Pakistan: New schools in quake-hit areas offer improved education

from IRIN
Published on 15 Nov 2009
MUZZAFARABAD , 15 November 2009 (IRIN) - Rameesha Butt, 12, remembers being trapped in her classroom as the horror of the October 2005 earthquake that killed at least 73,000 people in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistan-administered Kashmir unfolded around her.

"Our school was very old, and many of the walls collapsed. I was not hurt badly, but it was terrifying to see bricks and mortar fall all around us. Some pupils were trapped under the rubble," Rameesha told IRIN.

According to government estimates, the quake damaged or destroyed 6,000 schools - making up around 52 percent of schools in the quake-affected area. Some 17,000 students and 900 teachers were killed in classrooms.

For years after the quake, children have studied in makeshift classrooms. Now, under an initiative by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, 100 new schools have been built and handed over to provincial authorities.

The new schools are more spacious than the ones they replace, with at least one square metre of classroom space per child. Hand-washing stations have also been set up to promote good hygiene. Under the 'build back better' motto adopted after the quake, the new schools are also designed to be earthquake resistant and to offer a more child-friendly learning environment.

"Our aim is to ensure children receive the best possible education," Syed Fawad Ali Shah, emergency education officer for UNICEF Pakistan, said. He said teachers at the schools had been trained in child-friendly teaching methods and corporal punishment had been banned.

"Not scared anymore"

Pupils of Government Girls Primary School Mohajir Colony in Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, are among those who now have a brand new school. The girls, who for months after the quake had huddled in a freezing tent-school, were visibly excited about their new earthquake-resistant building.

"We are not scared anymore because this is a new building, not like our old school," Shahzia Ali Lone, a fourth grade student, said.

Parents across the area hit by the quake are also relieved that their children can go to school in safety. "For over a year after 2005, I was scared of sending our three children to school. So many children had died in classroom collapses, but now there are better schools for them and we are confident they will receive a good education," Aziz Ahmed, 40, said.

"There is no greater investment in the future of a country than an investment in the education of the children" Luc Chauvin, deputy representative for UNICEF Pakistan, said. "In partnership with ERRA, the Ministry of Education and provincial authorities, we have not just constructed schools, but have taken an important step toward ensuring that children in the areas affected by the 2005 earthquake have access to a higher quality education than ever before."