Going to school and receiving a good quality education was a distant dream for seven-year-old Momina, and most young girls, in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Years of civil strife had left the area devastated, with few buildings left standing.
With a poverty rate of 52.3 percent, FATA has some of the lowest development indicators across the country. Gross and net enrolment rates for primary education are significantly lower than neighbouring provinces, with a literacy rate of 12.7 percent for girls.
During the conflict, many families were forced to flee to neighbouring provinces, where they struggled to make ends meet. It was only when peace returned to FATA years later that Momina and her family were able to return home and rebuild their lives. Momina was keen to go back to school, determined to pursue a career and support her family. In Momina’s home of Shinwam Jalal Khel, a remote village in South Waziristan, the only school building in the village was crumbling.
Despite its precarious conditions, however, Momina and the village’s children continued to study in the Government Primary School (GPS) of Shimwan Jalal Khel. “The school walls were damaged and one could clearly see cracks forming on walls. It was certainly not safe for children to be sitting inside all day. During monsoon season, when it rained, water seeped in from cracked walls and ceilings,” said Noor Salam, a teacher at GPS Shimwan Jalal Khel. He added, “It gets unbearably cold during winters in our village, [and] using floor mats to sit on all day was especially intolerable for these children. Giving them furniture was essential to ensure better conditions and an increase in attendance”.
The Directorate of Education in FATA worked with GPS Shimwan to rebuild the school at a total cost of 2.3 million Pakistani rupees. The school building was rehabilitated and two new classrooms were constructed. A boundary wall was constructed and water and electricity supplies were set up to ensure better conditions and a quality education for the young students of Shimwan Jalal Khel village. “We can finally rest knowing that the school building is safe for the children. We have seen an increase in enrolment from 50 to 89 students. Teaching and learning, both have become less difficult. With an electric supply and furniture, both summers and winters will become more bearable,” said Noor Salem.
With the infrastructure in place, UNDP supported the Directorate of Education in managing the school. Government officials were trained to support the restoration of education services, and teachers were trained in pedagogy. Community members were also trained to take on responsibilities such as supervising the construction, monitoring students’ and teachers’ attendance, and reaching out to children in the area for enrolment.
By providing a safe and secure environment for children to study in, the Directorate of Education in FATA and UNDP hope that children like Momina are afforded the right to a quality education. UNDP continues to work with the FATA Secretariat, Government of Pakistan, and USAID to rehabilitate 300 schools across the region, which will benefit approximately 42,000 children.
Momina can now envisage a new life for herself, her family, and her village. Children like Momina hold the future of the region, and will be the main drivers of economic, social, and political change in FATA. As such, it is critical that they have access to quality education.
For children living in poverty and conflict zones, obtaining a quality education can be difficult, but it is certainly not impossible. The public sector plays a key role in rebuilding communities and shaping the future of young children like Momina. This includes building and upgrading education facilities that provide safe, inclusive, and effective learning environments for all, and ensuring that youth are equipped with relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills for future employment.
Making education available to all children, particularly those in marginalised communities, is critical. Education is one of the most powerful and proven vehicles for sustainable development. By achieving inclusive and quality education for all, the public sector can empower a new generation with the knowledge and skills needed to pursue their goals, and ultimately transform the economy and society.