Girls education remains a challenge in militancy-hit Bara

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KHYBER: The deplorable condition of most of the public sector primary schools for girls, shortage of teaching staff and inaccessibility of students to educational institutions beyond primary level have been cited to be three major hurdles to promotion of female education in the militancy-affected Bara tehsil of Khyber tribal district.

According to statistics of education department, 26 out of the total 30 completely damaged girls schools are in the process of rebuilding with the financial assistance of China while the remaining four are yet to be included in any rebuilding or reconstruction scheme by the authorities concerned.

Militant groups had destroyed nearly 100 government schools, including 30 for girls, in Bara from 2005 to 2014.

Girl students at present are made to sit inside torn out tents, which could hardly save them from harsh weather conditions while fabricated classrooms were installed in some schools that provide them with a semblance of comfort.

Officials of education department concede their failure in achieving the target during the recent enrolment drive in Bara as an increasing number of parents now prefer to send their daughters to nearby seminaries instead of tent schools where they face lack of basic facilities like drinking water, toilets and electricity.

Official figures show that a little over 5,000 out-of-school girl students were enrolled during March and April against the given target of 11,000 in Bara.

The figures also reveal that there are 525 vacant posts of female teachers with most schools having only one teacher for more than 100 primary grade students.

Official sources said that the ratio of dropout among girls after completion of their primary level schooling was on the rise owing to shortage of middle, high and higher secondary schools while most of those institutions were also situated at a long distance from the homes of majority of students.

Javed Afridi, a social activist from Sipah tribe, told Dawn that most of the girl students could not afford transportation charges after being promoted to middle or high school due to poor financial background while they also were reluctant to walk on foot for long distance due to cultural taboos.

Sources said that there were only 54 middle and higher secondary schools in the entire Khyber district against 285 primary schools for girls.

The district education officer (female), Samina Ghani, told this scribe that though parents in Bara in particular and other areas in general were now willing to send their daughters to schools, yet shortage of teaching staff, miserable condition of tent schools and long distance to most of the middle, high and higher secondary schools compelled them to either enrol their daughters at a nearby seminary after completion of primary schooling or stop their education alltogether.

`In most schools we have just one female teacher against the six sanctioned posts while we also have some schools in far-flung areas where we do not have a single teacher,` she stated and added that as per rules, one teacher was required for 140 students.

Ms Ghani said that in some localities of Bara, parent-teacher councils privately established separate funds for engaging ad hoc female teachers in the schools where there was either no teacher at all or there was shortage of the required number of teachers. `This gesture from the enthusiastic parents has helped in raising the number of girl students in some schools to an extent,` she added.

She, however, regretted that the condition of most girl schools was still not conducive to attract the desired number of out of school girls while the limited number of middle, high and higher secondary schools was hampering the onward educational journey of a large number of interested and talented students.

The official said that conditions in Tirah valley too were not very favourable for girl schooling where there was no high school for girls while the department was finding it extremely difficult to arrange female staff for primary schools.

Ms Ghani, however, expressed her satisfaction over the current security situation in the region and said that none of the female teachers had complained about any general insecurity or a personal threat.

She was optimistic about increase in girl enrolment soon after the completion of 26 under-construction schools for girls that were due to be handed over to education department by the end of the current year.

Ms Ghani said that the new school buildings were built with a new design of six classrooms instead of the previous two-room primary school.

She said that other facilities were also provided to the new schools.

Acknowledgement: Published in Dawn News on 10th June 2024.

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