Daanish Schools – A Case of Misplaced Priorities

This is Daanish School for boys and girls at Harnoli in the district of Mianwal I visited in December 2012. We were stopped at the main gate by the security guards to inquire about our identities and what was the purpose of our visit. Then our vehicle drove through the finely carved out way to the academic block that houses the admin block as well. The school spread over an expanse of 400 acres out of which 120 acres (70 acres for boys’ school and 50 acres for girls’ schools) have been already developed in the form of impressive gardens, playgrounds, botanical gardens, walkways, admin and teaching blocks with auditoriums, state of the art class rooms, library, science lab, IT lab, hostels, elaborate dining hall, principal house and living quarters for the teaching and other staff.

Danish school, Harnoli - academic blockThe school became operational on May 26, 2012 with 110 children in girls’ campus and 110 in boys’ campus enrolled in grade six. The children are drawn from poor households with a monthly income of Rs 6,000 or less. There are seven teachers for girls’ campus and seven teachers for boys’ campus with one teacher to twenty five students ratio which contradicts the overall provincial policy of one teacher to forty students. In order to respond to the emotional, psychological and social problems of the children two psychologists have been appointed – one each for boys and girls. Sport teachers are also there to look after their physical fitness and development. Each campus is supposed to have its own principal but at the moment there is one principal managing the whole school. The school boasts to have 12 security staff to guard the property around 40 kilometer away from the town. There are 11 maalis (gardeners) to take care of the plants and maintain the scenic beauty of the school.

Teachers, like other staff, are required to live on the campus with day long duties even after teaching hours. A teacher, hired on contract basis by Daanish Schools Authority, is paid a fixed salary of Rs 25,000 per month; they pay for their food and utility bills out of their salary. The teachers and other school employees are not entitled to enroll their children in the school. The turnover of teachers is high which has resulted in various moves by the management to keep the teachers like security deposit by the teachers.

The school is affiliated with the Lahore Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education. The teachers were trained at Chaand Bagh School for one month.

The expenditure incurred by the school is Rs 2 million per month. If calculated at the same rate, which is conservative and laymanish, the school would be spending Rs 14 million per month once there is enrollment in all grades. A child would cost Rs 25,926 per month that takes the figure to Rs 311,112 per child per annum.

Kot Mughal School for Boys

Government School for Boys, village Kot Mughal

Absorbing the grandeur of the school and the lavish arrangements the eye of my mind involuntarily started having pictures of the government schools I have been coming across for the last fifteen years in the rural Punjab. Just sixty kilometers away from the city of Lahore, how many of the schools in the villages of Sheikhupura and Nankana Saheb stand as ruins, how many of them are without teachers and how many of them don’t enjoy the most basic facilities. I have been witnessing them for the last fourteen years with no change except further deterioration. How many children of these villages can’t go to schools because their parents can not afford to finance their education. How many parents find the education at these schools of no consequence in improving their standard of living? How many children don’t want to go to schools because they find absolutely no attraction in the school facilities or the educational activity? Then another question crawled up in my mind. We have millions and millions of people living either in poverty or under the poverty line. Can we have Daanish schools for all the poor in the province? It is not a secret that a majority of the 4,697,000 children in 58,535 government schools in Punjab come from resource poor households. Our public sector schools have lost credibility and even resource poor households try their best to send their children private schools. Do we have the resources to build Daanish schools for all the poor in the province or are we creating alternative elite with certain stigmas. The fact of the matter is that the handful of Daanish Schools already built are confronted with the issue of sustainability and various proposals are floating to meet the recurring and maintenance costs. Selling certain percentage of seats to resource rich families is one such proposal that defeats the avowed purpose of the facilities.

Another question that was bothering me again and again was what was the essential and comparative difference of these schools in terms of the education they have been imparting. The answer is a disappointment. Children are getting the same secondary and higher secondary education that miserably fails to ensure a living or a positive worldview.

Another issue that was prodding my mind was the selection of children. They are taken in class six and selected on merit from poor households is advantageous. All very well but what about those children who have never been to school. Children who are already in school and are able to outshine others show the excellent performance of their parents who somehow managed to take them to that stage. Undoubtedly these bright children do need support but providing spaces for those who lack all opportunities from the most basic level of primary would be responding to an even greater challenge.

Yet another question. What is the fate of the siblings of these talented but poor children who live in abject poverty? Who would take care of their education?

With spending billions of rupees on Daanish schools, not even a tiny fraction of school going population resource poor households is served. In the Punjab budget for the year 2012-13, a total of Rs 15 billion has been allocated for more than fifty eight thousand schools while Rs 2 billion have been earmarked for just eight Daanish schools which is a much smaller budget if compared with the earlier budgets for Daanish schools. The construction cost of first Daanish School at Hasilpur in the district of Bahawalpur was a staggering amount of PKR 848 million. The relatively smaller budgets for new schools show the resource crunch and support the argument that challenges the practicality of these schools. How many schools could have been built or re-built utilizing these funds? This budget could have been much more meaningfully utilized by providing buildings to a good number of schools without buildings, adding rooms where there are only one or two rooms for six to seven classes, providing basic facilities and recruiting teachers for those numerous schools where there is only one teacher for at least six classes in a primary school.

There is no disagreement that we are in a state of education emergency in Pakistan which makes it crystal clear that mega projects like Daanish schools can be pushed forward only at a mammoth cost of depriving millions of their basic right. The Election Manifesto 2013 of PML-N promises Daanish Schools all over the country. Such plans require a serious second thought and an objective analysis of the loss and profit of the project, before venturing into replication.

9 Responses to Daanish Schools – A Case of Misplaced Priorities

  1. While I agree that Danish Schools should not be built at the expense of “normal” government schools — if there is such a thing; but if the GoPunjab wants to build Danish for all children in Punjab in the next 10 years, I am all for it. As a first step, the GoPunjab MUST upgrade ALL primary schools to elementary level in a phased-wise program spread over 5 years. In the same period, it MUST build 500 Danish schools if it is serious whatever amount of budget it takes. Then we may be in business…

  2. Sarmad says:

    Danish school is a dream of a king. The King thinks and done. He is a king of democracy. He hasitates to share his ideas.

  3. Prof. Rehana Mughni says:

    Thank you for providing us a realistic picture of Daanish School; A Showcase of Ex-Chief-Minister of Punjab!
    I totally agree with you that in a country like ours how can one justify a program that cost Rs.14 million per annum per school:
    • Where majority of public schools are deprived of basic necessities of schooling,
    • Over 60 million +15 years youth are out of school, in addition,
    • This program ‘will create alternative elites with certain stigmas’ and maladjustment in the family
    We all know for a fact that to ensure “Quality Education For All” especially in rural areas of Pakistan we are up against a huge challenge of finding competent teachers. I therefore suggest to transform these centers into Teachers Training Institutes.
    The aim would be to enhance and improve teaching skills of both existing and newly hired youth teachers.

  4. Chela says:

    Dear friend, Thanks for the blog on Daanish schools in Pakistan. The point is well made that their cost and the number of students reached does not represent a good solution for the problems facing the educational system in Pakistan, especially in the rural areas. For the same money it appears that tackling some fundamental problems may have a wider and positive impact. The task would be to identify precisely the areas for intervention. For instance, training teachers to upgrade their teaching skills in tune with the needs of rural communities and demands of the 21st. century, also upgrading school facilities (i.e., adding classrooms, upgrading labs, repairing old buildings, etc.). Should civil society in Pakistan engage in a constructive discussion to identify areas where intervention is urgently needed and propose a plan to government and international donors (if there are). Thanks.

  5. Prof.Mahboob Ahmad says:

    Dear Frinds, Danish school system is one of the best school of our locality. Basically i belong to mianwali and this is the best step of Mian Shahbaz Sharif who has done a good job.We are hopeful that this institute will provide quality education which bis basic right of every citizen.May God bless on us.

  6. Malik hafeez says:

    My dream are fulfilling in daanish

  7. Amanullah says:

    Could you share the key findings of your policy paper on integrating the curriculum of madrassahs with the mainstream state education curriculum?

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