Inaccessible education

September 2, 2023

The Battagram incident has triggered a debate on the challenges that children in remote areas face in pursuit of education

Inaccessible education


t is early in the morning. 17-year-old Muhammad Ibrar, a student of the Government Middle School, Batangai, sits in a chairlift. Gul Faraz, a shopkeeper, and six other students are already aboard. As Gul Faraz waves his hand to the operator to start the chairlift, it moves towards Batangai from Jangrai. Halfway through the journey, one of the two ropes snaps. Alarmed, the passengers start screaming as the chairlift is stranded.

The incident occurred in the Pashto union council of Allai tehsil of Battagram district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on August 22.

Ibrar, an 8th grade student, says they were petrified when the rope of the cable car broke. However, he says their hopes were raised when people gathered around the site, Later, an army helicopter arrived at the scene and helped in the rescue operation. He says some of them started losing their hopes again when the helicopters went away after rescuing only one of the students, Irfanullah.

The rescue operation led by Pakistan Army was completed in 15 hours. People from Bisham and Shangla and zip-line experts from Naran and Mansehra also helped.

The incident was not the first of its kind. It received nationwide media coverage owing to the school students being stuck in the chairlift and the unusual army operation. The rescuers received appreciation letters from the caretaker prime minister besides cash rewards and gifts from some politicians, businessmen and businesses.

The incident has triggered a debate on the challenges the children in hilly areas face in pursuing education. Questions are being asked regarding the existence and nature of educational facilities for these children.

Some of the children in hilly areas walk for miles on difficult terrains to reach their schools. Catastrophic floods of last year washed away roads and walkways in three union councils of Kohistan – Dubair, Ranolia and Kayal.

Rizwan-ul Haq, a social worker from Dubair, says that since the roads were constructed along the river banks, they were swept away when the floods hit the region.

“We usually have roads along the banks of rivers and drains. Once these are washed away, items of daily use have to be carried personally until the roads are rebuilt. A majority of the residents of the three union councils have migrated to Mansehra and neighbouring districts,” he says.

These events have adversely affected the schooling of local children. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Elementary and Secondary Education Department has set up some tent schools in collaboration with district administration. However, people are hesitant to send their children to these schools due to the tough terrain.

Saranzeb, a resident of Dubair, Kohistan Lower, says there is no school left in the Dubair union council. The few schools that are still operational, he says, are far away.

“Some time ago, people had constructed some wooden bridges on their own but those, too, were washed away when the river changed its course. The primary section of the nearest school was badly affected. People simply cannot allow children to traverse dangerous paths on their own,” he adds.

Ejaz Ahmed, the assistant sub-divisional education officer in the Planning and Development Department, says that of the 51 schools damaged in the floods, 32 were completely destroyed. Eleven of the schools, he says, had lost the boundary walls and playing spaces.

“We are continuing teaching with the help of the district administration. Some of the schools have reopened as tent schools. Students from some schools have been accommodated at other schools. For the rest, we have submitted a report to the government. However, there has been no progress on the matter so far. We continue to do whatever is possible to continue or revive normal school activities. We are trying our best to provide all the basic facilities.”

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Shangla. He writes on education and human rights, and is a documentary filmmaker and radio broadcaster

Inaccessible education