Pakistan: Education facilities closed under rationalisation plan (1 July, 2016)

Originally published


Around 500 Fata schools closed under rationalisation plan

PESHAWAR: As a campaign in favour of access to education is going on around the world, authorities in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) are going in the opposite direction by closing down 497 schools in the region. The closure of a large number of schools, majority of them primary schools both for boys and girls, is part of the Civil Secretariat Fata’s ‘rationalisation plan’ prepared in November 2015. The list obtained from the Directorate of Education Fata shows that 13 schools have been closed down in Bajaur Agency, 105 in Mohmand Agency, 86 in Orakzai Agency, 58 in Kurram Agency, 28 in Khyber Agency, 23 in Frontier Region (FR) Kohat, 11 in FR Bannu, five in FR Lakki Marwat, 101 in FR Tank and 67 in FR Dera Ismail Kahn.

North Waziristan and South Waziristan agencies have been exempted due to militancy although Orakzai Agency and parts of Khyber Agency were also badly affected by militancy. Officials say schools were ‘unfeasible’, used as hujras, cattle pens. The self-perceived rationale behind the policy is that students and resources of the schools with less than 70 boys and 65 girls are to be shifted to the nearest schools in the area in a bid to improve their standard. “Instead of wasting resources at a school having low enrollment, we have decided to shift the funds and teaching staff of that school to another government-run school which will ultimately boost the quality of education at that school,” said an official of the Directorate of Education, who deals with the plan. “Some critics in the secretariat call it an irrational plan,” said another official, adding that the government should hold accountable all those officials, who had approved such ‘infeasible schemes. ’Zar Ali Afridi, a rights activist from Fata, said the government should take that policy back because it was against the children’s rights. He argued that the terrain, the local culture and tribal rivalries demanded that if the government had the resources, it would be ideal to have a school on every doorstep. “Instead of closing down schools, there is need to increase enrollment of more children in schools,” he said. Interestingly enough, the implementation of the ‘rationalisation plan’ has coincided with the announcement of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governor, the chief executive Fata, vis-à-vis education emergency, having the sole objective to enrol around 400,000 out-of-school children in the next three years. The enrollment drive was launched in April last and 45,000 students were enrolled against the set target of 150,000 out-of-school children. Officials said those schools were not constructed on ‘need basis’ and instead, the reason behind their construction was just to bribe local elders. They said majority of the shortlisted schools were used as ‘hujras’, while in some schools, enrollment was very low. The officials said those schools had been closed down for a period of one year and the plan could be restored provided that local communities enrolled the required number of students. Students enrolled in the now abandoned schools have been shifted to the nearest schools in their respective areas. Teachers have also been posted to schools that were under staff. Under the plan, a primary school for boys is required to have 70 students, while a primary school for girls has to enrol 65 students. “In fact, this is a merger plan and schools with low enrollment have been abandoned temporarily. The directorate will reopen if enrollment criterion is fulfilled,” said the official. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has a policy of one teacher for 40 students at the primary level. The KP government introduced rationalisation plan few years and instead of closing schools surplus teachers were posted in schools that were under staff, but schools were not closed. But the Civil Secretariat Fata instead of taking action against officials for approving infeasible schemes apparently handed over these abandoned buildings to the land owners who were already misusing government properties. Political agents have key role in approval of schemes in the annual development plan particularly schools, basic health units, drinking water schemes and livestock centers. Another official in the directorate said those schools had been closed down for one year. He said if local communities enrolled the required number of students, then those schools would be restored. Unlike settled areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other areas, local people provide land for construction of schools and other buildings free of charge.

In return, the landowners are provided Class-IV jobs like watchmen and water carriers. Officials in the civil secretariat admitted that schools were not feasible and the purpose of opening them was to bribe elders. They said in most cases, schools were used as hujras or cattle pens. The officials said scrutiny of basic health facilities and livestock centers was also underway and that unfeasible buildings would be closed down.