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School buildings empty of children in Pakistan

Over the next five years, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) expects to spend a significant part of its aid budget for Pakistan on education.

In its Spring 2011 report, DFID published plans to bring an extra 4 million Pakistani children into school over the next five years and train an additional 90,000 teachers. Its programme will include expanding educational support in provinces such as Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

However, this week IRIN reports that in some border areas of Pakistan, teachers are available, but schools remain empty because female teachers are too frightened to take up their posts. In South Waziristan on the border with Afghanistan, some of the children in the largest town of Wana play games in their school compound but have not had any lessons since last November. The teacher for the school lives close by, but due to the security situation in the region, she is afraid to go back to work. Even when Taliban fighters have been cleared from an area, female teachers are afraid of being attacked if they take up their teaching posts again. IRIN spoke to Aima Malik, who at 25 has already given up on her career as a teacher. Aima said “I love teaching, but I will never teach again....as it is too dangerous”. Aima is just one of many women who have decided they are only safe if they stay at home.

The insecurity in the region and traditional attitudes towards women remaining in the home mean that literacy rates for girls are as low as 1 per cent in some areas. In Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in the north-west, the headmistress of a private school told IRIN that “fewer and fewer women” are becoming teachers and many families “prefer them not to work”. This perpetuates the problem of girls not being sent to school, since many parents refuse to allow their daughters to be taught by male teachers. Families in the region have also suffered greatly from all the insecurity and even where they would like their children to attend school, do not have the resources to send them.

DFID has promised that as part of its package of aid to Pakistan, money will be used to build “peace and stability in the areas bordering Afghanistan, where conflict has destroyed livelihoods”. As part of this commitment, the UK will be repairing infrastructure and building new facilities such as healthcare units and schools. But unless Pakistani women feel safe to teach in these areas and the education of girls is promoted within communities, some school buildings might very well continue to stand empty.

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