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Summer schedule helps mountain schools in Pakistan's quake zone catch up
Annual exams, the first to be held since the earthquake severely damaged 10,000 school buildings, have concluded. The test results are in, the students have graduated and children are working in the fields, playing cricket in camps for displaced families or – for those lucky enough to have some semblance of a home – helping around the house.
But further up the mountains, in remote villages that spent weeks cut off by landslides following the quake, UNICEF-supported tent schools are open for the summer.
Annual break in winter
Life on the mountaintops follows a different cycle than life on the valley floor. Summers are full of activity. Winter brings snows several feet deep, and villages like picturesque Jabori, more than 5,000 feet high, enter a long hibernation.
As a result, mountain schools take their long annual break from December to February, rather than in the summer months. Here in Mansehra district, 73 high-altitude schools (out of a total of 2,575 primary and secondary schools district-wide) are on a summer schedule.
Education campaign under way
UNICEF and the Government of Pakistan have launched a ‘Welcome to School’ campaign to make sure that children – especially girls – attend school in higher numbers than before the earthquake. The joint programme is particularly pertinent in the remote mountain regions.
“Scattered settlements in the high villages mean many students have to walk some distance to get to school, which turns many parents off sending their children to school – especially their daughters,” explains UNICEF District Education Officer Krishna Bahadur KC. “It’s also hard to attract female teachers to remote areas because of the travel involved.
“The higher up you go, the poorer people are,” he adds. “These are neglected areas. The winters are harsh and can drag on. The schools often end up opening much later than they’re supposed to at the end of winter.”
The girls’ primary school in the village of Jabori now consists of two UNICEF-supplied tents at the edge of a wheat field. It is one of the 3,135 temporary schools supported by UNICEF in the earthquake-affected area.
The temporary school in Jabori was first erected on 15 November, before closing for the winter hibernation. It resumed full classes for 131 students aged 4 to 12 on 1 March. And although temporary schools in the valleys restarted classes much sooner after the earthquake, the Jabori students have caught up fast. They completed exams in early June, and 21 fifth-graders graduated to the next level.
Villagers in Jabori live by farming wheat and maize, as well as harvesting mulberry and pine trees to make furniture. But the appetite for timber has stripped the forest from nearby slopes, leading to landslides when the mountains shook during the quake.
The community’s former girls’ school was precariously made of rocks held by mud. Its flimsy walls stood little chance against the unforgiving force of the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that hit as Saturday morning classes began.
‘There was so much dust’
Abdul Latif, the school guard, pulled three small children out from under four feet of rubble. Four-year-old Osama was under the debris for three hours. Her older sister, Mehreen, had made it to the doorway when the raining rocks caught her. A mullah from the mosque next door pulled her out.
“I thought everyone was dead and injured,” recalls Mehreen in a whisper. “I ran to my uncle and yelled, ‘Go and rescue my brother, he’s under the rubble.’ There was so much dust. I couldn’t see anything.”
The Jabori students all managed to survive and now study in the temporary tent school. “I’m not scared in this tent,” says Mehreen. “I’m feeling safe here. I never want to go to back to the old school.”