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May 5, 2015

Education in Swat-Kohistan

Opinion

May 5, 2015

For the last four months I have been closely engaged with the communities living in faraway villages over the hills of Swat-Kohistan on a campaign for the improvement in quality, retention and access (iqra) in education launched by Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT) with the financial and moral support of the countrywide campaign for education, Alif Ailaan.
The initiative, named the Iqra Swat-Kohistan Education Campaign, is meant to raise public awareness for education and seek improvement in it in collaboration with the civil society and the government.
Swat has recently been the victim of two big disasters – militancy and the devastating floods. Both these issues had attracted much international aid through the government and via non-profit national and international outfits. Although the aid and support was imperative yet it had a negative effect on people’s attitude towards development and non-profits. The latter the common people widely remember as ‘injoos’, meaning NGOs.
A widely felt damage in the attitude is the increased dependency and despondency among the general public. As a result people now look to others for help and support. They have developed a habit of always asking for something ‘tangible’, most often cash or relief items. This has almost killed the voluntary zeal among most people.
In such circumstances starting a campaign for the least prioritised sector – ‘education’ – without any cash or relief was a great challenge. However, the concerned local organisation tried to use the waning social institution of the ‘jirga’.
Despite being infamous on human rights issues the concept of the jirga has its positive aspects as well. Jirgas have worked well in conflict resolution and reconciliation between warring parties. Unfortunately these jirgas have so far ignored the pressing problems we face in education, infrastructure, poverty alleviation or holding government institutions responsible or

accountable.
These jirgas also become too active politically during the elections, particularly those of local bodies which activate jirgas of clans, tribes and even communities. Other occasions where these traditional institutions become active are forest royalty issues and feuds. Jirgas can be invaluable if facilitated and properly oriented.
With this trust in stock the local organisation designed the education campaign to work with the traditional jirgas so as to involve them for improvement in the current dismal state of education in Swat-Kohistan, the ignored and least developed idyllic valleys in the upper swaths of Swat district.
So far the local organisation has organised seventeen such large jirgas with the villagers of almost all the villages of the target area. Some observations with respect to education and other issues that came up during these jirgas are worth mentioning. First, people generally still court great hopes in the PTI-led government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The majority of the public appreciates the work carried out by the Independent Monitoring Unit in education. Parents see a visible reduction in teachers’ absenteeism and give credit for that to the ‘mantra of change’ of Imran Khan.
They say that regardless of whether any serious action is taken or not against the black sheep in education the ‘fear’ of the young monitoring assistants who visit each and every school on a monthly basis has ‘forced’ teachers to attend school. Consequently, this has increased teachers’ attendance.
In the entire district there are over 1600 public-sector schools; the 27 monitoring assistants have to survey all these schools every month. In some areas, especially Swat-Kohistan,, it takes two days to visit a single school. Thus it becomes almost impossible for a monitor to visit all the schools in the area. Such areas need to have more monitors, at least one per ward/union council.
The Independent Monitoring Unit does a reasonable job in terms of holding teachers accountable – irrespective of the fact that their ‘boss’, the incumbent education department, usually delays remedial measures on the reports of the IMU. The IMU should share their reports with the civil society and with parents as per the objectives it has given on its website. This may garner more support for them from parents and the civil society.
Second, an overwhelming majority of village people is strongly in favour of ‘education for girls’. They say they like to see their daughters and sisters at school but criticise the government of Pakistan for not making enough schools for girls. Under the campaign 1,188 men and 200 women were approached for their perception regarding girls’ education. Around 98 percent responses were in favour but almost all lamented the lack of middle and high schools for their daughters and sisters.
Third, people were found to be very upset by political interference in education – especially in transfers, appointments and backdoor support for cronies of elected representatives. The people feel that the elected representatives in the past appointed their affiliates in these areas as teachers; these appointees are mostly non-local, hailing from urban centres of Swat.
Lastly, the people of Swat-Kohistan demand that their area must be declared a ‘hard and difficult’ area by the government so that locals could be appointed as teachers. They say that a local teacher with 12 years of education (say intermediate) is far better than a non-local PhD because the former can easily make it to the school in his/her village whereas the latter mostly remain absent because of accessibility and transport issues.
The demand by local people – of declaring Swat-Kohistan a difficult and harder area area – is justified and equitable as the area is part of a hilly terrain. For example a decade ago there was no qualified doctor in the valleys of Kalam. Now there are five MBBS degree-holders and four others are in the making at different medical colleges. This is because of the quota of one seat in medical studies for Kalam approved by the late Amir Zada during his provincial assembly membership during the government of the MMA.
The writer heads IBT, an independent organisation dealing with education and development in Swat. Email: [email protected]

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