Powering Tribal Districts for the 21st Century

They have set up Army Public Schools in all the tribal districts of which 80% are functional and 20% will be functional in the near future.

The tribal districts, former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), are now ushering into a new era with many hopes and dreams in the eyes of its people, which were often referred to as Ilaqa Ghair till May 24, 2018. Merger of these seven districts and six FR’s (Frontier Regions) with the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa KP is in itself a big challenge for the current government of (KP) in terms of development, administration, education, health, distribution of funds and most importantly, the upcoming provincial assembly and local body elections which are tentatively planned to be held in May 2019. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which is the ruling party in the federal and KP, has won six National Assembly seats from the tribal region in the 2018 General Elections whereas in the previous tenure it only had one seat from this region; a clear message from the tribal people that they have accepted the merger process and stand with PTI’s slogan of ‘Peace and Prosperity in the tribal region’; a top priority of PTI as stated in its 2018 manifesto. So, these tribals have selected Kaptaan as their favorite and now it’s the Kaptaan’s leadership that will win the match with new players.

Currently, there are 22.68 million out-of-school children in Pakistan between the age group of 5-16 years. Among these out-of-school children 741,030 are from the tribal region, which is 57% of the total children in the region; where 43% are boys and 73% are girls. The reason is not that the tribal parents don’t want to educate their children but rather that they don’t have education facilities in the area due to which these children are out of school. There are a total of 5890 schools in the tribal region out of which 307 are non-functional and 10 are closed. The schools that are functional don’t have basic facilities 57% don’t have electricity, 55% don’t have drinking water, 55% don’t have toilets and 30% don’t have boundary walls. There are total 35 degree colleges in the entire tribal region of which only 12 are for girls. 73% of the enrolled children drop out in primary grade due to the lack of institutes and shortage of teachers. These days there are 5000 vacant teacher posts with the Education Directorate of tribal region but who cares? The myth created in the minds of people that the tribal people are against girls’ education is the propaganda of those who want to cover-up their failures of not providing these tribal children their fundamental rights. These people are mostly the elected members and local administration of the tribal region who misuse the public funds for their own interests and benefits. At some point they would involve the local Malik’s (the elders of the tribe) as a proxy to cover-up their corruption and in return receive cash or a school building for their own use rather than using it for educational purposes.
Before the recent merger, FATA used to be a hub of corruption for the local administration, Maliks, elected members, FATA Secretariat, and the Governor House. They had their own monopoly and ‘no accountability’ system because the ordinary citizens were unheard voices or did not have an opportunity to approach the judiciary system due to the FCR laws in the tribal region. A grade 18 or 19 officer would bribe millions of rupees for his transfer to the tribal region. Indeed, it was an industry where a businessman would pay for his transfer and in return enjoy benefits in the form of government tenders as a contractor and would utilize low quality material to complete the work. In this entire process of corruption, poor people were affected as they would be denied their basic rights like education, health, roads, and access to clean drinking water among many others.
The students attending school in the region still did not receive quality education due to the ineptitude of the faculty or the schools being short-staffed because of which their job prospects or further admission in universities would be compromised. With a population of 5.5 million and no single university at this stage, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. The one setup in Darra Adam Khel is a degree college which is merely called a university, and is treated by the tribal students as a joke. The elected members and local administration never wished to invest in these underprivileged children. They never had a vision for these children to become scientists while the rest of the world is adopting Silicon Valley model for their schools, and we, the tribal people, still do not have science labs in our high schools and in case we have a lab, we don’t have science teachers. The previous government launched a billion rupees project for ICT schools ‘Prime Minister Education Program’ but had never thought of investing in our schools whereas administratively our region was under the federal government. Not even once did the then former federal education minister invite FATA Education Director for review of FATA’s education system. However, it is encouraging to see FATA Education Director seated next to KP Education Director for planning and review meetings with the KP Education Advisor in almost every meeting these days. This gives us the feeling of satisfaction that the state is taking responsibility for improving things in the future.  
During military operations in the tribal regions, Pakistan Army observed the poor infrastructure of education in these areas. The Army has taken an initiative to start investing in the tribal children. They have set up Army Public Schools in all the tribal districts of which 80% are functional and 20% will be functional in the near future. Two of these schools have recently been made functional in Kurram district and the third is to be made functional soon. The one which is set up in Dogar, central Kurram, is an excellent example for the local administration and elected members. It boasts all kind of facilities with a qualified staff where class two students’ mode of communication with their teachers is English language. These are the local students who have been given a friendly environment for learning. It is not the job of Army to provide education to our children but this shows its commitment to protect the country’s future while the political leaders have failed in providing these facilities. 

This is the 21st Century; the tribal youth needs to move forward rather than becoming keyboard warriors and wasting their energy on social media. They shall play their part in developing their respective regions after the merger. The government should also invest in opening the closed schools and making 307 schools functional. They shall tweet and post about 73% of children who drop out in the primary grade due to lack of education facilities. They should mobilise the public in the tribal region for science fairs etc. rather than repeating the stories of the past. The tribal youth should be given quality education for their better tomorrow. In times to come, the former tribal region and its people shall proudly be identified as scientists, professionals, bureaucrats, army officers and other leading professions, Insha Allah.

The writer is a public policy professional and a resident of District Kurram (the Tribal District). E-mail: [email protected]

Source: Data quoted in the article has been sourced from the National Institute of Population Studies (NIPS) and FATA Education Statistics Report 2017-2018.

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