An education under canvas: Children in Pakistan face years of school in tents

One year after the South Asia earthquake destroyed their schools, thousands of children are facing many more years without proper classrooms. More than a million school children were affected by the earthquake and around 8,000 schools in Pakistan were destroyed or damaged. In some areas none of the destroyed schools have been rebuilt.

Save the Children estimates that it will take up to seven years to rebuild the education system, meaning some children will never get to attend a real primary school. So far bureaucracy, a lack of commitment and insufficient funding for the education sector has meant the permanent reconstruction of schools has been extremely slow and in some places non-existent. In Bagh, 800 schools were destroyed but no permanent school construction has taken place. In Muzaffarabad, one of the districts worst affected by the earthquake, reconstruction has only started in one or two sites.

School enrolment rates have also plummeted since the earthquake. In Muzaffarabad and Bagh, around 34,000 children who attended school before the earthquake have not returned.

The majority of schools that have re-opened do not have adequate shelter and provide a very poor learning environment for children. Tents are not a viable solution. During this summer, many children and teachers abandoned the greenhouse-like conditions of their tents and attempted to hold classes under the blazing sun, which was preferable to being inside the tents. Now, with another harsh Himalayan winter approaching tents are again at risk of collapsing due to heavy snowfall.

Even where tents have been provided, they cannot cater for the entire school and least half of the children in every school are still not accommodated for. In addition many schools are suffering from a shortage of teachers and learning materials. Of particular concern are the water supplies and sanitation facilities, including toilets, which are completeyl inadequate.

Saima Anwer, Save the Children’s Education Director in Pakistan said: “Even after an emergency, every child has the right to a quality education. Despite the problems they face, children and teachers walk for hours through difficult terrain every morning to get to school. We think they deserve the same enthusiasm from the government to give them back a safe and conducive learning environment by stepping up the pace of rebuilding.”

Since the earthquake, Save the Children has been focussing on supplying temporary and semi permanent school shelters, which are quick and efficient to build and are sturdier and safer than tents. The organisation has built 174 of these school structures covering 58 schools in Bagh and Muzzafarabad.

Save the Children is calling for:
* A real commitment to the immediate and rapid reconstruction of schools.
* The government to put a plan in place to provide adequate and safe shelter to 80% of affected schools before next winter.
* The government to allow flexibility in its reconstruction plans and consider a variety of construction options to speed up this slow process, including semi-permanent structures as an interim solution until all schools are re-built.
* Additional teachers to be hired to fill in the gaps in teaching staff that was created by the death of more than 900 teachers in the earthquake.
* Housing and transportation for existing teachers. Many teachers have been absent from schools as they are still busy meeting their own families basic needs by constructing shelters etc.

Save the Children is concerned that if a quality school system is not provided soon many children will lose a valuable opportunity to get the education they deserve.

“Missing out on a quality education has a profound effect on the rest of a child’s life,” said Saima Anwer. “If a child does not get a decent education they are at a higher risk of being put to work or being married off at an early age. Education is an urgent priority and the government of Pakistan and other agencies must step up their efforts to restore the education system.”

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Name: Save the Children