Educating Fata

July 07, 2020

The female literacy rate in erstwhile Fata is only 7.8 percent, which is far below the national average. In 2014, a report was issued by Shaoor Foundation, a non-government organisation that works...

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The female literacy rate in erstwhile Fata is only 7.8 percent, which is far below the national average. In 2014, a report was issued by Shaoor Foundation, a non-government organisation that works on girls' education, which stated that out of the total female population of (ex) Fata, 14.7 percent of girls between ages 3 and13 had never been enrolled in any school.

Then in 2017, the Fata annual education census reported that only 37 percent of girls were attending school at the primary level and 5 percent of girls at the secondary level, compared to 49 percent of boys at the primary level and 17 percent of boys at the secondary level.

On December 17, 2018 Dawn reported that 79 percent girls were quitting primary schools in the tribal districts (ex Fata). This dropout was 77 percent according to a report released by Alif Ailaan in mid-2016.

Article 25A of the country’s constitution binds the state to provide free and compulsory education to all citizens but until now the state has not fulfilled its constitutional responsibility in ex Fata. The dream of women’s empowerment seems a far cry due to this level of illiteracy.

The government is yet to reconstruct more than one hundred demolished schools in former Fata, out of which most of the schools belong to girls. Though terrorists destroyed every school they could find, they had preferred destroying girls’ schools as it was a more ‘holy’ task for them.

In 2016, the Chinese government provided aid of $14m for 66 demolished schools in district Khyber, but due to incompetence and lack of interest from the Fata secretariat and the then provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, this grant minimized, as the Pakistani rupee depreciated against the dollar, and was allocated to 48 schools instead of 68. But despite this deficit, reconstruction of these schools has not happened till now and it is feared that this deficit can go further if the reconstruction of the schools is not ensured.

Lack of buildings for schools provides a justification to parents to stop their daughters from getting educated as the tradition of strict pardah (veil) is thoroughly followed in the tribal districts. Moreover, the non-availability of middle and higher secondary schools also forces girls to quit their education.

Non-availability of school buildings and lack of higher secondary schools and colleges, and non-functionality of most of the existing schools also provides a conducive ground for illiteracy in the area. According to a report released by the Independent Monitoring Unit government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2019, most permanently non-functional schools for both boys and girls, around 40, were located in the Mohmand district, followed by 38 in Kurram and 27 in Khyber. South Waziristan had the most number of temporarily closed schools, around 371, followed by 295 in North Waziristan and 187 in Bannu.

Around 32 percent of all closed schools were girls’ schools while 23 percent were boys’ schools. The report showed that the basic facilities in these schools were also not available.

The lack of monitoring system and the unprofessional behaviour of some teachers further add to the reluctance in getting the girls and women in ex Fata educated. As most of the teachers don’t belong to the locality and come daily from their respective districts, such as Peshawar, Mardan and Dera Ismail Khan etc, it creates the issue of discipline as they don’t reach on time and thus leave schools early. Above all, quality education is something that is direly needed in Fata. Some of the teachers, especially the older ones, find it difficult to teach the new syllabus.

This failure of ensuring women’s education in the former Fata region cannot be attributed completely to the government. Our own so-called social norms, customs and traditions too have made the future of tribal women darker. Giving preference to men has strong roots in the patriarchal system of the area. Parents with less interest in their girls’ education are there who think that no matter how much you educate your daughter, she will be leaving the family after marriage.

The state needs to fulfil its responsibilities in all matters and society also has to accept the rights and place of women. They both collectively can ensure the dream of the education of half of the population of ex Fata. Otherwise, we will be left with the same question: is women’s education a pipedream in ex-Fata?

The writer is a freelance contributor.

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