Scenic valley a letdown for students

Zubair Torwali

Swat-Kohistan — not the Kohistan on the Indus — is a pre-dominantly non-Pashtun area beyond the town of Madyan in the scenic Swat valley. It now falls under one administrative unit called Bahrain Tehsil. This Bahrain Tehsil is composed of eight union councils (UCs) and, of them, six union councils are inhabited by non-Pashtun ethnic communities Torwali, Gawri, Gojri, Qashqari and Ushujo.

Among them the Torwalis make the largest ethnic group with Gawri and Gojri the second and third respectively. These union councils are Bahrain, Balakot, Bishigram, Kalam, Mankiyal and Utror. In terms of area this part of Swat becomes almost equal to half of the entire district of Swat of about 5,337 square kilometres. The area falls in the national constituency NA-2, and makes the larger part of the provincial constituency PK-2 Swat-II.

Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqqi (IBT), a local organisation working on education and empowerment of the ethno-linguistic minorities of north Pakistan, conducted a research on the state of education in the area in collaboration with Alif Ailaan under IQRA (Improving Quality, Retention and Access) criteria. In this research study 1,158 participated. This research was conducted in 2015 but no discernable change on the ground is discernable even today.

The study found the situation of overall education in the area worse than in the rest of Swat. Schools catering to girls in Swat-Kohistan are insufficient at all levels — lower secondary, secondary and higher. There are only two high schools for girls in the whole area — one each in Bahrain and in Kalam.

There is no middle or high schools for girls for a population of approximately 90,000 people between UCs Bahrain and Kalam. The same is true for Mankiyal and Bishgram UCs. Girls make up only 26% of all students enrolled in Swat-Kohistan and even these are mostly in the primary grades.  Less than 7% of the students enrolled in middle or high schools in Swat-Kohistan, with the exception of UC Bahrain, are girls. UC Bahrain is an exception because in addition to a government high school for girls, there are also a couple of private institutions. Over 90% girls and 47% boys drop out of school altogether by the 5th grade.

Students’ attendance in all schools of Kalam and Utror UCs and the villages of Peshmal and Laikot is close to zero during the months of March, April and mid-May because of the seasonal migration of the population. Teachers employed at the high or middle schools are mostly non-local—69 out of 100— and usually cannot perform their duties well.

The existing primary schools for girls do not have enough teaching staff. The teacher-student ratio for girls’ primary schools is 1: 84 on average, whereas in union councils Balakot, Utror and Kalam this ratio is 1 to 125, 108 and 102 respectively.

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The middle and high schools for boys are under-staffed too. Schools damaged because of earthquake and landslides still await repairs or reconstruction.  The higher secondary school for boys in UC Utror has not been made functional to date.

Parents are now well aware of importance of education for girls. Only 5% said education for girls is against their faith or culture; and only 9% of the respondents showed reluctance in sending girls to high or higher secondary schools.

Non-local teachers, especially female, face hardships in reaching to their schools because of the damaged roads and hilly terrain. The Parent Teacher Councils (PTCs) mostly only on paper and they don’t have any knowledge of financial procedures and/or of their own roles.

Many teachers complained that the frequent changes in the curriculum affect not only their ability to teach but also create challenges in learning for the students. Non-local teachers in Swat-Kohistan face linguistic challenges in classrooms since the students are so linguistically diverse.

The people engaged in the education campaign demand that the number of primary schools for girls must be increased on an urgent basis to correct the enormous gender imbalance in enrolment and retention; and each union council must have one high school and one middle school for girls at the very least. Degree colleges for males and females need to be established in UCs Bahrain and Kalam.

They argue that most of the issues can be addressed by declaring the area as “Hard Area” with 1) a special quota for students in every department of universities in Khyber Pakhtunkwa 2) the scope of appointment of female teachers must be narrowed down to village levels as the area is too scattered and the union councils are demarcated unevenly. The schools where there is not enough staff must immediately be provided with the required number of teachers.

On a mass level, education needs to be prioritised in the social and political discourse locally and nationally. The activists insist that staff vacancies in the higher secondary schools in UCs Mankiyal, Kalam and Utror must immediately be filled. They further demand that the high schools in town like Bahrain must be up-graded to the status of higher secondary school.

The annual and emergency repair and maintenance funds must be utilised fully with full transparency and accountability.  The participants demand setting up middle and high schools in Satal or nearby in the UC Bahrain. Finally, they suggest that the linguistic diversity of such areas also needs to be considered while designing education policies in the province.

The writer heads an independent organisation dealing with education and development in Swat

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