DOGAR, Kurram Agency: Bakht Nisa was just 11 years old when she had to leave her house in Parachamkani area in Central Kurram subdivision of Kurram Agency.
After completing her primary school education in 2016, she had no other option but to shift to her relatives’ house in Sadda, about 25 kilometers away from her home, to continue her studies.
“A large number of girls in my village have profound love for education, but they are unable to continue their studies owing to the unavailability of any middle or high school.”
She is indeed the first girl from her village to have taken the initiative to move to another place to pursue further education.
Stretched over an area of 250 square kilometers with 250,000 inhabitants, the Central Kurram subdivision of Kurram Agency is one of the several areas of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where female literacy rate is at its lowest. Though the government declared “education emergency” in June 2016, launching a special enrollment drive in FATA, yet female literacy rate in Central Kurram is still less than 1 per cent. Oddly enough, there is not even a single high school for girls in the whole subdivision.
Data compiled by Shaoor Foundation for Education and Awareness (SFEA) — an Islamabad-based non-governmental organization focusing on advocacy, communication and capacity-building — reveals that 14.7 per cent FATA girls, ranging from three to 13 years of age, have never gone to school.
It further states that the overall ratio of enrollment for girls and boys in the FATA schools is 27 per cent and 73 per cent, respectively.
Saima (name changed for security reasons) hails from the same subdivision who studies in fifth class in a local State-run school. She is extremely concerned about her further education as, unlike Nisa, her family is not financially that sound to bear the expenses of her education.
“I am keenly interested in getting further education but I will not be able to pursue my dream because of unavailability of middle or high school for girls either in my or even in the nearby village.”
Data collected from the Education Department at FATA Secretariat states that there are 51 girls’ educational institutes in Central Kurram — 34 primary, nine middle and seven community schools. The enrollment drive started in March last year helped raise the number of female students in Central Kurram to 6,000.
Majeed Gul, a former assistant education officer at Central Kurram, tells Peshawar Today that the existing schools in the subdivision do not meet the needs of the growing population.
However, the boys’ schools are relatively in a good number. As many as 20,000 boys are enrolled in 143 educational institutes in Central Kurram, including 108 primary schools, 15 middle schools, six high schools, four community schools and 10 registered religious seminaries.
Shaukat Aziz, a rights activist having special focus on promoting education in Central
Kurram, points out that the political administration approves schools to appease the tribal Maliks who establish these schools in their hujras (a drawing room where male guests are entertained in Pashtun areas). In return to providing space for schools, the tribal Maliks get their men appointed as watchman and office-boy. Noreen Naseer, who is the faculty
member of political science department at Peshawar University and running an organization for girls awareness in Kurram said that “Most of the times, the schools are established far from the local population, making it difficult for the parents, being worried about the safety of their daughters, to send them to these areas.”
The lone girls’ high school in Sadda not only accommodates the students of Lower Kurram but a good number of students from Central Kurram also get admission to this school to continue their studies. Presently, around 1,500 girls students are studying in this school.
Principal of the school, Yasmin Bangash, informs Peshawar Today that the reason of the influx of students in her school is that girls from far-flung areas also seek admission to this school. “As many as 280 students study in sixth grade and they have been distributed in four sections. Similarly, there are 190 students in ninth grade who have been placed in two sections.”
Bangash says that thousands of students from Central Kurram would rush to her school if offered transport and hostel facilities.
A former member of the National Assembly from Kurram Agency, Muneer Oragzai, tell Peshawar Today that it is the failure of education system in the tribal areas as the Central Kurram does not have not a single high school for girls. Justifying his failure of not addressing the issue despite being an elected representative of area in the Parliament, he says he had established a number of girls’ primary schools in the area however there were hurdles like population ratio, lack of funds and non-availability of female teachers to establish a girl high school in the area.
Central Kurram Assistant Political Agent Arshad Jamil says that militancy and terrorism badly affected the education infrastructure in the tribal agency. The administration, he adds, is striving to reconstruct affected schools. He, however, assures that the political administration will approve funds for girls’ high school in the upcoming Annual Development Plan.
Asked for the official version, FATA Education Director Hashim Khan says that the ratio of girls’ education is less than boys in FATA but when it comes to Central Kurram it is far graver. He believes that the lack of interest of the parents in getting their daughters educated is the main reason behind low female literacy rate in Central Kurram. “However, it is heartening that now people got aware about the significance of girls education.”
Apart from this, he adds, the lack of local female teachers and non-availability of official residences for those hailing from other areas also contribute to the low literacy rate in Central Kurram.
Responding to a question regarding Education Department’s failure to provide accommodation to the female teachers, Education Director Hashim Khan says that owing to the lack of resources, culture barriers, they could not provide female students and teachers with accommodation facilities.
But at the same time, he is hopeful that the establishment of two recently-sanctioned schools for Central Kurram would help resolve a number of problems pertaining to girls’ education in this remote tribal area.