ISLAMABAD - Zubda Shaheen has been teaching street children and labourers at a community school of Mloot for the past 17 years. Bearing the cost of school due to non-payment for nine months, has made her gloomy and despondent.

"Brilliant students who can't afford formal schools have restrained me from closing down this school. The students used to get free books and writing material but now the material supply has been discontinued for the last two years," she said.

Over 13,000 teachers have not been paid since June 2013 as new PC-I of the project could get approval only after the completion of previous PC-I. "The salaries of the teachers are already meagre. A teacher is paid Rs4,500 per month along with Rs1000 for utility bill," said sources.

Former CJ Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry in 2011 during a hearing when the project was about to be devolved directed the government to raise the salaries to at least Rs 8000 but to no avail , the sources said. The ministry of education, trainings and standards in higher education is running the nationwide non-formal primary education programme in all provinces and regions of Pakistan named as Basic Education Community Schools (BECS), mostly in rural areas where formal schools are nonexistent. The BECS prefers to enrol female students and employ female teachers to impart education in its schools. Eighty per cent of teachers and 60 per cent of learners in such schools are female.

The element of corruption is apparently standing in the way of the project approval. The Central Development Working Party (CWDP) of Planning Commission has approved the PC-I of the project but refused to forward it to Ecnec raising objections over ghost schools and illegalities in promotions of project employees. It also set a condition of third party evaluation of the project for approval of PC-I and refused to allocate the amount of Rs 1000 that is paid to each schoolteacher under the head of utility bills.  About eight employees of the project got two grade promotions illegally and the ministry of education trainings and standards in higher education failed to take any action against them, the sources said. A third-party validation by an NGO was also not submitted to the Planning Commission. The project that provides free education to child labourers with flexible timings can lure street children if it is run properly with enough funding and can help the government achieve its enrolment targets, a BECS official.

"But a few elements in the schools and BECS headquarter have cast doubts about the whole project. Most of the schools are genuine and due to corrupt official majority of the hardworking female teachers have suffered," said one of the project managers.

Eighteen years after its initiation in 1995, the fate of the project still hangs in the balance. About 423 employees are still uncertain about their future, as the government has set a condition of clearing Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) examination for regularisation. "When employees of other department and ministries have been regularised without passing this examination, why this condition has been set only for BECS and National Commission on Human Development (NCHD) employees? It is a sheer injustice with them as they have been serving in these departments for the 18 years and have become overage to take any such examination," objected another BECS employee. There are certain rules and procedures that Planning Commission has to follow, remarked Asif Shaikh, Planning Commission spokesperson. "It's shameful that we have discriminatory attitude with the builders of the nation. When we have not provided them enough facilities, its unfair to expect from them to produce 100 percent output," said the newly appointed Education Secretary Mohammad Ahsan Raja.

“Their salaries would be increased and we are taking up this matter with the Planning Commission and those involved in irregularities will be taken to task.”