We’ve reached a point in time where education is thought to be the panacea for all our misfortunes. Education is elevated to the extent of a counter-ideology within itself, almost — symbolically combating extremism. At least that is how it’s perceived generally. But there is little said and almost nothing done when educators and their institutes are targeted in the conflict-ridden areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata).
The recent incident where three female teachers in Bajaur Agency were killed along with six other passers-by in a bomb explosion is not an isolated incident where teachers have been targeted. The streak of violence targeting teachers in K-P and Fata is not a recent phenomenon. Many are reluctant to continue their jobs.
Bajaur Agency has a 4.7 per cent girls education ratio, the lowest in the tribal belt. More than a hundred schools have been destroyed by militants in the agency. After female teachers began to be targeted as early as 2007 the number gradually decreased. Posing a serious concern, the government tried to employ teachers from outside Fata, however, many female teachers have been reluctant to teach in the tribal areas. This fact is not just true for teachers alone but humanitarian aid workers as well who have been consistently targeted over the years.
Community level schools, almost 70 of them, were established so that girls could be educated. These female teachers were working for a non-governmental organisation and were only serving at this one school. Working for a paltry sum, they left their homes in Mardan and Malakand Agency for over a year and lived in the midst of violence just for the sake of education. And while they remain no more amongst us, they remain unknown as they were. A ritualistic condemnation from the government has registered them as casualties of a war which keeps on gourmandising all that civilisation stands for.
The larger picture, however, is gloomier. Sectarian markers now plague the education sector. In Hangu district, teachers have been killed after being warned by militants not to teach in areas out of their respected sects. In the larger part of Fata, schools are mere buildings, particularly girls’ schools where the drop out ratio is higher in conflict zones. Blowing up schools once considered to be making headlines is now not even considered to be condemned — probably because so many keep on being destroyed regularly.
The saddest part is that when the three women were killed in the bomb blast, an official for the organisation they worked for requested that a plea be made for some economic assistance of the families. Teachers working in conflict zones did not have any insurance, and although the organisations they worked for would pay some compensation it was too little.
This brings us to ask a more important question — how much does a life of teacher cost? A calculated answer would be: an entire generation. While the deprivation level in militancy struck areas increase, the priorities of the media and government lie elsewhere.
Words cannot suffice anymore. If the battle against extremism is to be won, it cannot be through physical combat or funds alone. We can keep constructing schools and make up plans for eons to come but the fact remains the same, unless the people through whom the plans are to be implemented are not secure the problem will never be solved. Our misplaced sense of priorities and our goals do not match up any longer. We want extremism and violence to end and yet do not even recognise the long-term solution. If education is the solution to the problem — why don’t we even know the names of the educationists that were killed? Those that were fighting our battle but not with a gun.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2014.