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May 26, 2016

Targeting students


May 26, 2016

Is it really possible to impart any kind of education to students when the process of learning must take place under the constant threat of guns or bombs? Once again in Punjab, the home department has warned that a Taliban threat hangs over schools in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad and Multan. The Bahauddin Zakariya University in Multan as well as Nishtar College in the same city seem to be the most specific targets, with the BZU closed briefly in light of these security warnings. This has happened before, most notably in January this year following the attack on the Bacha Khan University in Charsadda. The question is: how it is possible for our educational institutions to keep a vigilant eye on the security of their establishments? Yes, the more elite institutions can hire security guards and raise walls. But our children of the less well-off, those who attend dilapidated state schools or private institutions where budgets are tight – are they then to risk death in return for an education? And what of the universities? Their open campuses, larger premises and the nature of education at that level make students far more vulnerable.

We are not clear yet as to why the threat has reared its head again. There is conjecture that the sudden closure of Punjab schools, at least up to grade 3, on the grounds of an intense heatwave was linked to security concerns rather than weather conditions. In January extreme cold had been put forward as the reason for keeping schools shut. For now, examinations have been disrupted and parents and students left facing a dilemma. Clearly, we cannot prevent students from going to their places of learning; similarly, we simply cannot protect each and every student everywhere. It is imperative that we create a safer security environment and tackle the threat at its source rather than by taking remedial measures at the place where it is most likely to strike. This is what we need to do on urgent footing. The Punjab government would be well advised to work towards this rather than telling schools to send students home time and again for prolonged breaks.


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