In a display of shortsightedness and poor planning, authorities in Fata have decided to close down nearly 500 schools in the tribal areas. The move comes as part of what is being called a “rationalisation plan”, whereby schools have been shut on the basis of either having very low enrolment rates or being used for purposes other than that of imparting education. While low enrolment rates and ghost schools represent a very significant problem, the way to deal with this issue has to be to put in place reforms in the education sector, eliminate corruption and work towards improving enrolment rates instead of closing down schools altogether. It should be noted that Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa had also introduced a rationalisation plan earlier but instead of closing down schools, the government posted teachers from schools where there was a surplus of teachers to schools that were short-staffed. This would have certainly been the more logical way of dealing with the problem of wastage of resources.
Fata authorities have said they will reopen the schools if the enrolment criterion is fulfilled. One wonders, however, how a school that has been shut down will work to meet the enrolment criterion. The authorities have moved the students enrolled in the now closed schools to the nearest schools in their areas. The ‘rationalisation’ plan then has failed to rationalise the everyday realities of life in Fata, where there is neither the infrastructure nor the facilities to help students commute easily. The difficult terrain, and tribal rivalries and culture mean that there is high possibility of many students forgoing education instead of opting for a difficult commute to another school. Girl students, as always, would be the worst affected with many of them either not being able to reach school because of lack of accessibility or not being permitted to go to areas too far from home. The people of Fata, who are among the worst sufferers of terrorism and have faced much discrimination at the hands of the state, need more schools, colleges and development opportunities. What they don’t need are schemes that shut down avenues that could have helped make their lives better.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2016.