"I couldn't think of sending my children to school - the roofs of the classrooms had fallen in and only two out of five classrooms had roofs. Classes were being conducted in the school playgrounds and teacher attendance was a major problem. The teachers usually turned up late in the mornings and with no one to mind the children who waited outside for the teachers, they often wandered off on their own", said Irshad Bibi whose children go to the Government Girls Primary School in Gulabwala, Pakistan.
A number of issues were plaguing the school and affecting the students. Toilets were situated close to the water pump and did not have septic tanks – a major health hazard. There weren't enough desks and chairs for all the students and not enough teachers for the 150 children. Fehmida Bano, one of the teachers travels from an urban locality to school everyday. On days she is able to get a ride on the local transport system, it takes her at least one and half-hour to get to work.
Under the Dubai Cares' Girls Education program, the school premises have been repaired and villagers mobilized to help oversee school improvement. Using existing channels, such as the School Committees (SCs), the community has been trained on planning and monitoring school improvement. The boundary wall has been repaired and the roofs have also been built through SC funds. Globally, girl's education is a neglected area with 46% of girls in the world's poorest countries having no access to primary education. Programs like the one in Gulabwala by Dubai Cares are essential to reduce gender disparity.
Irshad Bibi's children and 150 other children are benefiting from this change in the school's environment. "Since joining the SC, I understood the problems that the teachers have been facing. Since we have been meeting and asking questions, the teachers have become more regular as well. I think the school will do really well with the classroom renovation. I used to think that I should set money aside for the private school fees - which would have been very difficult (my husband is a newspaper vendor and does not earn enough). But now we will have a good government school near our house that my children can go to," she added.
Developmental Challenges in Pakistan
With just 2% of its GDP spent on education and 5.1 million out of school children, Pakistan still has a long way to go in improving its educational infrastructure. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) Pakistan for 2012 once again highlighted that the basic issue of availability of cutting edge curriculum, teaching and research access to Early Childhood Education is not addressed. Almost 63% of children between the age of 3 to 5 years are not receiving any formal or informal education.
Dubai Cares Program in Pakistan
Driven by an AED 6 million (US$1.60 million) investment, Dubai Cares has developed a program in Pakistan which aims to create a conducive learning environment across the worst affected districts in Punjab and Sindh. The program's objective is to restore and upgrade the educational infrastructure which was severely affected by the floods that hit Pakistan in July 2010. The program has also created a significant impact on the educational environment across four districts in Punjab and Sindh provinces, benefitting 75,000 primary school children across 300 schools.