While the world observed Literacy Day on September 8, a state-run girls school was dynamited by Taliban insurgents in the Khazina Safi area of Mohmand Agency on the night between Friday and Saturday.
According to an unofficial tally, the militants have blown up as many as 500 schools in the tribal regions, thus far.
The bombing is a stark reminder of the challenges facing the education sector in the tribal areas. At the same time, it demonstrates the militants’ opposition to basic literacy, jeopardising the future of a whole generation of young tribal children.
While elsewhere in the country the public education sector is plagued by a myriad of problems, including ghost schools, outdated curricula and teachers’ absenteeism, in the tribal regions the problem is compounded by obscurantist Taliban who are opposed to secular education.
The hardest hit of the seven semi-autonomous tribal agencies that make up the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or Fata, is Mohmand Agency where 102 schools have been destroyed since the start of the Taliban insurgency.
Elsewhere in Fata, 273 schools were blown up by insurgents over the same period. According to the breakup, 98 schools were dynamited in Bajaur, 70 in Khyber, 65 in Kurram, and 40 in Orakzai. Surprisingly enough, schools in the Waziristan region – both North and South Waziristan agencies – have been spared by militants.
In the Safi area of Mohmand alone, almost 60 schools have been blown up so far, according to the education officer for Mohmand Agency.
However, he believes that with almost 30 to 40 per cent literacy rate among males and 25 to 30 per cent among females, the agency fares better than other tribal regions.
Officials at the Fata Education Directorate paint a bleak picture. They say that the literacy rate in Fata is well below the national average.
Officially, the average literacy rate in Pakistan is 58 per cent. On the other hand in Fata, male literacy is reported to be as low as 25 to 30 per cent and female literacy is as low as 5 to 10 per cent in some parts of the tribal belt. Of the 20,000 teachers employed by the Fata Education Directorate, 6,000 are reportedly drawing salaries without reporting for duty. These teachers, according to sources, cite the volatile security situation as the reason for not reporting at their respective schools.
While a few schools have been re-built by Pakistan Army, and foreign donors such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, analysts say the government should make concerted efforts to ensure that the next generation of tribesmen is not deprived of education which is important for fighting the menace of militancy.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 9th, 2012.