Students in Pakistan are now subject to intense security measures, with educational institutes deploying armed guards and biometric scanning.
The heightened awareness follows a fatal incident last month, when a militant group attacked a school and shot dead 21 students.
But, experts fear the measures are also having negative impacts on students…
From Karachi, Naeem Sahoutara has this report.
On a cold Monday morning students are arriving at St Patrick’s Girls College in central Karachi.
One by one they stop at the entrance to scan their thumbprints on a biometric machine.
16-year-old student, Jennifer Patrick, explains why.
“Before going to our classes we have to give (scan) our thumb impression on the machine. Then a (SMS) message comes from the college to our home,” she says, “that the children have reached the college. The same thing happens when we leave the college.”
Outside the college, several armed security guards, dressed like paramilitary troops, have been deployed to keep watch.
The routine security checks, says Jennifer, are now very strict.
“All the times guards are present, they are on the duty,” she says, “The security situation in our college is really quite nice. It’s really tough. No one can enter into the college easily. There is fixed visitors time. No one can enter without security. They have to pass through some security terms.”
The administration has received threats from Taliban-linked militants, who are angry that young women are being educated.
The latest warning came last month, days after militants attacked a public university in the northwestern city of Charsada.
Twenty-one students were shot dead and 30 others were injured.
The security guards killed five suicide bombers before they blew themselves up.
“I just received a message from the college that my daughter has reached,” says Jennifer’s mother Naureen at home, “They send us messages twice a day, when she reaches and when she leaves.”
Parents like Naureen are concerned about their children’s safety due to security threats.
But she says she does feel that her daughter is secure at her college.
“Yes, yes I do because I don’t think that any body can easily cross their security line and reach inside the college like the Charsada university attack,” she says, “Because in almost every city there are terrorist attacks, so we want our children to be safe wherever she or he is.”
The Taliban consider modern education un-Islamic and have bombed hundreds of schools, particularly schools in the tribal region.
But, now the group is also targeting education institutes in big cities, particularly private ones that are co-ed and follow a Western syllabus.
High school teacher, Julia Abel, says that in the current environment schools and colleges have little choice but to boost security.
Parents, says Abel, have been pushing for enhanced security to ensure their children are safe.
Regular safety drills are now conducted at schools, colleges and universities, to train the students what to do in the event of an attack.
Eight-year-old student, Imama Butt, is a grade three student at a well-known private school in Karachi.
She is taking part in a weekly safety drill.
“We first do the lock down drill, close the doors and windows and go down the table,” she explains, “Two or ten minutes later the guard comes and says it’s a sunny day. Then we come out of the class and start studies.”
In the drill, about a dozen security guards surround the building, some of them posing as Taliban.
They carry shotguns that scare the students, Imama says.
“We have ten guards around the play area, our classes and the doors. They have guns. Those, who are standing in classrooms have big guns, those who are outside they have smaller guns,” she says, “I don’t like guns, I’m scared of guns because they can start fire and we get scared. ”
Some parents say the drills are useful, but others are worried about their children studying in an increasingly militarized environment.
Syed Kumail Abbas is the Sports Manager at the Habib Public School. He says the measures are restricting the students’ freedoms.
“Now you know that everyone has to be in a line with a teacher monitoring them, escorting them to the gate, lab, gymnasium or canteen,” he says, “So they all know they have to walk in a line. It’s a very robotic manner, so they’re becoming a robot, a zombie.”
Others argue that exposing students to guns could be detrimental, psychologically.
But for now studying under the shadow of guns looks like the way it is going to be to keep students safe.
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