PESHAWAR: Winter is harsh in South Waziristan, but pupils of the government school in Alam Khan Khel have no choice but to take classes under the open sky. Their school still has no building, like more than a fifth of other educational facilities in tribal areas.
“Four teachers impart education to 123 students who have to enjoy leave in times of adverse weather conditions,” district education officer Muhib Dawar told Arab News.
The difficulties confronting Alam Khan Khel children in the Khaisoor Valley are a reality for many students in the region on the Pakistan-Afghan borderlands, which for years were haunted by military operations.
According to 2017-2018 data collected by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s elementary and secondary education department, tribal areas have 5,890 educational institutions – ranging from primary schools to government colleges – and 1,195 of them remain either damaged or completely destroyed.
Out of 1.78 million children aged between four and 14 years, 58 percent are out of school.
The situation is especially dire for girls.
In 2009, the Pakistan Army launched a series of operations against militants stationed in the tribal region. The operations affected the education sector, forcing thousands of students to quit studies, and plunging the literacy rate there to 10.5 percent for girls and 36.66 percent for boys.
While in 2017, a set of constitutional amendments led to the merger of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with neighboring Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province, Naseer Shah Afridi, All FATA Teachers Association president, told Arab News that educational institutions were still facing a shortage of teaching staff, and the government had yet to recruit 4,700 teachers.
The low rate of girls’ enrollment is attributed to the unavailability of residential facilities for female teachers, leaving them unable to stay at their duty stations, Afridi said.
“The education sector misses almost all the facilities. Imagine, the session is about to end in March and we don’t have all textbooks for our students yet,” he added.
Dr. Noor Zaman, secretary-general of Mahsud Welfare Association – an organization formed by the local community to promote education in tribal areas – told Arab News that a number of remote regions had no schools at all.
“We had to set up a makeshift school at Pat Took area in tribal areas where 200 children get an education. I have hired two teachers whom I pay Rs10,000 a month from my own pocket,” he said.
Meanwhile, KP Education Secretary Nadeem Aslam Chaudhry told Arab News that the provincial government had a multi-pronged strategy to rebuild the region’s damaged schools.
“By June this year, we will complete hiring 4,500 teaching staff, which will overcome the deficiency of teachers there,” he added.
Chaudhry said that construction works were underway and 1,000 new and closed schools in the erstwhile FATA would start functioning by April.