Would you believe that one region in Pakistan has as low as a 7.8% female literacy rate? And that is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, commonly known as FATA. (Another report put it at 11% in 2016). FATA consists of seven tribal agencies and six frontier regions, and are directly governed by Pakistan’s federal government through a special set of laws called the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR). The reasons for such a depressing literacy rate in the region are quite obvious: cultural and social constraints, poverty, local leaders disinterest in education of their communities, hostile attitude towards women’s liberation, very low budgetary allocations for the sector and, on top of it, the menace of terrorism, still afflicting that region the most. An explosion in the Parachinar area of Kurram Agency, killing more than 25 people at a vegetable market on January 21, 2017, reminded us that the sufferings of the tribal people have not ended yet. It was the third terrorist attack in the region during the past six months.
According to a survey, conducted by the FATA Secretariat and the Bureau of Statistics two years back, only 7.8% of adult women in the region are literate, compared to 45% of men. Overall, the adult literacy rate in FATA is 28.4%, while the national average is 57%. At least 44.2% children in FATA have never been enrolled in school, though the average distance from an institute is 1.8 kilometres, against 3.4km in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The Gross Enrolment Rate (GER) at the primary level (six-10 years of age) is 77.4% for FATA, while the rest of the country stands at 91%. Only a small proportion (2.3%) of currently enrolled children aged between six and 15 attend religious schools, while 68.6% go to government schools and 29.1% are in private schools. The Khyber Agency has the highest literate population above the age of 10 at 49.4% and Bajaur Agency has the lowest at just 19.6%.
The Assessment Report 2015-16 presents a dismal picture of the overall education sector in the region: around 53% government-run schools and colleges are working without water, electricity, and even boundary walls and toilet facilities; moreover 18% institutions have been dysfunctional for the last two decades. The statements of the report reved that there were about 5,994 government educational institutions including schools and colleges in FATA, which are devoid of clean drinking water, adequate electricity, and furniture facilities. Moreover, 2,256 institutions, especially of female schools and colleges, are in a highly vulnerable condition and open to risk from terrorist attacks due to unavailability of proper boundary walls and other safety measurements. The report also indicates that around 3,368 posts, ranging from college and school principals to librarians, have been lying vacant for the last 10 years. According to the report, the dropout ratio of the students in FATA and FR regions had reached an alarming level after the wave of militancy and terrorism.
After the 9/11 attacks in the United States of America in 2001, more than 1,500 schools of both boys and girls were destroyed by militants; over 60% of those were for girls, and most of those are yet to be reconstructed by the authorities concerned.
According to a report, released by Alif Ailaan education initiative in mid-2016, there are 6,050 educational institutions in FATA, of which 4,868 (2,905 for boys and 1,963 for girls) are functional, while 1,182 (683 for boys and 499 for girls) are non-functional. The overall dropout rate from kindergarten to class five, over the period of the last six years, has been 73%, of which 70% are boys, and 77% girls.
The government of Pakistan has launched various operations during the past years to rid the region of terrorists, militants and extremists. However, these offensives against the anti-state elements have also affected civilian populations adversely. The Operation Rah-e-Nijat, launched in 2009 against theTaliban in the South Waziristan Agency, left about 0.9 million people homeless, and many of them migrated to other parts of the country.
About 30% of them were students. There were many brilliant and hardworking students, but due to displacement and financial problems, they failed to continue their education. Various protest demonstration have been held by the tribal students from time to time for provision of education facilities to displaced students, but to no avail. The political administrations in some agencies provide a stipend of Rs. 3,000-5000 per FATA student annually, but the amount is quite insufficient for continuing education in cities like Peshawar, Islamabad and Lahore. The consequences of the situation are obvious:the literacy rate is declining day by day, instead of rising.
However, the government authorities do not agree with the assertion fully. Javed Iqbal, Manager Planning and Development at the Frontier Education Foundation (FEF), says various initiatives have been launched by the government to impart education to FATA children, despite gigantic problems. In a telephonic conversation with Cutting Edge, he claims that hundreds of children have recently been enrolled in Alternative Learning Schools (ALS). The project is part of the “Literacy for All” campaign, launched under the Annual Development Program (ADP), which has been initiated to enhance the literacy rate in the militancy-hit FATA.
He states that more than 76 schools for boys and 61 for girls have been established across the tribal regions. The aim of community-based schools is to bring education to children who have suffered as a result of mass displacement. Javed Iqbal is confident that they will manage to increase enrolment in schools across the tribal region and provide employment to the youth. A total of 137 out of a planned 175 schools have already been established along the militancy affected tribal belt, and the remaining would be set up within the next six months.The process is also triggering employment opportunities for the local, he adds. The FEF official says that arrangements have also been made for provision of desks and stationary to all students.The furniture and stationary will arrive over the next couple of months.A strict monitoring system has also been put in place for these community schools through the Village Education Committees (VEC) before and during their operating hours of 2pm to 6pm.
Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, the governor of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, who exercises the federal authority in the region, praised the federal government over its continuous efforts to improve the lot of the tribal people through various health and education initiatives. Talking to Cutting Edge at an education conference in Peshawar recently, he disclosed that he had launched an enrolment campaign last year to register 400,000 children of FATA in government schools under a three-year Emergency Education Plan. The goal set for the calendar year 2016-17, was 150,000 children, which was achieved to a large extent, he claimed. The governor said that different friendly countries were also engaged in the process. The Australian government donated $4.5 million to the UN World Food Programme’s food and nutrition security efforts among the internally displaced communities in Pakistan. The contribution, spread out over three years, was being used in FATA and the Frontier Region. The funding is enabling WFP to provide food-based assistance in schools and helping families who are educating their children. Jhagra stated that in 2016, Australia contributed $9 million, placing it among the top five donors to WFP Pakistan. He believes that these are strong incentives for parents to send their children, especially their daughters, to school, which helps to improve their long-term prosperity.
The government claims that it is not oblivious of the higher education needs of the tribal people. The plan for setting up FATA University was approved on May 20, 2013, which was, later on, established in the area of Akhurwal Kohat, in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The first-ever classes at the university started on October 24, 2016.
However, it was unfortunate that not even a single woman sought admission to the university. The first class consisted of 84 students, all men. But the governor believes that the number of students at FATA University will increase in the years to come and female students would pluck up the courage to challenge the societal norms and get admission to the university. He promises a blanket security on campus for all students, including females, so that they can concentrate exclusively on their studies.