On the 13th of February, the Punjab Minister for School Education, Murad Raas, revealed that the Punjab government will begin drug testing in both private and public schools across the province. The reports of these drug tests will be shared with the parents of the children, to ensure that there are appropriate steps taken at home, in the case of a child found using drugs.
This move by Raas, is part of a campaign to help reduce drug abuse in educational institutions. He also said that the plan had been laid out with assistance from the Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) and the department of health. According to the minister, the government had been receiving reports, from different sources, about the use of crystal meth (methamphetamine or commonly referred to as ‘ice’ in slang) within schools across the province.
Raas also stated, that an order has been given to all deputy commissioners of Punjab to focus on closing cigarette and paan shops within a 500-yard radius of schools. He also added that, “we found that most of these shops were selling drugs to the students and are playing the role of facilitators.”
Facing the actual problem
This step can be seen as one that may help bring greater awareness in the fight against drugs as well as combatting the issue of drug abuse across the region. If the system is implemented properly, and is monitored with due diligence, than it will prove to be a major step in fighting the drug abuse problem.
However, the issue of drug abuse is not one that resides on the surface, but stems down to the educational system itself.
The simple reason for the increasing number of school children taking drugs is because there is very little else that they can focus their minds on. When schools fail to provide adequate extracurricular activities, and fail to meet the standards of proper infrastructure, which have to do with sports, music, or the arts, for example, the turn towards drugs is inevitable.
Pakistan also has one of the highest dropout rates in the world, with factors like corporal punishment, dissuading many children from ever returning to school. According to the Pakistan Education Statistics most frequent report, there are 22.4 million children out of school. Therefore, it can be safe to say that a majority of these children turn to drugs and other such activities.
In some rural areas, heroine is usually cheaper than food, and within these areas most families live below the poverty line and cannot afford to consume food on a daily basis, therefore, they have no other choice to but to involve themselves with circumstances where they are left abusing drugs. This, then, also becomes a systematic issue as almost 39% of Pakistanis are living in multidimensional poverty and have poor standards of living.
To visit each and every school in the province, and test each student for drug abuse is probably the worst way of tackling such an issue. There are over 60,000 private schools and over 52,000 public schools in the province. Even on the off-chance that each school houses 3 children who take drugs, the Punjab government would end up having to check 336,000 children to check for drug users amongst them. The Punjab government will probably end up exhausting their resources before they can finish the initiative.
The constructive solution
The solution, therein, does not lie with the prospect of introducing a drug accountability scheme for the students in the Punjab province, but in making sure that the policy makers give their due diligence and importance in helping to improve educational standards. Introducing proper teaching practices and subsidizing rural school infrastructure along with cracking down on drug suppliers will prevent children in schools from consuming drugs.
If the Punjab government really wants to help the problem of drug abuse in schools, then instead of drug testing initiatives, they should act through the provision of teacher training and introducing facilities, where children can go and use their time constructively.
There are approximately 9 million children out of school in Punjab alone, in which a good chunk probably use drugs. Therefore, why not spend precious time and resources on the kids out of school and provide them with an opportunity to help curb the drug epidemic.
These preposterous schemes just go to show just how important education is in the eyes of the government, that they forget to tackle real issues and fixate upon just one area where problems exist, without understanding that if they confront the issue from the bottom-up they might just be more successful in exterminating the drug problem.