SWAT: Twelve-year-old Nida Khan stands gloomily outside her mud house in Saar village, Swat. She looks at a school van carrying kids to a private school that leaves her eyes brimming.
Nida misses her own government school which was destroyed by militants in 2009. She doesn’t know if her school will ever open up again.
The demolished government primary school looks more like an old ruin rather than a school located just 20 kilometres from Mingora. People cross the school property easily; it has no gate or walls, doors, or windows except for one single remaining wall dividing two classrooms.
Nida was studying in thid grade along with 150 other girls. “I was near school on that day when terrorists destroyed the doors and windows of the school and banned female education in this school,” she says. Her father, Niaz Ali, says parents are concerned about the education their children are missing out on. “Due to the closure of the school in our village, our children are at home … While we have no money for food then how we can admit our children in private schools?” he asks.
Like Nida, Zeba Ahmed was also a fourth grade student in this school in 2009. Zeba said that after the restoration of peace in the area, she took admission again for in the Shingrai government middle school which is eight kilometers away from her village. “After early morning prayers, I go to school and come back to home in the evening because the school is situated on the other side of the mountain,” she explains.
Saeed Khan, a 10-year-old boy of Nijigram village in Swat also looks forward to school but has nowhere to go, because there are no teachers for his school. Many of the students were forced to quit education after the school was destroyed,” he says.
Ajab Khan, a teacher in a primary school who belongs to Sakhra Village said that the primary school there was destroyed due to the floods in 2010. A total of 300 students were enrolled there at the time. “People who don’t have financial problems admitted their children in private schools of the city while the children of the remaining poor are working in the fields with their parents to earn some money to meet the expenses of daily life,” he added.
Khan said that hundreds of students in villages in the Matta, Kabal, Bahrain and Charbagh tehsils are facing difficulties in continuing their education because of a delay in reconstruction of schools in their areas. “Some of them are attending their classes in the grounds of these destroyed schools which creates more difficulties for them during the rainy season,” he explains.
According to Muhammad Habib, the head of the psychiatry department at Islamic International Medical College, Rawalpindi says that the children who are unable to join their often suffer from depression as a result. Professor Dr. Anis Ahmed, the Vice Chancellor at Riphah International University adds, “If a male reads, it is as if an individual reads but when a woman studies, it is as if a country reads,” highlighting the important of the resumption of female education.
Former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Minister Sardar Hussain Babak said that after the extended unrest and violence, the literacy rate in Swat is 26 percent, although it stood at 80 percent before 2005 in Swat valley. The major reasons for the decrease in the literacy rate were militancy, destruction of schools, the migration of around 1.2 million people during the militancy period and the flood of 2010, he explains.
Swat District Education Officer Dilshad Begum said that around 404 schools were damaged during conflict in Swat, including 217 schools for girls and 187 schools of boys. “Out of 404 destroyed schools, 174 schools destroyed completely while 230 schools damage partially,” she added.
Dilshad Begum said that the former provincial government of KP reconstructed around 350 schools in the district with the help of the Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority (PaRRSA), Qatar Charity, the UAE government, the EU and USAID but around 52 schools including 33 girls’ primary schools are still closed in different areas of Swat which were destroyed due either due to militancy or the flood of 2010. “These destroyed schools are situated in Tehsil Matta, Kabal, Bahrain and Charbagh areas of district Swat,” she says.
Taliban militants headed by Maulana Fazlullah started anti-state activities in the district while security forces started an operation against them in 2009.
Although the government managed to restore peace in Swat by December 2009, militants targeted 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai on October 9, 2012 who penned a series of articles for the BBC, describing life for a girl in Taliban-controlled Swat, where she was forced to sit at home, unable to attend school. Two others students named Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz were also injured along with Malala in the terrorist attack although both have now returned to school.
Former Federal Minister and PML-N leader Ameer Muqam said that his government will focus on the reconstruction of the destroyed schools in Swat. “I visit different areas of my district to take the review of the destroyed schools and I will provide a detailed briefing to my leadership for the reconstruction of these schools on a priority basis,” he says.
In the meanwhile, Nida waits for the day she can go back to school. “I keep my school uniform so that one day I will go to my school again along with my friends,” she says.