Zulfiqar Ali Khan
On August 3, Gilgit-Baltistan hit national and international headlines due to the apparently coordinated attacks on fourteen schools in Diamer District. Unidentified miscreants vandalized and blew up two schools, and torched 12 others – most of them for girls – in Chilas, Darel and Tangir areas.
While denting the efforts to educate the children of Diamer, the attacks also heightened the fears of terror resurgence, because for the last three years, there was complete peace in the region.
“This small incident will not have a big impact,” says Syed Abdul Waheed Shah, Commissioner Diamer. The commissioner said they had already rebuilt an affected school in Chilas, while other schools would also be re-constructed before the start of the academic year.
Also Watch: First of 14 schools repaired in Diamer
“Chief Minister Giglit-Baltistan has approved construction of boundary walls and deployment of 65-armed security guards to prevent any untoward situation in the future,” he informed.
The incident is seen as a well-coordinated attack where schools, located in far-flung areas, were attacked within half an hour, between 1:00 and 1:30 a.m.
Of the 14 schools attacked, seven were situated in Darel Tehsil, four in Chilas, and three in Tangir. Some schools were completely destroyed, while others were damaged partially. The quickly renovated school in Ronai Muhallah of Chilas had only one room affected.
Eight of the attacked schools were functional and the remaining were either under-construction or classes had not yet started.
Due to lack of girls-only schools in the district, two of the boys’ schools were also providing education to girls – under local and unofficial arrangements.
“This will happen again if girls are allowed in this school,” the attackers wrote on the wall of one of the targeted schools in Darel valley.
The affected schools were managed by different regional and national authorities. Seven schools (5 for girls and 2 for boys) were GB government-operated schools, five were established under Social Action Program (SAP), two were public schools and one was a home-school operated under the police department.
Two of the affected schools were offering middle classes (up to grade 8), while the remaining were primary schools, teaching grade 1 to 5 students.
“The miscreants not only attacked our schools; the attack was actually on our future and the collective consciousness of the whole Gilgit-Baltistan region,” said Sobia Jabeen Muqaddam, the first-ever female minister from Diamer district.
The minister, who is holding the portfolio of women and youth affairs, said this episode has further strengthened our commitment to educate ‘every child of the affected district’.
Diamer District Inspector of Schools Rahimullah said the hostile attitude of a few individuals has badly affected the human development index in Diamer. “The government has been focusing on education during the last 4-5 years which seems to have threatened the existence of the anti-education forces,” he said.
Despite rapid and unprecedented growth in Gilgit-Baltistan’s educational outlook, Diamer District continues to perform poorly on almost every indicator.
Alif Ailaan’s ‘District Education Rankings 2017’, placed Diamer as the lowest ranked district in Gilgit-Baltistan and among the ten lowest in Pakistan.
According to ‘Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey 2016-17’, 60 percent of youth and 78 percent girls, between the ages of 15 and 24, in Diamer are illiterate. This survey sketches a gloomy picture of education in the district. It further reveals that adult literacy rate (15+years) in Diamer stands at 29 percent overall, with just 11 percent female.
The overall youth literacy rate in Gilgit-Baltistan stands at 88 percent, with female youth literacy rate of 69 percent and male youth literacy touching 77 percent.
Despite tall claims, the statistics point to a wide educational gap that exists among various districts of Gilgit-Baltistan. The youth, adult and female literacy rates in all other districts of Gilgit-Baltistan are significantly higher than compared to Diamer. Hunza district has the highest 98 percent youth literacy rate, whereas Diamer stands at 40 percent.
“The education boom in other districts has very little impact on the literacy rate in Diamer,” Sobia Muqaddam said. She added that the low literacy rate in Diamer is also poorly affecting the education indicators of the entire GB.
Blaming the previous government of Syed Mehdi Shah, she said no schools were established in Diamer during the previous regime. The present government has launched a record number of developmental projects in the education sector, she added.
“Female literacy rate grew to 26% from a meagre 6% due to efforts of the present government during the last three years,” she claimed. Another 40 schools were established across Diamer during the present government, she said, adding that she allocated resources for 16 schools in her own constituency.
The statistics in Annual Status of Education (ASER) 2015, also paint a disappointing picture with 52 percent out-of-school children in Diamer. The district was distantly followed by Skardu with 19 percent out-of-school children, Gilgit 12 percent, Ghanche 10 percent, Astore 7 percent, Ghizer 3 percent and Hunza-Nagar has the lowest 2 percent out-of-school children.
There are plenty of factors behind this dismal educational condition in Diamer, including conservative social and tribal set-up, disinterest of local leaders, lack of political will, negligence, poverty, parental illiteracy, gender disparity and poor accessibility.
Cultural and Tribal Barriers
The prevailing social and tribal practices have kept women in a highly vulnerable position. Statistics indicate that hostile attitude towards women’s education has resulted in large gender gap in education.
The female youth literacy rate is 41 percent, much less than that of male youth literacy rate in Diamer. There also exists a wide gender gap in literacy rates when compared to other districts in GB. Female youth literacy rate in Diamer is 76 percent lower than Hunza, which stood at 98 percent.
In Diamer, the practice of blocking girls’ access to education is not new. Schools have been targeted in the past as well. In March 2018, unknown persons torched the building of SAP girls’ primary school in the outskirts of Chilas, the headquarter of Diamer District. In December 2011, at least two girls’ schools were damaged in low-intensity explosions. In 2004, nine schools, of which eight were of girls, were also attacked.
These types of attacks were not reported in any other districts, except some isolated incidents that took place in Ghizer. In March 2017, unidentified individuals vandalized a private school in Hatun village, Ghizer. They left behind a handwritten note threatening the school’s headmaster, “The school will be bombed if female teachers don’t observe Pardah [veil] from now on.”
Commissioner Diamer said contrary to popular belief that people in Darel and Tangir were against girls’ education, majority applications to establish home schools were received from these valleys.
“People in Darel and Tangir have already offered free land for the construction of high schools,” he added.
He outlined the need to create awareness by involving local stakeholders, saying that there was no mass resistance to education. He said women in Diamer have no restrictions and are openly performing all agricultural and other household activities outside their homes.
Supporting what the commissioner said, Sobia Muqaddam said a false perception had been created that people were against education. “It was actually the previous governments that failed to provide educational facilities,” she added.
Social activist and entrepreneur Ayesha Jehangir termed poverty as one of the main reasons behind low literacy levels in Diamer. “The most crucial factors are ignorance and the conservative views of the locals,” she added.
Jehangir, a native of Chilas, said that since girls are supposed to get married their parents don’t attach much importance to their education.
“Parents are uneducated and for them education is not of any vital concern. However, the situation is improving with increasing awareness among people,” she added.
Ayesha has been playing her role in promoting girls’ education in her native town. She opened the only girls school ‘Beacon of Light School for Girls’ in Bunerdas, Chilas in 2012. The school was later converted into a home school in 2017, for better outreach. Over 90 girls are currently enrolled in the school.
“Poverty is the root cause of low literacy in Diamer”, said Shahab Uddin Ghauri, a senior journalist based in Chilas. He said most children help their parents in agriculture and livestock activities.
“In Diamer people usually have 8-10 children which makes it difficult to feed and educate them all,” Ghauri added.
Apart from cultural barriers, the harsh physical environment also hinders provision of educational facilities. Diamer has a total covered area of 7,234 square kilometers with more than 27 scattered valleys; some of those valleys do not have any road links connecting them. These geographical conditions confront children, particularly girls, with the issue of reaching schools safely.
There are currently 227 government-owned schools in Diamer, according to the statistics of GB’s education department. Of these, 188 are primary schools, 24 middle schools, and 15 high schools. There is no higher secondary school in the entire district.
Among all the government schools, 142 schools are for boys whereas only 85 (37 percent) schools are for girls.
There are 96 other public-sector schools managed by federal government or its institutions. Interestingly, 53 of these schools offer co-education, 33 are only for boys and 10 are for girls.
Diamer’s Inspector of Schools, however, said there are 169 functional schools in the district managed by GB government. Out of these, only 7 percent (12) are for female – one high school, 8 primary and 3 middle schools.
“The total female enrollment is around seven thousand, including those attending 75 home schools,” he added.
The role of ‘Home Schools’
“In view of the specific cultural and geographical barriers, the provincial government is trying to promote girls’ education through localized and flexible service models,” Rahimullah said. “A total of 75 home schools have been established in this regard,” he added.
32 of these home schools are in Chilas, 23 in Darel and 20 in Tangir. The overall enrollment in these schools is about 4,500 girls.
These home schools do not charge a fee and the children get free books as well.
The concept of home schools was initiated through an agreement between AKDN, the government Departments of Education and the GB Police in 2012. Female constables – selected for police service – were trained as teachers through Professional Development Center North (PDCN), which is part of the Aga Khan University’s Institute for Educational Development (AKUIED). Most of them have resigned, citing social and cultural restrictions.
Through this agreement, AKDN started supporting 11 schools in Diamer, seven of which were home-based girls’ schools.
Based on this experience, the GB government established 75 schools using its regular development budget in 2014. The first phase of this project will end in 2019. The government has allocated funds for 30 more home schools in the 2018-19 budget.
In this schooling model, a literate female can open a school at her home if she has a separate room available to teach 25-30 students. The teacher is given salary equal to a BPS-9 scale government employee, along with Rs 3,000 reserved for rent.
“Home schools have helped improve mobility of girls in the district,” said Rahimullah, hoping that students enrolled in 2014 will complete their primary education next year.
The department has also established around 27 middle schools to help the graduating students continue their education.
Commissioner Diamer said the government’s focus is on primary schools. In ADP 2018-19, heavy resources have been allocated to establish 77 primary schools, 40 of them for girls. Resources have also been allocated to establish 30 home schools for girls, in Darel and Tangir tehsils, he added.
Private Sector Schools
Gilgit-Baltistan has an encouraging share of private schools, but the situation is not very promising in Diamer district.
According to the education department, there are 23 private schools in the district – 8 primary, 11 middle and 4 high schools. As many as 15 of these schools offer mixed education, six for boys and two for girls.
Rahimullah, however, said that the quality of education in private schools is not at par with those present in other districts of GB. Given the lower number of private schools, enrollment in available public-sector schools is higher, he added.
The importance of private sector schools varies across different districts. In the Diamer district, private school enrollment plays only a marginal role with enrollment share of 13 percent. In the Hunza district, on the other hand, 65 percent (52 percent girls) are enrolled in the private sector.
Comparatively, the overall education level, adult and youth literacy rates, for both male and female, are higher in districts having more private sector schools.
The strong rise of female literacy rates in the Gilgit, Ghizer, Skardu, Nagar and Hunza districts are largely attributed to the presence of private sector schools.
In Gilgit, Hunza and Ghizer, the schools opened under the Aga Khan Diamond Jubilee (DJ) School initiative in 1946 laid a solid foundation in this respect.
The Aga Khan Education Service currently runs more than 107 schools in Gilgit-Baltistan. According to the data available on Aga Khan Schools’ website, 47 schools are for primary level, 29 middle, 27 high, and four are higher secondary schools. More than 23,000 students study in these schools, taught by over 1,000 teachers.
Similarly, USWA Foundation with 14 schools and over 1700 students across Gilgit-Baltistan also play a vital role.
Marafie Foundation has also built 334 elementary and primary schools in various parts of Baltistan since 1987. These schools have over 33,600 enrollments and employ 764 teachers.
In addition, local communities, NGOs and private entrepreneurs have also opened many private schools offering English-medium education.
Different Madaris education systems are also operating in Gilgit-Baltistan and making valuable contributions. However, their statistics are not readily available.
Enrollment in Schools
In Diamer, a total of 32,258 students are enrolled in different private- and public-sector schools, of which only 22 percent (7,099) are girls.
Of the overall enrollment, 28 percent are in pre-primary, 57 percent in primary, 11 percent in middle and 4 percent in high schools. This shows that the number of enrollments drops as the level of classes moves up.
Commissioner Diamer sees a ray of hope among these statistics. “A two-month rigorous enrollment campaign this year resulted in the enrollment of about ten thousand boys and girls in the district,” he said.
Teachers in Schools
There are 1,197 teachers working in public and private sector schools in Diamer district, of which only 18 percent are females. Over 67 percent of the female teachers are in primary schools, 15 percent in middle and only 18 percent in high schools.
Not only is the number of female teachers lower, they also lag behind in terms of qualification.
Out of the 489 female teachers in public-sector schools, eight percent have Masters degrees, 24 percent are under-graduates, 34 percent each have passed intermediate and matriculation. In contrast, 51 percent of the male teachers are under-graduates, 30 percent masters, 12 percent intermediate and only 7 percent are matriculates (10th graders).
Quality of Education
According to Alif Ailaan, Diamer stands at 138 out of 141 districts across Pakistan in terms of education scores. Ghanche district is leading the chart in GB having secured 29th rank.
On the beyond primary readiness score, Diamer ranked at 151 out of the 155 districts of Pakistan. The top ten districts at national level in the same index included five districts of GB, Hunza, Nagar, Ghizer, Gilgit and Ghanche.
Alif Ailaan uses this index to measure governments’ readiness in terms of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals-4 (SDG 4). It stresses on the need to invest in middle and high schools in order to ensure adequate means available for students to continue their education beyond the primary level.
In Diamer, 14 percent of the students enrolled in Class 5 cannot read a story in Urdu meant for Class 2. Similarly, 10 percent of the students in Class 5 cannot perform 2-digit division meant for class 2. Furthermore, 11% of the students enrolled in Class 5 in the district cannot read a sentence in English meant for class 2.
The statistics of the government education department tell a sorry story about the school infrastructure in Diamer. Out of the 227 public sector schools, 78 percent are without toilet facility, 75 percent do not have drinking water, 71 percent lack boundary walls, 65 percent have no electricity and four percent schools are without building.
Gilgit-Baltistan spent 12.58 percent of its development budget on education. There was a 70 percent increase in the education budget in ADP 2018-19, as compared to 2016-17.
Deputy Chief of Planning & Development Department (P&DD) Gilgit-Baltistan Ghulam Rasool is optimistic that the newly introduced reforms will bring those districts lagging behind at par with the rest.
“Keeping in view the findings of the MICS survey, more financial resources have been allocated for the education sector in Diamer,” he said, adding that P&DD was using evidence-based budgeting to allocate resources to different districts.
In ADP 2018-19, the government has allocated Rs. 323 million for 24 ongoing and six new educational projects in Diamer – an amount that surpasses allocations made for other districts.
The Way Forward
As evident from many of the high performing districts in Gilgit-Baltistan, the key to educational success is creating partnerships with local stakeholders and the private sector for a sustainable and localized solution.
To ensure accessibility, the government needs to establish new schools in neglected areas with special focus on female education. Also, there is a need to strengthen the existing monitoring mechanisms oversighting private and public-sector schools.
Furthermore, improving basic facilities, especially toilets, water, electricity, and boundary walls in schools will further help in reducing the gap.
Moreover, the miscreants and their abettors involved in attacking schools need to be dealt with the full fore of law to provide a fear-free environment for education.
Currently, four ministers are representing Diamer district in GB’s cabinet, the highest number of ministers from any single district. It is their primary responsibility to play an effective role in improving the human development index by creating an enabling environment and by mobilizing resources.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) should enact laws for the provision of free and compulsory education to all children, aged five to sixteen years, as envisioned in the constitution of Pakistan.