Dera Ismail Khan: Girls have surged back to school in former Taliban heartlands in Pakistan’s northwest tribal frontier since the militants were flushed out by long army assaults, officials and tribesmen say.
Even the home village of the former Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)chief, the late Hakimullah Mehsud, has witnessed girls flocking to the local school. The primary school in Kotkai now has over 300 pupils, according to Khalil Dawar, education officer of South Waziristan tribal region.
“The government has had to upgrade a middle school to high level because of the strong admission response following the repatriation of displaced families,” Dawar told News Lens Pakistan.
Fifth grade student Gulnaz, who did not want her full name to be used, wants to become a doctor.
“The government should provide free education,” she told News Lens Pakistan.
In 2009, Pakistan’s military launched an anti-Taliban offensive code-named Rah-e-Nijat (‘path to salvation’) in South Waziristan- the birthplace of Pakistani Taliban, whose harsh takeovers triggered the exodus of thousands of families.
According to a report by FATA Research Center, the annual expenditure on education in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which consists of seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions, the education budget was nearly doubled in 2004 and 2005 from its 2001 level to to Rs 2.7 billion.
Local Taliban were vocal critics of schools, particularly the education of women, on so-called religious pretexts, the report stated.
“After repatriation of families started to South Waziristan two years back, we’ve set a target of 23,000 children to be enrolled in schools. Fortunately, we’ve so far enrolled 18,000 male and female children.”
Khan Malik, president All Tribal Teachers Association, said he is surprised at the level of response from girls.
“Believe me, I was virtually stunned to see a boom in girls’ education,” Malik told News Lens Pakistan.
“The education department assisted by army, political administration and local tribesmen has geared up efforts to educate all children of the militancy-haunted region,” he said.
Tribal elder Muhammad Azam said: “We’ve spent seven long years in displacement but neither the government nor the international organization such as the UNICEF bothered to inquire about our kids’ education.”
The region’s literacy rate is 17.42 per cent compared to a rate of 59.6 percent at federal and provincial levels altogether, the FATA Research Center added.
There are a total of 674,567 educational institutions in FATA and 22,404 teachers, according to the FATA Research Centre.
Dawar said his department has started a fast-paced two phase campaign to achieve the target of enrolling 23,000 primary students.
“We’re optimistic that we will exceed the target to enrol more kids in the second phase, which is scheduled to be started from August 1 to August 31 this year,” he added.
The education department has distributed school bags, books and stationery to all children for free to encourage them to come to school.
The education department plans to repair schools damaged during the military offensives against militants.
Malik Shahjan said most of the schools did not have furniture and boundary walls.
FATA Research Center says that of 458 destroyed educational institutions (primary, middle, high and higher secondary schools and colleges) 141 were girls’ schools blown up by militants.
It notes that 343 educational institutions were completely destroyed, 79 were partially damaged due to blasts, while 36 were damaged. Only in South Waziristan 27 fully damaged and eight partially damaged educational institutions were registered.
Azam said that as families’ repatriation is underway, parents are more inclined to get their kids educated.
“We’re now convinced that educating our daughters and sisters is of paramount importance in present days,” he stated.
“The government should step up efforts to ensure provision of free of cost uniform, books and stationery to all children, which would leave positive impact on the overall situation within a decade,” the tribal elder added.