Books for school are getting more and more expensive. Paper is no longer being made in Lahore and it is being imported from China. We have a huge energy crisis in Pakistan with long hours of what we call load-shedding (when the electricity is cut off) so really not much manufacturing is going on these days. The morning and afternoon is the peak time for publishing and that is when the electricity goes the most. Buying new books is a big problem and it is proving to be an expensive problem too.
A notebook that was selling for Rs 30 just a few months ago is now selling for Rs 50. In fact, everything is now 20 to 30 percent more expensive this year and the burden is on low-income families. It is a very tight situation for them. There is such a sense of despair in these poor families and even we don’t know how to make their children feel more positive about their future.
The government has recently changed the syllabus and buying all the new books for the courses has become difficult for parents. We are now providing all the relevant books at the school so they don’t have to go looking for them outside. Many of these books are not available in the local bookstores and some parents might have to travel to the bigger towns to look for them, which can be expensive.
The parents of our students are now relying on us to bring these books to them and make them affordable. If a family has two or three school-going children then it becomes an even bigger problem. We are offering concessions to needy families and giving them discounts. More than 50 per cent of the students in our school can be classified as needy students. Some families cannot even afford to feed their children decent meals, let alone buy them books. So they prefer to send them to our hostel where we can provide food and shelter free of cost.
If the prices keep rising it will be a problem for us as well. We have limited resources but if we can’t help them then they will suffer.
This week we had another round of parent-teacher meetings and attendance was quite high – there was a bigger turnout than ever before that made us very hopeful. We wanted the fathers to get more involved and this time many of them came, which is important because they are mostly the breadwinners for the family and have to bear the school expenses. Many of the families who came had to first check if they had enough money in their pockets to be able to pay for transportation to the school.
Just yesterday the mother of a student of 7th class, a boy who is 15 years old and lives in our hostel, came to us and started crying during the parent teacher meeting. The teachers were not satisfied with his progress and the mother explained that the elder brother had already run away from school before completing his Matriculation because of the harsh attitude of the teachers. This boy is now working as a motor mechanic and supporting his entire family (the father has passed away). She begged us to take better care of her younger son so that he too does not drop out of school.
I felt very bad for her so I voluntarily offered extra coaching for free. I would like to support her so that her son stays in school and finishes his basic education. For some of these parents, their school-going children are their only hope of a better future.
As told to Rina Saeed Khan