D I Khan: Parents’ observe that education is a panacea to contain militants’ tendencies as hundred of poor and deserving FATA students received scholarships aimed at reversing the tide of extremism.

In recent past, many uneducated male youth  in the Pakistani tribal region joined the ranks of militants because they were illiterate, said Muhammad Noor, a tribal elder.

“Education is the best available option to get rid of militancy,” he told News Lens Pakistan by phone. “Had the students not been given the scholarships they would have certainly considered joining militants.”

Naqibullah, a student of class 9th from South Waziristan, said the scholarship has helped him to relieve his father from the burden of school fees.

“I want to become a doctor to serve my community by arranging free medical camps if the National Testing Service (NTS) continues this scholarship,” he said.

Dr. Sherzada Khan, chief operating officer (CEO) NTS, told News Lens Pakistan: “We’ve prioritized those kids in scholarships who are poor, deserving and unable to go to schools.”

According to a journal compiled by Fata Research Centre (FRC), “The Impact of Militancy on Education in FATA,” that education is one of the main targets of Taliban in the tribal region.

The tribal belt saw mayhem and turmoil following bloody clashes between security forces and Taliban. Media reported that at least 80,000 Pakistanis (insurgents, security forces, and civilians) have been killed during the last decade in violence across Pakistan, according to Physician for Social Responsibility (PSR) Body Count.

Under the Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS), Dr. Khan said NTS has already offered scholarships to students of higher education in the country.

“The tribal areas were under the sway of terror. We decided that the students from these areas are more deserving to avail the scholarship facility,” he added.

Wishing anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to media, a senior official at the Ministry of Federal Education and Professional Training said of the NTS scholarship: “We deeply appreciate the NTS for offering scholarship to deserving and poor students of FATA.”

The latest survey conducted by FATA Secretariat and the Bureau of Statistics shows overall literacy rate in FATA is 33.3%—far less than the national average of 58% as estimated in 2013-14.

Similarly, the adult literacy rate in FATA is 28.4% while the national average is 57%. There is also a marked gender gap in literacy. Male adult literacy rate in FATA is 45% whereas the same for women is a mere 7.8%, the survey stated.

Sharing the details of the scholarship, Madiha Aslam, assistant director CSR of NTS, told Truth Tracker that the organization has offered a total of 589 scholarships to Fata students primarily from South Waziristan region—the worst affected area by militancy.

“We had the financial status of the students verified officially and unofficially through a welfare association known as Mahsud Welfare Association—a Waziristan based organization working for the welfare of its community,” she added.

Generally, Aslam said that NTS offers a total of 1,370 need-based scholarships to students studying in different intuitions across the country. One-year scholarships are offered for the first time to Fata students from first grade to the master level since April 2016 on need based criteria.

However, Dr. Khan said: “Initially we approved Rs. 10 million for this purpose (scholarship) and we will continue this scholarship.” He stressed NTS has strict criteria to continue this scholarship so that only the deserving students with good academic progress continue this education. “As long as this condition is met, we will keep on helping needy students,” he remarked.

The Ministry of Education, Training and Standards in Higher Education (MET&SHE) in Pakistan, in collaboration with UNESCO Pakistan and UNICEF Pakistan prepared “Education for All 2015 National Review Report.”

The report places the educational indicators of Pakistan as dismally low—showing about one-third primary school age children are out of school and 42% population (age 10+) is illiterate.

In addition, it notes at the national level, about two third women of age 15+ cannot read and write and 35% girls are out of school. Gender Parity Index in case of participation in primary education is 0.82. It is estimated that over 6.7 million children are out of school, and majority of them (62%) are girls.

According to documents, NTS was established in July 2002 in response to an expressed need for a testing service in the National Education Policy (1998-2010) and the Information Technology (IT) Policy of government of Pakistan.

The organization is playing a role in promoting merit-based quality education at the college and university level. NTS tests and assessments are now a pre-requisite for both public and private sector especially among engineering and medical institutions, and universities for admissions.

Waris Khan, a tribal elder whose son is the beneficiary of the scholarship, recalled that a number of children, displaced from the war on terror, have got the opportunity to go to schools now.

“I have five sons but I was unable to educate them because my expenses multiplied after we left our hometown seven years ago,” he rued.

He said that now his son and his nephew go to school because the NTS have extended financial help in paying his kids fees.

Muhammad Nawab, another tribesman whose son got the scholarship, said most beneficiaries of the scholarship are either orphans or poor children who could not afford to get education.

When contacted for comments, Rehmat Khan, Add. IG police (Retd.) who hails from FATA, said that offering the scholarship by the NTS is a right step at the right time.

“I am optimistic that the scholarship will trigger a revolution for a positive change,” he added.

Aslam said, “more than 14.5 million candidates from reputable associates and partner institutions and organizations have appeared in the NTS tests till October, 2016.”

“We get three month cash to pay our school fee in advance. We also get some pocket money,” Naqibullah, the scholarship beneficiary, added.

Dr. Khan called upon other organizations and welfare trusts to come forward and contribute to educate deserving kids in larger interest of the country and nation.

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