Education, especially girls’ education, does not receive much media attention in Pakistan's turbulent political and security conditions. Just few hours away from Mingora, the hometown of Nobel Laureate Malala Yousafzai, 80 per cent of girls’ schools are non-functional in the three districts of Kohistan region.
Locals under the auspices of a non-profit organisation, Kohistan Valley, in January 2018 conducted a survey according to which the three districts of Kohistan, Upper Kohistan, Lower Kohistan and Kolai Palas, Kohistan have 927 schools for boys and girls. Out of these schools, only 273 are for girls. Of those, at least 80 per cent are non-functional.
The survey report reveals that the buildings of 354 schools were either washed away by the 2010 floods or levelled to the ground by the 2005 earthquake. It further adds that while teacher attendance in schools improved when the previous provincial government initiated a monitoring system, at least 40 per cent teachers still remain absent.
Before the last general elections, local civil society leaders, parents and concerned citizens held a session with politicians. The locals who hosted the session shared that the shortage of schools beyond the primary level for girls and boys, shortage of subject specialist teachers, lack of schools, unavailability of basic school infrastructure and facilities are the most important factors contributing to failing education standards in Kohistan.
According to Hafeezur Rehman, who has been campaigning for promotion of education in the region for the past several years, the problem of gender disparity worsens when it comes to middle, high and higher secondary education. There are only two high schools for girls and no higher secondary school for girls in the entire district of Kohistan.
Rehman further says ignorance is so deeply entrenched into our society that closure of schools is not even considered a problem and no one asks the authorities to take measures for opening of closed schools or reconstruction of destroyed ones. More than half of children especially girls in the region never complete primary school education, he added.
Rehman says that the locals had put forward their demands including rebuilding of over 300 schools which are without shelter. The number of girls’ schools should be increased while the closed ones should be reopened.
Another important issue, he adds, is the lack of facilities inside the schools as most of the schools have no science and information technology labs either. “Shortage of teaching staff must be addressed on priority basis,” he asserted.
According to a report of the Independent Monitoring Unit data, 15 schools were closed either temporarily or permanently in 2017. At least 145 boys and 17 girls’ primary schools have no shelters. As per the Annual Status of Education Report 2019, at least 90 per cent of class five students in the Kohistan region cannot read an Urdu story and an English sentence meant for class two, while 93 per cent cannot perform a two-digit sum meant for class two.
Alif Ailaan, a campaign that has worked for five years to put education at the front and centre of public discourse in Pakistan, in its District Education Ranking 2017 report, listed Kohistan at the bottom of its of list of 141 districts in the country with two per cent female education and 16 per cent male education ratio.
According to Bacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation Peshawar, Managing Director Khadim Hussain , Kohistan is in the midst of an education emergency and as is evident from the current situation in Kohistan, previous government has not been able to tackle the problem. He added the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led provincial government, which had been claiming since 2013 that a network of educational institutions would be setup in the province with allocation of 70 per cent development funds with which schools and colleges for girls would be established but since then nothing has been done.
Prominent women’s rights activist and International Woman of Courage Award winner, Shad Begum who hails from Dir district adjacent to Kohistan region says, “it was very unfortunate that relevant authorities had not paid attention to the state of education in the Kohistan region, especially girls.”
“In Pakistan’s patriarchal society,” she adds, “girls’ education has never been a priority. Local people need to understand that education will help their future generations. They must vote for those who they think can reopen the closed schools and reconstruct the destroyed ones.”
Mardan-based educationist, sociologist, and Department of Sociology Chairperson at Abdul Wali Khan University, Professor Syed Rashid Ali says investment in girls and women enables them to be able to lift their families, their communities, their economies and countries along with them. “Mainstream media is equally responsible because it remains busy in reporting on politics and urban centers of the country and ignores rural areas where state of education and other government departments depict a dismal picture,” he added. Professor Rashid says lack of schools, cultural bearers, religious extremism, insecurity, patriarchy and social taboos keep girls away from education.
Educationist and former district education officer who had served in Mardan, Mohmand, Orkazai, Khyber and Swat districts, Tamin Khan thinks differently. He says people can be sensitised to send their children especially girls to schools if destroyed schools were reconstructed and the closed ones were reopened. He said social or cultural restrictions may limit access to education but the prime reason is lack of facilities that has worsened the problem.
“Education has always been a critical issue for developing countries like Pakistan,” he says. “The government has done nothing concrete to mitigate the crisis especially for the peripheries where the educational structure is dismal.”
“The rural areas are not covered as much attention in the media either. Along with lack of other basic facilities of life, all three districts of Kohistan are faced with an education emergency,” the former official added. “An environmental assessment should be carried out before construction of new schools and repairing the damaged ones the region is prone to floods and earthquakes.”
None of the three districts of Kohistan region have ever secured a high score in the District Performance Scorecard (DPS) either. Since the launching of DPS in 2017, upper Kohistan district made it to the 39th position in the monthly ranking this month. Previously, all the three districts of Kohistan remained at the bottom.
Member of the Taleem Action Committee of the two demolished schools in Suo Sub-division of Upper Kohistan Mehmoodul Hassan told The Express Tribune that last year in July, Wapda had demolished two schools¬ – one primary and a high school– in the area for construction of a road to link the 4,320-megawatt Dasu Hydropower Project with the Kamila town. “Since then, the students of both the schools have been receiving education in a miserable condition,” he added.
“Wapda demolished buildings of two schools promising it would reconstruct it but has not even prepared the map for it,” said Hassan. “The students are compelled to attend classes under the open sky,” he informed.
The education activist says they formed the committee to push the authorities for reconstructing the schools but so far nothing has been done in this regard. Wapda had signed an agreement with the provincial Elementary and Secondary Education Department to reconstruct the schools at other suitable piece of land. They, along with other locals of suo sub-division held a meeting with local parliamentarians and Upper Kohistan district administration for reconstruction of the said schools but to no avail. “Over 1,000 schoolchildren are without the facilities and educational environment and they want the relevant authorities to immediately reconstruct both the schools,” he said.
Hassan further informed that the decision to demolish the schools was taken in haste as so far, no road has been constructed rather construction of the road on the old route is underway. “It seems that the schools would be rebuilt on the same piece of land and the public money was wasted due to ill planning,” he added.
Upper Kohistan District Education Officer (DEO) Muhammad Amin told The Express Tribune that the issue of opening the non-funtioning schools and reconstruction of schools which were destroyed or damaged in floods and earthquake was not taken seriously by the previous officials of the education department.
According to the DEO, he has sent eight Project Concept-I (PC-I) to Hazara division commissioner for approval of the reconstruction of the schools destroyed by the floods and earthquake. The delay in reconstruction was caused by the wrong estimates in PC-Is by the previous officials for the rebuilding of the schools. Initially the grant of Rs20 million would be spent, he informed.
The district education official further informed that they have secured the funds which were previously not spent and their ranking in the DPS for the month of February has rose from six to 39. In 2017-18, all the three districts of Kohistan region were at the bottom in the DPS, he informed.
Regarding the two demolished schools, the education official informed that Wapda has started work on shelter schools so that student could be given a proper place for education while work on the reconstruction of both the schools would also begin soon.
Kolai Palas DEO Muhammad Ashraf and Lower Kohistan DEO Hafiz Nawaz were not available for comments. However, an official of the Kolai Palas district education office, who requested anonymity, said that the state of education in the entire Kohistan region has been worsening with each passing day. “Drastic measures on war-footings need to be taken to address the issue of education in the region,” said the official. “We have put forward demands including reconstruction of schools, provision of basic facilities and appointment of teaching staff so that the students of the region could be provided with education.