Two girls do their school homework on a street in Karachi. The country is witnessing an alarming dropout rate. Image Credit: Malik Ayub Sumbal/Gulf News

Karachi: Promotion of literacy in a country like Pakistan seems a farfetched dream as each day witness a new twist in the education system of the country. Now another strange, but familiar phenomena emerges— the ghost schools.

More than 1,205 ghost schools in the country are mocking at the educational policies in the country. All of these ghost schools pay regular salaries to the teachers appointed there yet none of them ever show up to attend a school that only exist in government files.

Amidst the remote area of Attock in Pakistan’s major province Punjab, each morning a young woman in her late 20s wakes up at dawn, makes the traditional breakfast of parathas and tea for the entire family, packs a modest lunch for two for a tough day ahead and then along with her elderly father travels 70 kilometres to an even backward village of Kalli Dilli.

The woman is Mehreen Khan, a young school teacher in Punjab. The journey takes more than two hours on both ways since the roads are bumpy and transport scarce. The destination is a government operated girls’ secondary school where more than 200 pupils from eight classes await their only teacher.

Since 2005 Mehreen is a part of this school and has tried her best to play her part in promoting girl education in an area that lives under feudal and traditional restraints. Mehreen says she feels a duty to the cause.

“I have three siblings, a brother and two sisters and whenever I see them I feel like seeing all the kids at my school. I have to promote education no matter how hard it is”.

She remembers that when she was transferred to the school she was not the only teacher in the school. For several years now Mehreen has not only been acting as the only teacher at the school but she practically plays the role of a headmistress and caretaker of the school as well.

The driving force in her journey so far has been her father Mushtaq. A retired Pakistan Railways official whose only source of income is the monthly pension he receives from the government, which is not enough to feed a family of six.

Father’s support

Mehreen is the major bread earner for the family. But most of her salary is spent on the school itself. Being a part of a strictly traditional family where women are not even allowed to travel to the market without a male companion, Mehreen’s father Mushtaq faced a stiff resistance from his extended family menbers, when his loving daughter was transferred to Kalli Dilli.

Mushtaq stood by his daughter’s side and took the responsibility of accompanying her each day to and from the school.

He has never backed out for over 7 years now. Mushtaq believes that spreading education under the most difficult circumstances is his daughter’s calling and he should help her follow her dreams.

In a country where thousands of teachers express least concern for development of educational values and receive their salaries despite continuous absence from schools, Mehreen is a role model. But, despite her efforts and two Masters Degrees, Mehreen has not been promoted even once by the department.

She explains how hard she worked for the job she always wanted to do.

“I always knew I was meant for teaching. Even in childhood I used to play teacher with my friends. That was the reason why I chose education as my majors in Degree College Mianwali and yet I cannot do enough for the students”.

The dejected school teacher, however, never lets her thoughts have an impact on her students and the school.

Changes in mindset

Mehreen measures her success in terms of change. According to her, the greatest achievement was the change sin the mindset of the people in the locality, who once denied education to their children. Today the villagers not only respect her, but also send their children to her school.

Even her students love her for being the most loving person for them. A fourth grader said, “I bring sweets for her because she never scolds me. She made me learn how to draw the candle and the flag”.

With an alarmingly decreasing literacy rate Pakistan needs more individual efforts like Mehreen to assure social development through education. Yet chances of similar efforts seem grim now. Even then Mehreen’s unsung efforts continue in Kalli Dilli.