Several candidates for the coming general elections belonging to various political parties gathered in Swat on June 25, 2018, at a convention to discuss the failing state of education in District Swat, analyse the five-year education plans of contesting parties and probe reasonable solutions to ensure quality education across the government-run schools.
The convention was organised by Udhyaana Education Campaign, and attended by parents, youth activists and civil society members of Swat.
Fazal Hakeem PTI (PK5), Irshad Ali PMLN (PK5), Miangul Shehreyar Amirzeb PPP (NA3), Malik Riaz PKMAP (PK7), Muahmmad Amin MMA (PK5), Fazal Rehman QWP (PK5), Wajid Ali Khan ANP (PK5), and Dr. Iqbal of Swat Awami Party (PK5) attended the programme. Representatives of All Primary Teacher’s Association (APTA) were also present at the event.
Swat, which had been at the receiving end of extremism and violence from the years 2005 to 2009, resulting in decreased opportunities for girls to access education, is in its recovery phase. Girls and boys are now going to school, albeit still faced with steep challenges. One of these includes poor learning outcomes with only 40.2% of students of class 5 able to read a story in Urdu/Pashto, and only 44% of students in class 5 being able to solve a two digit division sum. Coupled with a shortage of subject specialist teachers in both boys and girls schools, quality education has taken a massive hit in Swat’s schools over the past several years.
Another challenge pertains to lack of post-primary schools for children to continue education after Class 5. According to Swat’s District Education Office own report, about 81% of all the schools in the district are primary schools. Only 2.3% (38 schools) in the district are higher secondary, which are at an even greater distance from the students’ homes, leading to a steady decrease in enrolment, especially for girls. Gender disparity for girls gets even further aggravated due to the lesser number of girls schools at every level as compared to schools for boys. This difference gets worse as we move to the high and higher secondary schools where boys have twice as many schools as girls.
During the session, moderated by renowned senior journalist Rahimullah Yousafzai, PTI’s Fazal Hakeem highlighted the efforts that were undertaken in the last government´s tenure including construction of new schools and merit-based recruitment of teachers. He promised improvement in the higher education system, including provision of an Engineering University.
PPP’s Miangul Shehreyar Amirzeb stressed the importance of changing mindsets through improvements in the education system, instead of sole focus on infrastructure of schools. He underlined the need to focus on quality of education, instead of quantity. Irshad Ali of PMLN emphasised the need of free and safe transport for students, especially females, who are unable to access schools due to this issue.
ANP’s Wajid Ali accentuated the past record of the party working for education, he explained how majority of the education budget allocated to them in their last tenure was spent on re-opening of the closed girls’ schools in Swat. He reiterated his party’s commitment for improving education in the area.
Towards the conclusion, all contesting candidates signed on a charter of demands for the constitutional provision of quality education for children of Swat. The charter, backed by a host of organisations, parents and community members in Swat, outlined the following demands:
Steps needed on a war-footing to engender change
Only revised curriculum can serve as a positive agent of learning