LAYYAH: Meet Ghulam Qasim, known as Master Saab in Bhakkarwaala, a village comprising around 80 houses.
A matriculation level student, Qasim has been running the only school in his village, single-handedly, for more years than he spent at school himself.
He opened the school in 1994, two years after he cleared his tenth grade examinations. His motivation was not just the passion to educate, but also to make access to education less cumbersome.
“For my primary school, I went to a place 10 kilometres from home. For matric, I had to travel even further,” he says.
Qasim’s village is in Layyah district, 400 kilometres west of Lahore, in the province said to be the most literate in Pakistan. A visit to the area, however, punctures this claim.
Sand dunes dot the barren landscape in this remote village, with no electricity or cell-phone coverage and an almost non-existent road leading up to it. In these conditions, Qasim has taught more than 1,000 children in the last seventeen years.
Educating, under a tree
“I was the first one in my village, in 1992, to pass the tenth grade and I wanted to change things here,” Qasim reminices.
“I did not want my children growing up illiterate so I decided to open a school with whatever resources I had.”
The first class, of 10 students, was taught under the shade of a tree. Now, there’s almost a 100 students, sitting on mats.
Since he is the only teacher, he attends to all the classes together. His only handicap – not being able to teach beyond the fifth grade, he says.
“I tried teaching secondary classes and even arranged for an extra teacher, but he ran away since it was a long distance for him to travel for the meager salary that I could offer,” he says.
Besides, he adds, most of the secondary books are in English which he doesn’t understand.
Qasim charges each student according to what they can pay, with some paying nothing if they are too poor.
Few make it far
As he gives a tour of the school, a student comes up and greets him, almost bowing down in respect.
“If Master Saab was not here to teach us when we were kids, I may have not made it this far,” says Khizar Hayat, the youngest in a family of nine siblings who made it past the intermediate level and is now pursuing a diploma in commerce in a nearby city. Qasim smiles at him.
“When students pass the fifth class, they force me to teach them more but I cannot. Only a few like Khizar make it beyond this village for education,” he adds, with a sigh.
School, at last?
Right next to the tree where the students are taught, a single storey concrete building stands.
After struggling for almost two decades with the local elected representative, a school was built in the village this year, Qasim says.
A plaque above the bolted school door, mentioning the elected representative’s name and a thank you note to Qasim, is a testimony to his efforts.
“It has been six months since this building was constructed. It’s the first school in this area but no teacher has been appointed yet,” he complains.
According to the annual Global Competitiveness Report 2010/11, Pakistan was ranked 123 out of 139 countries, dropping down 22 places from the previous year. The report said that low enrollment in primary, secondary and tertiary schools contributed to this drop.
Qasim does not believe that things will improve any time soon either.
“I do not see everyone being literate here. Not in my lifetime.”
But he promises to teach in this village till he can. “I will continue to teach whatever I can, till I die,” he says.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 26th, 2011.
Also submitted by zeeshafi.
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