When the Punjab government in 2005 accepted it was giving the school for adoption to Abu Dhabi group, the then DPI secondary schools said: “The girls at University of Education, Lower Mall campus, will be shifted to the UE Bank Road campus opposite the MAO College and boys will be shifted to the UE Township campus.”

The school and the teachers’ training college established in 1883 and 1880 respectively have great traditions. A school whose four hundred students get admission to pre-engineering and pre-medical sections of FSc in colleges every year doesn’t deserve to be left for others to run it.

Isn’t it an irony that the best school of the Punjab government is the only autonomous school. Autonomy should have brought prosperity but it is the other way round. It has only brought with it a host of problems. For six years, since the school got autonomy, the government has not spent anything on the school. There is no prize for teachers on good performance, when staff leaves it becomes impossible to get their replacement and when teachers are promoted they face great hurdles in getting their dues. CMS students don’t get books for free.

Khan Zaman is a helper at a private firm. His two sons are in class eight and six of Central Model School, Lower Mall. He says: “I don’t see how I can continue sending my children to school if the fees are increased and there is talk of this Dubai group coming here.”

The salaries of teachers are given from the fees collected from children. The money collected by way of fees is not enough for the purpose but fees cannot be raised for that would mean losing more students. Six years ago before the school got autonomy, the students’ strength here was 8,000 which has dropped to over 5,000 students. This calls for generous grants from the government to its best school.

It is hard to understand that colleges and universities where education comes with fat money get huge subsidies while schools are waiting for a saviour.

First, the Lahore district government headed by the ‘educationist’ nazim handed over more than 300 good schools to non-government organisations in Lahore alone over the years under ‘Adopt a School’ programme. The district government schools left with it are mostly those where student teacher attendance is poor or if they are in good running condition, they are housed in rundown buildings.

Here comes a very important question. Who is going to educate the masses? Everywhere in the world it is the government which has taken this responsibility. In England from where we initially took our model of education, 90 per cent of students go to public schools. In our country, only those children go to state schools who have no choice.

The Punjab chief minister declared education-emergency in the province a month ago and formed a task force to deal with school education but it was disheartening to find out that it is only to restructure elementary education in the province which means education till class eight only.

“This is a half-hearted attempt to streamline school education,” says a lawyer, Muhammad Imran, whose children go to CMS. High schools deserve as much attention, probably more, in the wake of what has been going on with the best school of the province. There are 5,000 high and higher secondary schools in Punjab.

Source: The News, 4th September, 2008

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