Zawar Khan, 13, can only recall a little of what he had been learning at school till six years ago.
“I still remember my numbers, how to write my name and a few other basic words, but not much else,” Zawar, now a waiter at a tea stall in Peshawar, capital of the Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa Province (KP), told IRIN.
Zawar’s life was altered forever by the 8 October 2005 quake which killed 73,000 people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and KP. His family moved to Peshawar four years later in 2009, mainly because his school in KP’s Shangla District, one of the regions worst hit by the quake, had not been rebuilt.
“My family wanted me to study, but since there was no longer a school for me to attend, we decided to move so I could find work. We need the income as my father injured his leg in the quake and can now only do limited labour,” Zawar said.
According to figures from the Earthquake Relief and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) set up in the aftermath of the quake, 204 schools were destroyed in Shangla and another 319 damaged by the disaster. Around 13,000 pupils in the district were affected.
Speaking to IRIN from Shangla, Latifur Rehaman, an official in the District Reconstruction Unit, said “60 schools have already been reconstructed” and that these were now operating “normally”. He said funding constraints had delayed the construction of the remaining schools, but hoped they would be completed within two years.
According to ERRA, across the earthquake zone, of the 5,751 educational institutions requiring reconstruction, 73 percent had been completed by the start of September 2011. This has, however, meant that many children have not been able to go to school for a long time.
Some teachers in Shangla are struggling to cope in wretched conditions. “I teach the village children the best I can - in the broken down verandah of the school that once stood here, but it is not easy and many children have dropped out,” Sirajuddin Muhammad, 50, said from a village near the town of Besham in Shangla District. He said the state of the building meant “freezing conditions through the winter when many children stay away”.
|I teach the village children the best I can - in the broken down verandah of the school that once stood here|
While the failure to rebuild schools has been a key reason for the disruption of education in Shangla District and other quake-hit areas, other factors, too, have affected people’s education.
“My mother died in the quake. As the eldest daughter in the family, I took over the household chores and the care of my three younger siblings,” said Azra Bibi, now 16. “I had once hoped to be a doctor. That dream has gone, but I do make sure my sisters pay attention to their studies at the new school constructed here.”
Many parents worry. “I have educated my three children at home for four years. But I am not well read, I worry about their future and hope the school being built here will start functioning soon,” said Rehmat Ali, 35, from his village in Shangla.
International agencies such as Oxfam have also expressed concern over the failure to keep promises made in 2005, immediately after the quake. Oxfam believes better disaster-prepardness is also essential to mitigate future disasters. “Everyone is aware of how disasters have taken their toll in Pakistan and how they are continuing to put people at the brink of desperation. Until we start preparing for these events and having systems in place to cope in an effective and properly invested way, the vicious circle of suffering will continue to affect millions," said Neva Khan, country director of Oxfam in Pakistan, in a press release.
“So many children in Shangla and other areas died under the debris of poorly built schools. We hope the authorities have taken measures to ensure this never happens again,” said Rehmat Ali. According to UNICEF, some 17,000 schoolchildren were killed in the 2005 quake. Many of those who survived still face an uncertain future.