Peshawar:  The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government considering setting up shipping container-schools to make up for the deficiency of school buildings destroyed in disaster-prone areas of the province.

“The proposal to re-design shipping containers and convert them into insulated classrooms has been floated by the provincial Planning and Development Department to re-establish schools in areas affected by natural disasters and militancy,” says Khalid Ilyas, Chief Foreign Aid Officer at Planning and Development (P&D) Department, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Ilyas told News Lens Pakistan that the education department has agreed to the idea and given green signal to P&D Department to execute it as a pilot project in selected areas. He said it would be later extended to all districts of the province to meet the deficiency of school buildings.

According to the Pakistan Education Statistics 2014-15, a report recently launched by Academy of Educational Planning and Management (AEPAM) in collaboration with Alif Ailaan, a non-governmental organization working in the education sector, 52 percent girls and 21 percent boys are out of school across the province.

According to the KP Education Secretary Mushtaq Jadoon, terrorism, floods and earthquakes have destroyed over 3,400 schools in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in recent years.

The Minister for Elementary and Secondary Muhammad Atif Khan, in a chat with News Lens Pakistan, confirmed that the P&D Department had proposed the idea to build container schools. However, he said, the Department to work on the idea to build pilot models.

“After inspection, the Department will allocate fund to the project in annual development Program,” said Khan.

The decision to make these schools, he said, would allow authorities to set up safe, decent schools at low price because brick buildings take a long time to build whereas the situation on ground demands immediate intervention.

“It’s also quick and easy to expand the space available to an existing school, adding more containers as required to house learners and facilities,” said Khalid Ilyas, the Chief Foreign Aid Officer at Planning and Development (P&D) Department. “Container schools are already being used in different countries with satisfactory results.

According to Ilyas, initially the intervention will be made as a pilot project in disaster hit areas to restore educational activities. Built over a period of three months, each school will have six classrooms. To avoid disruption of classes due to long power-outages, he said, solar power units would be also installed in schools.

“We will convert shipping containers into comfortable, attractive spaces that will be ideal for learning in disaster hit areas,” said Ilyas. “The mechanism of procurement and allocation of funds in the government sector is a lengthy process. However, we are sharing this idea with foreign aid agencies to get financial assistance to speed up the process.”

Once started, he said, the Construction and Work Department would take at least two years construct all schools. Once a container school is ready for use, said Ilyas, the authorities would inspect it to ensure that it meets all requirements.

“A container school will have a life of 50 years life and no maintenance cost,” said Ilyas. “After a successful pilot project, we will overcome the shortage of schools buildings across the province within two years.” 

Ilyas said that the C&W Department spends Rs 15 million to establish a brick and mortar schools whereas a container school could be built with Rs 12 million. “Not only are they cheap to build, they could be equipped with modern facilities for 25 percent less expenditure than a regular school.”

He said India introduced its first container school in 2015, making similar arrangements for disaster-hit zones where education facilities had been damaged. “Initially, international and national experts will assist with installation of container schools.”

A Peshawar based Engineer Saeed Khan said that it was a good initiative of the provincial government as container school took short time to install.

“I believe the long term durability and relatively low maintenance makes it preferable to cinder block construction which is common in KP,” he said.

If the overall condition of the container is good, he said, there was no real need to paint the exterior.

“Each container is 40 feet by 9 feet, so it could even be divided into classrooms,” he said.

“Container schools are easy to set up because they don’t need clearance and construction and can be picked up and shifted anywhere.”

A social and child rights activist, Imran Takkar, appreciated the initiative and said the concept was interesting but added the project would be fruitful if government kept it sustainable.

“For sustainability, the government needs to work and implement article 25A of Pakistan Constitution on universal education properly. The initiative can help provide education to all children and increase the enrolment ratio.”

He said government needed to do proper homework before launching project. He added that education and health was top priority of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) led provincial government but so far, there was no big change in these sectors. 

According to the National Commission for Human Development figures, nearly 600,000 buildings destroyed in the devastating 2005 earthquake in Pakistan’s north, among them 5500 were school buildings. In 2010 floods, at least 10,000 school buildings were damaged. And in militancy and terror, around 750 schools have been targeted and destroyed by the militants across the province.  

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