Out of the total 38 odd candidates, including those belonging to political parties and independents, contesting for NA-44 (Bara) constituency in Khyber tribal district, none have so far visited any of the destroyed or rehabilitated government school in the region.
And that shows that enhancing literacy rate or improving the condition of educational institutions is not their priority. Official figures show that a good number of students, both boys and girls are compelled to study in tent schools which are without electricity and proper lavatory facilities. Drinking water is also one of the major problem almost all schools, both tent and cemented faced with.
Although the officials of the regional education department excused themselves — as they were mostly busy in election related duties — from providing accurate number of Bara children enrolled in schools since 2014, when the return of internally displaced families was almost completed, parents and local residents argued that girls were reluctant to go to schools, especially beyond primary level, due to absence of proper lavatory facilities in most girls schools and acute shortage of water.
Agency Education Officer Jadun Khan was good enough to reply after repeated requests about the number of schools totally damaged during the time of militancy (2009-2012) and the number of tent school his department had established after the return of IDPs in 2014.
According to figures, Mr. Jadun shared, a total of 65 government schools, both for boys and girls were completely destroyed in acts of terrorism at different times, out of which 13 were so far reconstructed and educational activities resumed in those schools. Another 55 schools had minor damages in militant attacks.
The department established 52 tent schools in different localities of Bara in order to what the officials said ‘to accommodate the enthusiastic students desirous of getting themselves enrolled in schools’. Here again the officials were unable to share number of newly admitted children to all the Bara schools.
A government school teacher in Akkakhel area of Bara said on condition of anonymity that apart of acute shortage of drinking water and non provision of electricity, almost 80 per cent of government schools were without proper furniture for students.
He said that students of almost all tent schools sit on the floor with the weather as one of their ‘harshest enemies’. “Blazing sun, strong winds and torrential rains are the factors which are greatly hampering our educational activities in tent school as these could not withstand such harsh conditions,” he added.
A female teacher in Shalobar who also requested not to be named said they were left with no other option but to shut down their tent school whenever they were faced with any weather related incident. She said that absence of lavatories and bathrooms in tent schools was a constant source of inconvenience to both the female staff and the girl students.
Parents, teachers and the affected students had long been demanding provision of these basic, and rather vital, facilities in school building, but nobody including the government officials, local influential elders and the politicians have taken any notice of their repeated requests.
The ‘two-room’ syndrome at the government primary schools was also adding to the number of out of school children as the two rooms facilities could not accommodate rising number of children.
“The number of primary level children in one class have now crossed even the hundred mark in some schools,” said the Akkakhel teacher, adding that building additional rooms with required facilities was now the need of the hour.
The announcement about construction of a private school in Bara under the aegis of the Khyber district administration came under scathing criticism from local residents as they argue that reconstruction of destroyed schools and provision of basic facilities at the tent schools were more required than constructing a private educational institution.
Contacts with a number of contesting candidates also revealed their complete ignorance about the ‘state of affairs’ in the damaged government schools. Most of them were unaware about the total number of destroyed schools and locations of tent schools established in Bara.
Turab Ali, a sipah resident in Bara and a social worker believe that had these contesting candidates had spent one fourth of their election campaign amount on the improvement of government schools in Bara, the story would have been completely different.
He said that he was yet to hear any candidate announcing during their election manifesto that rebuilding of damaged schools would be their priority and provision of clean drinking to all students in Bara will be the first job they would do if elected to parliament.
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