Fifty-year-old Zar Bibi, a resident of Tirah Valley in Khyber district, has brought her six-year-old daughter, Ayesha, to enroll her in the Government Girls Primary School Muhammad Deen Shah Batta Kaly. This school, which became operational just five months ago, is the first girls’ school in the area. Zar Bibi is determined to ensure Ayesha receives an education, as her other daughters have missed out on this opportunity due to the absence of a school in the vicinity.
Currently, 250 girls are attending the Girls Primary School Muhammad Deen Shah Batta Kaly in Tirah Valley. Surprisingly, the school has only one female teacher, and she is not even a government employee; she was appointed through the efforts of the Parent Teacher Committee (PTC) with local funding. The school consists of two rooms and lacks basic amenities such as drinking water and washroom facilities.
Noor Haleem, Chairman of Tirah’s Batta Village Council, revealed that the school was approved back in 2015, but classes have yet to commence. The contractor responsible for the construction left the work incomplete, resulting in the school’s lack of water and washroom facilities.
This school is the sole educational institution for girls in the region, serving students from various areas, including Kandi Kuki Khel, Kandi Miran Khel, Kandi Naik Zain Khel, Kandi Piral Khel, Abid Khel, Misri Khel, Sinah Khel, Adam Khel, Khoda Khel, Aqeel Khel, Buland Khel, Mat Khel, Durya Khel, and Baryan Khel, who must travel distances ranging from one to five kilometers to attend.
The school’s lone teacher, Shakila, receives a monthly salary of 20,000 rupees and manages the school single-handedly. Despite the school’s lack of furniture and essential facilities, she teaches with the hope that it will garner government attention, leading to the recruitment of additional teachers.
Muhammad Farooq, the school’s janitor, explained that the locals contributed a chair for the female teacher, small stools for the students, a water cooler, and other necessities from their own homes. They are eager for the school to succeed, with a strong desire to provide their girls with access to education.
Samina, an Education Officer with the Khyber District Education Department, shared that there are six primary schools and one middle school operating in Tirah, Bara Tehsil. Two female teachers are appointed for each school through PTC funding, while Lar Bagh Zangir Middle Girls School employs six female teachers.
In 2022, the Education Department conducted a teacher recruitment test for these schools, but none of the candidates passed the test. Moreover, due to restrictions imposed by the Election Commission, new appointments cannot be made in these schools.
According to documents obtained from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Department, over 150,000 students have left government schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These documents reveal that 166,000 students dropped out at the primary level over five years. In 2017, of the 571,000 students enrolled, only 444,000 reached the fifth grade, with a 29 percent dropout rate by that stage.
The Education Department’s documents indicate that 37 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys drop out before reaching the fifth grade. Among the regions with the highest dropout rates, Kohistan, Torghar, DI Khan, and Tank are at the forefront. Notably, Kohistan sees the highest dropout rate, with 80 percent of children leaving school before reaching the fifth grade.
Education Officer Samina revealed that there is a severe shortage of 200 teachers in girls’ schools throughout the Khyber district. Unfortunately, transportation and accommodation issues make it difficult for female teachers to be transferred to the Tirah Valley. She explained that female teachers who were promoted to Grade 15 were initially transferred to Tirah but due to various problems, they were later redeployed to Bara or Jamrud.
Social worker Fazal Rabi, who hails from Khyber’s Tirah Valley, shared census data from 2023, indicating that the region’s population exceeds 300,000, with more than 50,000 school-age girls. However, fewer than 2,000 girls currently attend school in the area. This is a stark contrast to the vast number of girls who are not receiving an education.
Social activist Shumaila elaborated on the challenge, explaining that the low literacy rate among women in Khyber district leads to a scarcity of female teachers taking the ETEA test. Moreover, teachers from outside the province face difficulties in working in Tirah Valley. Shumaila suggested recruiting girls from Tirah Valley who have passed matriculation, offering them incentives. This strategy could gradually increase the number of female teachers, or accommodations and facilities should be provided to attract female teachers from outside the region.
According to information from the Education Department, there are 12,984 vacant teaching positions in government schools in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, with the majority of vacancies in the district cadre. Many vacancies are also found in government schools in the merged districts of Peshawar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The data indicates that 1,006 positions for SSTs are vacant, with a need for 7,275 female teachers and 4,703 male teachers in the district cadre. Additionally, there is a shortage of 637 teachers in the SSTs category and 369 teachers in other categories. Peshawar has the highest number of vacancies with 891, followed by Swat with 824 and Mardan with 790.
Among the vacant positions, there are 1,171 male CT for Grade 15, 390 Drawing Masters for Grade 15, 388 Physical Education Teachers for Grade 15, 424 Arabic Teachers for Grade 15, 302 TT for Grade 15, 195 Qari for Grade 12, and 75 CT IT of Grade 15. The most significant number of vacancies is in the PST Grade 12 category, with 4,330 posts unfilled.
The data also indicates a total of 7,275 vacant positions for male teachers, including 558 CTK, 272 DM, 305 PET, 312 AT, 140 TT, 56 Qaria, 56 CTIT, and 2,957 P and STs positions in the female quota.
Furthermore, the data reveals a need for 4,703 female teachers, including 163 General, 48 Biochemistry, 114 Maths Physics, and 44 IT posts in the SSTs cadre. There are 334 general posts, 125 biochemistry posts, 130 maths and physics posts, and 60 IT posts vacant in the male teachers category.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Secretary for Primary and Secondary Education, Mutasim Ballah, explained that the Election Commission of Pakistan’s nationwide ban on recruitment has resulted in a halt to new hiring in the Education Department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He emphasized that regular advertisements for new recruitments are released by the Directorate General of Information and Public Relations Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, but these plans have been delayed due to the election commission’s orders.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Department of Primary and Secondary Education is currently engaged in a rationalization process across all government schools, focusing on schools with fewer students and a surplus of teachers. The goal is to redistribute teachers to schools with a higher number of students, ensuring that the education of children is not compromised. Once this process is finalized, accurate estimates of vacancies can be determined.
Regarding the lack of facilities in schools in Tirah Valley, Education Officer Samina mentioned that furniture and other necessary items were tendered for all the schools last year. Unfortunately, the Finance Department has yet to release funds, leading to a delay in receiving these essential resources. Without funding, they are unable to address the shortfalls in the schools.
Government Initiatives Address Educational Shortcomings
In the tribal districts of Pakistan, including Khyber district, various entities are actively addressing the educational gaps. With the support of NGOs in Tirah Valley, the Frontier Corps Tirah Militia has reactivated six Community-Based Schools, which had remained dormant for an extended period. This initiative has provided hundreds of students in the area with a renewed opportunity for education.
Fazal Rabi, a Tirah Valley resident and social activist, noted that the FC Tirah Militia Headquarters, 213 Wing in Darا Wاndi, Sukh, Ghulam Ali, Jaroba, and Bagh Haram areas of Tirah Valley and Upper Bara, have been in operation for many years. As part of this effort, six inactive schools were reopened, and 35 whiteboards, 1150 slates, numerous sets of books, and copies were provided to the students. Initially, local youths from the respective tribes were employed as teachers, with plans to hire more local teachers as the number of students increased.
According to information from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Education Department in tribal districts, a project has been approved to educate children in private schools at the government’s expense. This project aims to boost literacy rates in tribal areas and create employment opportunities for local youth. Under the Sabaoon Schools Initiative Program, out-of-school students will receive an education in private schools funded by the government. The program will classify classes, and the government will pay the students’ fees accordingly, with Rs 1,000 for KG students, Rs 1,500 for 1st to 5th-standard students, and Rs 2,000 per month for 7th to 8th-grade students.
The Sabaoon Schools Initiative Program will be implemented in areas where there are no government or private schools. In the initial phase, it will be launched in seven former tribal districts and six divisions this year, with plans to admit students to private schools at government expense or establish private schools for these students. District Education Officer-led committees will be authorized to select the students according to formal guidelines. In areas without government or private schools, locally educated youth will receive grants of up to Rs 1 lakh to open schools and provide free education to students, funded by the government.
Abdul Karim, the Managing Director of Education Foundation Tribal Districts, highlighted the Education Department’s vision to offer equal educational opportunities to students in former tribal districts. This endeavor, the Sabaoon Schools Initiative Program, is set to cost 80 million rupees this year alone, to significantly increase the literacy rate.
Note: This story is part of a Pakistan Press Foundation Fellowship.