Enrollment of street children: A distant dream in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

Enrollment of street children: A distant dream in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
 By : Fakhar Alam 

PESHAWAR, Nov 27 (APP): Working against the time, Asad Khan, hardly a 12-year-old mechanic, was busy like a honeybee repairing water geysers, batteries, heaters and other electric appliances scattered all around him in his small workshop to meet the placed orders in wake of declining mercury levels in Peshawar. He starts working from early morning till sunset at his maternal uncle’s workshop to earn two times bread for his family at Pabbi station, Nowshera.

The motivated youngster had entered the electronics repairing work three years back to financially support his seven-member family due to poverty. After three-year expertise in fixing pipes of electric and gas geysers, Asad was called ‘Ustad’ [master] by his maternal uncle Sadaqat Khan and fellow mechanics.

“I had left school at class V to support my poor ailing parents and meet the education’s expanses of my two young brothers and as many sisters,” Asad told APP while narrating his ordeal of labour. Earning about Rs 500 per day from his shop, Asad also provides home services to make some extra money to assist his poor father in meeting the domestic expenses including electricity and gas bills, besides the educational expenses of his siblings.

The young boy has the desire to get a diploma in electrical engineering from an institute for employment abroad, however, the financial position is a hurdle for him to accomplish his dream.

Like Asad Khan, there are thousands of out-of-school children (OSC) in the province due to socioeconomic imbalances, lack of coordination between government departments, unavailability of transportation to schools, especially for girls, and early child-age marriages.

According to a survey of the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) 2021, there are about 22.8 million OSCs in the country including 4.7 million children aged between 5 to 16 years in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The survey revealed that the OSC included 2.9 million girls and one million belonged to merged tribal districts. Similarly, 74.4 percent of girls and 38.5 percent of boys are out of school in the province. Besides 77 percent reported OSC in Palas Kolai, 70 percent in Upper Kohistan and 69 percent in Lower Kohistan, there are about 61 percent such children in Torghar, 55pc in Shangla, 53 percent in Lakki Marwat and 51 percent each in Tank and Batagram districts.

In merged areas, 66 percent of children are out-of-school in North Waziristan, 63 percent in Bajaur, 61 percent in South Waziristan, 51 percent each in Mohmand and Khyber and 47 percent each in Kurram and Orakazai and bringing them under school net is a big challenge for the provincial government.

Terming the BISP’s survey findings as alarming, PML-N KP spokesperson and member provincial assembly Ikhtair Wali claimed that it negates tall claims of the PTI government regarding an increase in children’s enrollment and uniform education policy.

He said neither promises of uniformed education were fulfilled nor the dual education system was abolished in the province, adding that private schools continued sucking the blood of millions of people with a roaring increase in tuition fees.

Taking cognizance of the high ratio of OSC, the BISP has started Education Scholarship programme to motivate parents to enroll their children and decrease the dropout rate. Under this programme, Rs 1500 per three months were being provided to boys and Rs 2,000 to girls at primary level, Rs 2500 for boys and Rs 3000 for girls at secondary level, whereas Rs 3500 boy and Rs4000 per girl at higher secondary school level.

Syed Shahab Khan, Senior Planning Officer, Education Department said that a “Rs 3.7 billion project” had been planned for providing educational stipends to students of class 1-12 and Rs 500 million for school bags and stationary in merged areas.

He said 200 alternate learning pathways centers would be opened for children aged 9-16 for OSC while Rs 3 billion would be spent on converting two-room schools to six rooms besides converting mosque schools into schools. The construction of 100 new primary schools was proposed for the upcoming fiscal year while 150 middle schools to secondary schools in settled districts would be built.

He said a one billion rupees project was proposed for the “establishment of early childhood education programme” to be executed next fiscal year. Shahram Khan Tarkai, Minister for Education, told APP that the second shift was started for OSC in government schools.

He claimed that 850,000 students were enrolled this year in KP, adding that COVID-19 was the main reason behind the increase in drop-out of students. He said that 50,000 students were also enrolled in 1,443 second-shift schools. He said Stars of KP, Rehamatul Alamin and ETEA merit scholarships were launched to increase the student’s enrollment.