FATA Returnees Are Determined To Send Their Children To Schools Despite All Odds
By Shakir Mehsud, Gohar Wazir, Saleem-ur-Rehman and Nabi Jan Orakzai
PESHAWAR: Militancy has brought nothing to Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) but devastation and destruction. It destroyed the overall fabric of the tribal society. The tribal culture was ruined. Businesses and infrastructures were destroyed. Thousands of residents of FATA had no other option than to leave homes for safer places in a state of helplessness.
Apart from all these, the education sector was the most affected one. Perhaps it was the prime and the easiest target of militants. Usually militants are of the view that students in those schools are westernized and education system instills secular thinking in them. This is why they justify attacks on schools providing worldly education.
According to Fata Secretariat website, the education ratio in Fata has dropped down from 29 percent to 17 percent due to the decade long reign of terrorism. About 700 schools have been blown up in different tribal agencies so far.
Before the arrival of militancy in the region, there were about six thousands schools in FATA where more than 0.6 million students were enrolled. With the destruction of schools, the enrollment ratio has also dropped down.
However, as peace is being restored in these areas and normalcy is returning to life, educational activities are also getting momentum with every passing day. Educational activities have resumed in areas which have been cleared off militants and opened for the return of IDPs.
“In those subdivisions where the internally displaced persons have returned, schooling activities are restored, whereas in some unsafe areas, educational institutions are still closed,” says Dilawar, a school teacher in North Waziristan.
Wasim Adil, another resident of North Waziristan says that schools in his ancestral village are in full swing. Another thing which he points out at is the attendance of teachers, which was also one of the major factors of the backwardness of education in Fata. Unlike in past, he says the teachers are now attending schools regularly.
Reports pouring in from Kurram tribal agency say schools are reopened in upper parts of the agency while in lower areas, the situation is still unchanged. “Educational activities are completely restored in Upper Kurram. However, 90 percent of schools in Lower Kurram agency are yet to be opened as the school buildings are laying devastated since they were blown up by militants,” reveals a local.
A tribal elder from the Orakzai agency tells TNN correspondent that as many as 102 schools were blown up in the agency which are yet to be rebuilt. He informs that schools are reopened in those areas where the displaced populations have been repatriated. However, he adds thousands of families of two subdivisions of the lower Orakzai agency are still living in camps and rented houses.
Lal Afzal, a resident of Khyber Agency says that educational process has been resumed in Bara sub division of Khyber Agency as temporary arrangements have been made in schools to save precious time of students. “Most of the schools have been established in tents as it will take time and money to raise concrete buildings of schools blown up in the area,” Afzal explains and adds “Our children love to go to school. But when it rains or there is some windstorm like situation, their schools are closed,”
The people of Mohmand Agency are somehow satisfied with the efforts the local authorities have taken for resumption of educational activities in the area. However, they say there are still some problems which need to be resolved. “Soon after the return of the IDPs, the government strived to reopen the damaged schools in the agency but there are still many schools which are still closed,” remarks a tribesman. “The key issue is that the children, who remained out of school for so long, are not willing to go to schools wholeheartedly,” he observes.
Bajuar is the only agency where almost 100 percent educational institutions have been reopened. “Situation is normal in the agency. People have returned to their homes. Schools are reopened and the process of learning is going on smoothly,” says Abdul Manan, a resident of Bajuar agency.
According to official statistics, there are 951 educational institutions including schools and colleges in North Waziristan. Out of the nine tehsils in the agency, educational institutions in five tehsils are currently functional as the local administration have cleared these areas for the return of IDPs.
In addition, 110 schools have been reopened in the surrounding areas of Mir Ali. Besides, educational activities have been resumed in 14 schools in Miranshah.
More than a decade of militancy in North Waziristan affected the education of more than 80,000 students in the agency. However, now the process of education has been resumed in the areas of return. According to some locals, the residents of North Waziristan are now taking more interest in pursuing education, as of late though, they have realized its importance.
“While living away from homes, the people of North Waziristan saw children of other areas going to school and getting education, it made them realize the importance of education,” says Nekzali Shah, a resident of Miranshah. “It was a sort of blessing in disguise. Had they not been forced to migrate, they would not have got the experience and exposure to the outer world,” says Shah adding “Now everyone wants to get his child admitted in the school and that is the main reason of the high enrollment ratio in the area,”
An office bearer of the teachers association Mubarak Shah urges the government to focus on reconstruction of the demolished school buildings besides ensuring provision of other necessary requirements. “Most of the schools lack classrooms, furniture and other requirements which need to be provided urgently,” he says. He also shares the same views as expressed by another tribesman Nekzali Shah that the tribesmen have realized the importance of education and now they want to impart education to their children.
There are other teachers who complain that they have been posted far away from their homes that makes it difficult for them to go to schools on daily basis. Teacher Kiramatullah, who is a resident of Mir Ali says he is unhappy over his posting in a school in Gulabkhel area in tehsil Spinwam.
“It is quite far away from my home. Major part of my salary is being spent on my travelling therefore I request the authorities concerned to post me in my hometown,” he says.
According to a senior accountant in the agency education office Fidaullah, educational institutions have been reopened in Dosali, Garyom, Razmak, Shwa and Spinwam areas while efforts are underway to resume activities in rest of the areas including Miranshah, Mir Ali and Khesoor. “The moment these areas are reopened for IDPs, schools and colleges will also be restarted,” he adds.
Many of the locals say lot of precious time of their children has been wasted during the period they were away from home. Now they are adamant to make recovery.
The Nine years long militancy and the subsequent successive military offensives in Bara Tehsil of Khyber Agency not only forced thousands of families on migration, it also affected the educational career of more than 40,000 students as all 152 educational institutions were closed down in the area.
Following restoration of peace in the Bara tehsil and the remote Tirah valley of the Khyber agency and the consequent return of the displaced persons in 2015, majority of educational institutions have become operational in the area. Out of the total 152 educational institutions in Bara subdivision, 144 have been reopened while efforts are underway to restart the remaining ones. Besides,for the first time in history, 27 new government schools are being established in the scenic Tirah valley of the agency, which remained inaccessible for decades as per official record.
This time students seems more enthusiasts than before despite the fact that majority of the schools do not have roofs and boundary walls. “We should not lose heart. We will show to the world that education can be achieved even in tents,” says Umar Shah, a student of a local tent school.
According to agency education officer Abdur Rauf, 231 tents have been provided to the management of those schools which were blown by the militants. He added that more than 17000 students are getting education in these tented schools. Abdul Rauf further says that as many as 98 tents have been given to different schools during the current session. He adds that furniture and other necessary items for the students will be provided to the schools at a later stage. “Since most of the schools do not have buildings, so if we give furniture and other items to the tented school now, it may get damaged and lost,” he argues.
It is also a good omen that the teachers of these schools are showing great commitment to their jobs. “Come what may, it is our pledge with the nation and the government, we will educate the stars of our future generation,” vows a teacher Jalil Khan. In the same breath, Jalil Khan appeals to the parents to keep sending their children to schools so that they can be imparted education.
A local elder points out that a large number of teachers are non-local and they have been facing problems while coming for duties due to frequent closure of routes by security forces. “Since large number of teachers are non local, their average attendance in school is also non-satisfactory due to which the students suffer and their time is being wasted,” he says and suggests a solution saying the local educated lot should be appointed as teachers in the schools who will be having no transportation problems in coming from and to schools.
Like other tribal agencies, South Waziristan also suffered from violent extremism over the last one decade. A large number of schools were destroyed in different parts of the agency.
As a result of successful Operation Rah-e-Nijat in the South Waziristan agency, the displaced IDPs are being repatriated and rehabilitated in their hometowns. So far more than 15000 families have returned to their homes. With the resettlement of IDPs, schools are also reopened in the areas cleared off militants. Beside others, the Government High School Tiarza which was badly damaged in the conflict, has reopened recently.
The school, which was established 30 years ago, was a place where thousands of students acquired education prior to militancy struck the region. There were more than 800 students enrolled in the school at the time it was closed down back in 2009 following the launch of Operation Rah-e-Nijat against militants in South Waziristan.
After the reopening of school, more than 200 students have been enrolled, says a teacher of the school. He says the number of students seeking admission in the school is increasing with every passing day. “The schools which were closed down before the start of the military operation are now opened. The more peace is restored, the more education is flourishing in the area,” he observes.
South Waziristan has a total of 743 educational institutions including three degree colleges. Before the advent of militants in the area, there were more than 30,000 students enrolled in all these institutions.
After a military offensive was started in Mahsud dominated Ladha and Sarwekai subdivisions in 2009, as many as 550 schools and two degree colleges were closed down as a result education of thousands of students was suspended only to be partially restored when the people of Kotkai and Chaghmalai started returning to their hometowns in 2010.
Tiarza subdivision was reopened for IDPs’ return in 2015 after almost seven years. “We have returned to our homes after spending almost seven years as IDPs. The educational activities have been restored and hopefully it will gain momentum with passage of time,” says Abdul Wadood, a resident of Tiarza. Abdul Wadood is optimistic about the future of education in the area saying the strength of students in the high school of Tiarza will exceed the previous limit as people are valuing education more than before.
Meanwhile, Fata secretariat authorities say they have also been working on war footings to bring education in Fata back on track. “There are only few pockets in South Waziristan and Orakzai agencies where schools are not opened yet. The rest of the agencies have been cleared and the children are going to schools as per routine,” tells an official of the Fata education directorate Abdul Manan to TNN during an interview. Manan adds that 80 percent of the damaged schools have been rehabilitated while rest of the demolished schools are being included in the Annual Development Program (ADP) so that new buildings will be reconstructed as soon as possible.
He reveals that enrollment drive has been launched in Fata from April 8-May 31, 2016, during which maximum number of out of school children will be enrolled in schools.
The official informs that as many as 1750 teachers will be hired in Fata including science teachers, senior English teachers, PTCs and CTs to cope with the problem of staff shortage in the far flung areas.
“The development of Fata depends upon the sincerity of the elected parliamentarians, local elders, social workers and the administration. The day all these stakeholders initiate a joint struggle, all problems of the people of Fata will be resolved,” he observes.