On Wednesday, Nov 9, I visited the Roland Rogers Elementary School in Galloway Township along with a reporter of the Press of Atlantic City, who interviewed a teacher of the school. The teacher, Terry Dougherty, had won the Great American Teach-Off competition, landing her $10,000 for a tutoring program for children of those servicemen who move their children along with them on transfer from a school at one station to the other so they could continue their education smoothly.
When we reached the school Dougherty was teaching the grade 3 class. Besides other things, the teacher said she would spend the award money for laptops and cameras for her class and a tutoring program for the children of military families.
When the interview was over the reporter asked the small students of the class what one thing they want should be bought with the money. Within the next few minutes it was clear what the U.S. education system is all about. The small children demanded all those things relevant to their education such as touch screen board, more computers and laptops, calculators, iPads and recorders for recording notes.
It was not that this class of about 30 students did not have the facilities. There were at least six computers, a projector, nice seating arrangement, heating and cooling system, and a lot of nice reading and writing material. That was one elementary public school where students up to grade 6 are taught. The school, located in a serene environment, like other such institutions had a big sports ground, parking area and canteen.
While I was observing the classroom packed with all facilities and the talk of the proud teacher and her smart students I was thinking that any of even the top class Pakistani schools will not have that much facilities that were available at the Galloway elementary school.
Besides, the images of schools destroyed by militants in the Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, 2005 earthquake and 2010 floods keep propping up in my mind.
According to a recent report in Pakistan-based daily Dawn's Peshawar edition, only 30 of the 202 destroyed school buildings in Shangla district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could be rebuilt so far since the devastating 2005 earthquake while around 15,000 students are still without educational facilities. In most of the ‘schools' students still have to sit on the rubble or under trees to attend classes while in case of rain or even cloudy weather it's an off day.
That was just an example of one district of the quake-hit areas where many students are out of school because they don't have a school building. And there are many areas especially after the 2010 floods also inflicted damage on infrastructure that are without proper schools. Besides, militants have destroyed hundreds of schools, especially in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan, because of the continued military operation.
A typical elementary school building in Pakistan comprises three to five rooms each having a black board, one light, ceiling fan and desks and benches. Water and electricity---it depends: if the school is in the federal or provincial capital or in city area it will have electricity and water, but if it is in far-off area the students might have to make their own arrangement for water and put up with almost 10-12 hour daily power outages.
However, students in Pakistan who gain access to even minimum education facilities rise to the top. According to wikipedia, there are over 15,000 doctors of Pakistani decent only in America practicing medicine. And most of them would have certainly attended a typical elementary school in Pakistan in their childhood.
The USAID and other organizations have been actively supporting school projects in Pakistan and under a project started three years ago they had repaired 700 schools in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Malakand. Most of these schools were destroyed by militants to show their anger at the government for its support for the U.S.-led war against terrorism, which has also seriously hit the country's tourism sector.
A number of local and international organizations and foreign countries, mainly the U.S., Saudi Arabia and some other countries, have been providing relief and working on school and hospital projects in the flood- and conflict-hit areas, but things do not seem to be getting in order anytime soon.
One thing I noted during my interaction with the Pakistani community in Atlantic City was the gap between them and the Pakistani embassy and consulate offices. Pakistanis working in Atlantic City say they have actively raised donations for the earthquake and flood-hit people in Pakistan by using their personal contacts. They suggested that the embassy and consulate office in New York should arrange different forums and form a pool of Pakistani professionals in different fields who would be more than eager to work for Pakistanis in times of distress and get involved in volunteer work.
*Hamid Ur Rehman is a journalist from Pakistan, where he works with an English daily Dawn, Islamabad, as sub-editor. He will work at The Press of Atlantic City in partnership with the ICFJ till Nov 28 as part of the US-Pakistan Professional Partnership Program for Journalists - a U.S.-funded program aimed at giving Pakistani journalists first-hand knowledge and working experience of international journalism while also helping the host paper learn more about Pakistan.