Fears for future of Pakistani schools damaged in quake

Concern that many schools in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will never be rebuilt, as 110 are extensively damaged and 703 partially.

The visible cracks in the walls and pillars of Jehanzaib College in the Swat district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan, shows the devastation caused by Monday’s earthquake.

About 4,000 students at the college fear continuing aftershocks could cause the building to collapse.

Initial reports compiled by Pakistan’s Elementary and Secondary Education Department state that 110 schools in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa were extensively damaged and 703 others were partially damaged.

This region is no stranger to devastation caused by earthquakes. The last one, in 2005, damaged 3,669 schools and colleges, including Jehanzaib.

“The 2005 earthquake had shaken the college building,” said Professor Sarwar Khan, chair of chemistry at the college.

“The government never provided us with funds to rebuild the school. Now, the earthquake has caused fear among students and staff.”

“Even a low magnitude shock will collapse the entire institution which may cause casualties.”

Students are reluctant to return to class in the affected mountainous regions, saying neither the government nor their schools have made alternative arrangements.

“Now we have to choose. We either risk our lives and continue attending college or say goodbye to our career,” said zoology student Ehtisham Khan.

“I think something needs to be done as we definitely cannot give up on our education,” he said.

Some students who did return to schools ended up having their lessons in tents or out in the open.

“After Monday’s earthquake, my college is badly damaged and we cannot sit inside our classrooms,” said Andaleb Khan who studies at the Intermediate Government Girls College.

“It’s winter here now and we cannot sit outside for our classes anymore. We are just two months away from our final exams.”

‘Government not interested’

Mehmood Aslam Wazir, the second-highest ranking civilian administrator in Swat, told Al Jazeera that funds would be released soon for the reconstruction of schools.

“I have issued instructions to Executive Directors of Education that they should work on preparing reports on damaged schools and colleges with the cost they need for reconstruction,” he said.

“We will not tolerate any delays or hindrance in our children’s education.”

However, the government does not have a good track record when it comes to reconstruction.

Of the more than 3,000 schools and colleges affected in the 2005 earthquake, only 1,605 have been rebuilt.

Jehanzaib college student Jawad Khan does not expect things to be any different this time.

“Our government is not interested in the reconstruction of our schools and colleges, this has happened before and will continue to happen,” he said. “I can’t seem to build my career here.”

This week’s 7.5 magnitude earthquake killed at least 267 people in Pakistan and 115 in Afghanistan, where it originated.

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