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Roses blossom in Cholistan desert, at last
 By: Qudrat Ullah


Roses blossom in Cholistan desert, at last:-Pakissan.comThe vast Cholistan desert is situated in south Punjab.

It is mostly sandy land which sprawls over an area of 6.65 million acres in the districts of Bahawalnagar, Bahawalpur and Rahim Yar Khan.

Here, the population is mostly associated with agriculture and livestock farming.

They usually live in small villages that are near water ponds and deep wells.

Water and cattle farming are their two essential sources of livelihood.

This archaic pattern of life remains the same even through generations.

Keeping in view the educational needs of the area, Cholistan Development Authority (CDA) — an autonomous body under the Punjab government — set up 75 non formal community schools in 2009 under its ‘Parha Likha Cholistan’ project.

These schools proved a big help in promoting education by catering to the needs of Cholistani students, who live in the most impoverished region of Punjab.

Although these schools were run on non-formal mode but they had formal schooling arrangements for the students. However, these students were not counted as ‘enrolled’ in Punjab School Education Department’s statistics.

They were actually counted nowhere.

Only four of the 75 schools had proper school buildings, and the rest were run either in the open or in shabby rooms provided by the local community. Similarly, none of the schools had any furniture or any other facility for education.

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Initially, two teachers for each school were provided by the community and were paid Rs5000 and Rs2500 respectively by the CDA since 2009, without any increase.

Meanwhile, CDA didn’t even develop any system of teachers’ training or students’ academic assessment.

Initially, two teachers for each school were provided by the community and were paid Rs5000 and Rs2500 respectively by the CDA since 2009, without any increase.

Meanwhile, CDA didn’t even develop any system of teachers’ training or students’ academic assessment.

The district governments of these three districts were supposed to provide free text books to the students, but that was usually done only after their own needs were met with.

The significant fact about the schools was the girls’ enrolment, which was much higher than the boys. But with the P&D funded project closing, there was no certainty about the future of these students.

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On the other hand, the chief minister of Punjab was keen to ensure balanced development for southern Punjab, particularly in Cholistan where Quaid e Azam Solar Park and Cholistan Package worth Rs2.3 billion are underway.

But the locals were very anxious about the academic future of their children after the expiry of the CDA managed ‘Parha Likha Project.’ Meanwhile, the district administration of Bahawalpur built six school buildings in Cholistan with the help of local philanthropists.

With a view to continue the educational process for Cholistani students, secretary school education sent a summary to the chief minister, proposing adoption of these schools by the Punjab Education Foundation, which has a long experience of running such schools through public-private partnerships.

Keeping in view the importance of the issue, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif accorded approval in April 2014 and since then, PEF has adopted these schools and is sponsoring the education of students enrolled in these schools with an amount of Rs450 per month, per child.

The PEF intervention has formalised the schools and it is expected that a number of improvements will be introduced by the foundation.The Punjab Education Foundation has already completed its baseline survey of these schools.

This survey was conducted in two parts; the first part was managed by monitoring and evaluation department, which checked infrastructure, etc, while the second part was conducted by academic development unit which took a sample test of students to determine their academic standards.

This survey would be helpful to determine present conditions of schools’ infrastructure, academic standards and educational opportunities for male and female students.

Current financial outflow of these schools is Rs28 million per annum. It is decided that a comprehensive system of teachers’ training, students’ assessment and quality assurance will be brought by the PEF Current financial outflow of these schools is Rs28 million per annum.

It is decided that a comprehensive system of teachers’ training, students’ assessment and quality assurance will be brought by the PEF. CM Shahbaz Sharif has directed that all schools should to be given free land by the CDA and proper buildings should also be constructed before the end of FY 2014-15.

Therefore, a sum of Rs150 million has been allocated by the School Education Department for this purpose. CDA shall complete provisions of furniture and other school supplies to all the schools before the end of FY 2014-15.

It is also decided that all closed schools shall be re-opened within the next three months. Keeping in view the increase in population, especially in the number of students, the Punjab government has further decided to upgrade schools to elementary level wherever the need arises.

This will have a strong and lasting impact on the future of thousands of children and the possibility of enrolment of out of school/dropout children in the poorest region of Punjab is an exciting opportunity.

With the chief minister’s focus on the development of southern Punjab, particularly through mega projects like Quaid e Azam Solar Park, the time is ripe to invest in the local children to win over hearts and minds through education.

It is worthwhile to note that the Punjab government has committed a package of Rs2.3 billion in infrastructure; hence an intervention in capacity building is imperative.

December, 2014

Source: Pakistan Today

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