ISLAMABAD: Systematic militant bombings of schools in tribal areas have left the education systems of the northwestern region in shambles and the government perplexed as to how to save what could become a lost generation of young people.
In recent years, nearly 460 schools have been fully or partially destroyed in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, according to the latest figures compiled by Fata education officials. Many more also have been hit in the adjoining Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
The crushing expense of rebuilding schools is beyond the reach of the government, officials say, and more and more schools are being blown up each day.
Najeebullah, 17, attends a school outside Peshawar that has been targeted twice — once by a suicide bomber three years ago when it was being used by paramilitary forces fighting militants. He still has traumatic recollections of another more recent blast at the school.
The 11th grader was taking an exam. “I was scared as well as other students in the examination hall, and I feel fear even recalling that in school,” he said. No one was killed.
Experts are alarmed at the impact of the school bombings, especially because, according to a UN Human Development Report in 2011, the current adult literacy rate in Pakistan is 55 per cent.
In Pakistan the right to free education between the ages of five and 16 is guaranteed by the Constitution. But the disconnect between that lofty goal and the reality on the ground is apparent in places such as Mohmand Agency in Fata, where 89 boys and girls schools have been bombed.
Of those, 14 are being rebuilt by USAID, according to a local official, while the army and other authorities are rebuilding 10 more.
“It will take years to recover,” said the official.
The bombings have continued despite military operations that have been launched in all seven of the tribal agencies.
Meanwhile, politicians appear disinterested in or unable to address the educational crisis in northwestern Pakistan, assigning a low priority to illiteracy and relying on NGOs to step in.
“Schools have had to bear the brunt of both man-made and natural disasters in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, unfortunately,” said Khadim Hussain of Baacha Khan Trust, a nonprofit organisation focusing on socioeconomic development. “Because of bombings and because of floods.”
More than 1,600 schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have been damaged or destroyed as the result of militant activities and flooding, according to provincial officials, but no breakdown of those figures was readily available.
Hundreds of schools, most of them for girls, have not been rebuilt. So classes convene under tents provided by Unicef. “And of course a few dozen schools are studying and reading under shade of trees,” Hussain said, “and I refer to Shakespeare — ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’.” Destroyed schools can be rebuilt, but that won’t change the mindset of the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other factions attempting to impose a rather severe interpretation of Islam upon the nation.
“The militant discourse is based on homogenisation and not the needs of the people,” Hussain said. “The militant discourse despises everything that represents modern and secular and democratic forces.
“This is the challenge for intelligentsia: to enforce a discourse based on human dignity and pluralism,” he added. “This is the biggest challenge, not the challenge of infrastructure.”
By arrangement with the Washington Post