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September 17, 2019

Tents being arranged for students of 261 UKAid-funded schools in Punjab, KP

Lahore

September 17, 2019

LAHORE: The rehousing of students studying at UKAid-funded classrooms in selected schools in Punjab has finally started after over 20 days when an international media outlet reported that these classrooms were affected by structural design problems and were unsafe.

As per the rehousing plan, the students of the affected classrooms will be accommodated in tents erected within the school premises. According to DFID, its partner IMC Worldwide had identified 261 schools in Pakistan that required immediate attention to bring them up to the right safety standards. Of these, 166 schools are situated in Punjab while the rest are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) had partnered with the IMC Worldwide which operates as Humqadam in Pakistan to build these classrooms. The provincial government had no role in construction of these classrooms as the contractors were hired by IMC/Humqadam.

The News was able to collect data about 123 of 166 schools in Punjab having “unsafe classrooms”. During recent visits to some of these schools and background discussion with heads of various schools this correspondent found out that neither the School Education Department Punjab nor the Humqadam had ensured alternate arrangements for the kids at majority of the schools and they were sitting in these very classrooms. Of these 123 schools, 58 are girl schools while majority of these schools in Punjab are situated in Lahore.

In a recent correspondence, communications and outreach team of Humqadam in Islamabad claimed that there were 228 schools with affected classrooms in Pakistan (166 schools in Punjab and 62 schools in KP).

“Our top priority is ensuring that children’s education is not disrupted. So all schoolchildren affected will have safe places to study while we retrofit classrooms as necessary. We have developed detailed individual plans with each school affected, working with the school management, the provincial government and DFID,” reads Humqadam’s reply to an email sent by this correspondent on August 27. Humqadam further claimed that it had also supplied temporary classrooms (as used by the UN), fans, low energy lighting, plastic flooring and whiteboards (to the schools in Punjab and KP). It had further claimed that the process would be completed “by Sunday 1st September, 2019, with 148 units supplied to 62 schools in KP and 393 units supplied to 166 schools in Punjab.”

However, head of a school which received some temporary classrooms said “Some tents are all the school has received so far.” Seeking anonymity, he further said the weather was hot and humid and it was really difficult to accommodate kids in these tents.

Nonetheless, many of the schools in the provincial metropolis having affected classrooms are still waiting for temporary arrangements to rehouse the students. This is also evident from official document, in possession of The News, that until September 7, the office of the District Education Authority (DEA) was communicating with schools issuing directions to allow access to contractors in schools to rectify the buildings. The letter also sought information from heads of the schools whether Humqadam had provided alternate arrangements or not.

The Humqadam team has also told The News: “Children will only need to move to other learning spaces whilst we await the results of analysis which may prove their classrooms do not need works or while we do improvement works. This is a rolling programme so some children may move back within weeks and some within months – but very few will have to wait until the end of the programme in March 2020.” This correspondent met Secretary School Education Department Punjab Muhammad Mahmood last week to discuss the issue in detail but he was not updated and assured that someone from the department would get back with details. But to no avail.

When contacted, Punjab Minister for School Education Dr Murad Raas said he had already asked Humqadam team for a face-to-face meeting during this week about the issue of unsafe classrooms. “I have talked to DFID as well. These are our kids and if Humqadam cannot ensure alternate arrangements, we will do it itself because these are not earthquake resistant classrooms,” he added.

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