Girls-School-Mohmand-AgencyGirls' High School, Mohmand Agency, FATA.

Literacy Status & Community: Government Tendency Towards Education in Tribal Areas of Pakistan

Report and photos by Sami Ullah, Programme Coordinator, SAWERA © - May 2014

Most girls in Pakistan have never been to school

FATA-6FATAEducation is considered a primary development indicator and an important aspect of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to be achieved worldwide. We face potential obstacles to achieving this goal in remote areas, for which billions of dollars are spent on resources to better understand hurdles in mainstream human development and to furnish developmental approaches on the grassroots level.

We have seen firm efforts behind this objective internationally, regionally, and locally, but the situation is worse in Pakistan, and particularly in Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA).

The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) revealed in a report issued on 10 November 2012, that Pakistan was at the bottom 10 of new country rankings for the education of poor females – stating that 62% of girls in Pakistan, aged between 7 to 15, have never spend time in a classroom.

Morever, the report stated that girls between ages of 17 to 22 spend one year in school. Almost two thirds of Pakistan’s poor girls have never been to school.

According to another report on 19th September 2013, it was revealed that 6.5 million children were not enrolled in primary level education and 2.7 not enrolled in secondary education. The literacy ratio is quite beyond low in Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA) due to ongoing conflicts.

FATA is located near to the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan and strategically emerged with a unique status since 9/11; an estimated total population of 4.1 million are affected – near to half are women, living most vulnerable lives under rigid tribal culture and forced impositions of militants operating widely in the restless zone of the country.

Nearly 500 schools destroyed in Pakistan, since war on terror broke out

Ghost-School-Orakzai-AgencyGhost School - Orakzai Agency, FATAIn 2001, when Pakistan became a US ally in the war against terror, a long lasting clash took place between armed forces and militants in the FATA. The militants expressed their intentions by targeting educational institutions where thousands of children became deprived of their basic right of education.

Moreover, there are a total of 5,616 educational institutions including 196 mosque schools, 3,640 primary schools, 455 middle schools, 275 high schools, 13 higher secondary institutions, 37 degree colleges, four elementary colleges, 956 community schools, and 44 industrial homes. According to the estimated data, 317 boys' and 141 girls’ educational institutions have been demolished by militants since the war on terror broke out in the region.

The female teachers and watchmen were not spared by the militants, either.

The indication behind the destruction is that institutions are used by security forces as a camp to target the militants. Another reason is that these schools taught secularism, which cannot be tolerated in Islamic society.

Only 2 per cent of girls in FATA receive an education

Primary-School-Khyber-AgencPrimary School - Khyber Agency, FATABefore 2001, the FATA education ratio of males was 17%, and females, as low as 3% as compared to 59.6% in the rest of the country. The FATA low education status indicated itself the most primary underdeveloped part of the country.

In 2002, the education ratio decreased when FATA was globally declared the hub of militants. The militants blew up educational institutions, particularly girls' institutions.

Now the female education rate has decreased to 2% and the male ratio to 14%, in recent conflicts.

Poverty as a root cause

Research reveals unemployment caused a foremost obstacle in the tendency of tribal people towards education.

Parents engaged their children at an early age in marriage to make them become source of income for the family.

Society for Appraisal & Women Empowerment in Rural Areas (SAWERA) witnessed children doing shop keeping during after-school hours in the frontier region of Bannu near the border area of North Waziristan.

SAWERA learned that school children in Mohmand Agency – a part of FATA region, were going for jobs in various cities of Pakistan during summer vacation, while many government school children were doing work in fields and tailoring after school.

Corporal punishment & ignorance of modern teaching methods

Frontier-Region-PeshawarFrontier Region - Peshawar, FATAOne burning factor in the drop of school children ratio is corporal punishments in FATA. The government spends huge resources for capacity-building trainings for teachers, but consequently does not show the desired output.

Basically the teachers do not have modern teaching techniques to understand different levels of children's minds.

Due to inflation in the area, teachers also do other jobs with side teaching, and do not ensure full presence for teaching in the school. Thus, the learning tendency and concentration of the children is decreasing day-to-day, due to prevailing factors in the region.

There is no mechanism that exists to assess, monitor. and evaluate the performance of teachers. Political agents took interference in matters of postings, transfers, or appointments of staff and they also reserve their right to award scholarships to anyone he or she favors.

Lack of basic facilities

dust-in-class-roomDust in classroomLack of basic facilities including drinking water, fans, desks, latrines, maintenance work, and non-existence of girl’s hostel, teacher absenteeism issues, transportation, and lack of higher education are stiff hurdles in the educational institutions.  



“Ghost Schools” & the Maliks

Ghost-School-Bajour-AgencyGhost School - Bajour Agency, FATAIt’s been reliably confirmed that most of the schools exist on “paper”, not in a physical sense on the ground. These are called “Ghost Schools”, where these buildings are used by tribal Maliks as a business centre or personnel guest house.

The Malik represent the tribe in the political administrative office who control each agency of FATA. The political administration tactically favours only Maliks who control the tribe. This way, all benefits goes towards the Malik family while the rest of the hundreds tribal people are denied by political agencies for their own benefits.

The political agents constructed government institutions in allocated Malik lands. While a common person does not submit the complaint against the malfunction of employed staff or institution, launching a complaint means triggering enmity with the Mailk family. Then it could lead towards a tribal dispute due to lack of absorption of tolerance in the tribal society. The political administration also favours towards the Malik in a dispute decision rather than a common inhabitant.

Protection of schools is left to local tribal people

FATA-boys-learning-outdoorsTribal students attend a class while sitting on the debris of their school blown up by militants in Landi Kotal.When a girl’s primary school situated at Landi Kotal District Khyber Agency was blasted in 2010, one of my village children, seemingly terrified, asked me,

“Why did the Taliban destroy our school?”

I was silent for a moment to respond to her, but did not understand how to reply.

I did not want to say that Taliban are against the girl’s education in a religions pretext – I thought that might discourage her, but I told a lie that “[The] government is going to reconstruct the school soonbecause your school was getting old.”

The government did not provide adequate measures and adopt a suitable strategy to protect educational institutions in the tribal area. The protection responsibility was shouldered on to the tribal people despite thousands of armed forces. Consequently, local tribal people died in assaults by militants, while protecting the institutions.

Dogs protect the educational rights of 300 girls

Dogs-Protecting-School-Dog protecting girls' school.However, I acknowledge the courage of a 27 year-old person named Bakhtak Nawaz, who reserved his life to protect one girls' primary school situated in Landi Kotal District, Khyber Agency. He tactically hired 60 dogs bought from different cities of Pakistan to confront the dire situation.

It was also a challenge for militants. They often tried to blow up the school, but the dogs never did allow them to do so. One day, at the midnight time, militants engaged in setting explosive devices, but they left the devices and escaped – in fear of dogs biting them.

Early in the morning, the security forces contingent came and recovered the explosive devices from the place. Nowadays, the school is well-protected with the assistance of the hired dogs. Bakhtak Nawaz deserves the right of an award, by protecting the educational right of 300 girls.

His efforts were not recognized by educational department officials nor the political administration.

A potential question rose in this circumstances that if a local unarmed person could protect one school, why doesn't a functional government have capacity to do so?

Qualified professionals migrate out of the region

Weapon-with-teacherTeacher with weapon for protectionThe teachers kept weapons for their own security and protection in Orakzai Agency FATA region.

I always remembered village named Sepah, due to hearing the remarkable history of it. The village birthed eight engineers and 28 MBBS* doctors, while the village was excluded from electricity and road facilities since the country was established in 1947.

It has been learnt that after getting higher education and professional jobs, tribal people fled the area. Due to lack of basic facilities and protection, intellectuals migrate from the area.

Thus FATA people are deprived from their professional services in a continuous way.


  • It’s the prime responsibility of the Pakistan government to restore peace and stability as soon as possible in the restless zone of FATA. It will provide a sequence to development.
  • It’s worthy to say that destroyed schools must be rebuilt on a priority basis.
  • All ghost schools must be functional, which will further create teaching opportunities for tribal teachers.
  • The tendency of tribal people towards education must be elevated through social awareness programs.
  • The government should launch “employment schemes” to reduce poverty and to enhance economic opportunities in order to begin a new journey towards prosperity.
  • The higher institutions for females should be founded to lay down the base of female leadership. It will assist the females to remind them of the sense of gender equality in the male-dominant society.
  • It will more be popular if hostels for girls and teachers be made, allocating for transportation facilities. The scholarships for girls’ students must be extended and spaces for girls should be open with regards to higher academic opportunities.
  • The basic facilities – for instance, drinking water, desks, latrines, and chairs must be provided to each single school along with transportation facilities.
  • The teachers must be trained with the scientific method of teaching with provision of multimedia to better prepare their pupils. There is a need to adopt monitoring & evaluation mechanism to ensure teachers performance and presence in educational institutions.


 *MBBS: Medicinae Baccalaureus, Baccalaureus Chirurgiae; a medical degree issue by the medical board of Pakistan to the doctors who’s completed their course in medical field.

School-Children-FrontierSchool children - Frontier


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Disclaimer: Views here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent an official standpoint of Safe World for Women, as an organisation.