PESHAWAR -- Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has again taken the lead among Pakistan's provinces in allocating about 28% of its total budget to boost education standards, which have suffered for decades due to war and militancy.
The funding is meant to modernise tangibles and intangibles, including curriculum and infrastructure, as well as keeping children in school and away from extremist influence.
The provincial allocation for education rose from Rs. 119.7 billion (US $1.1 billion) in 2015-2016 to Rs. 143.4 billion (US $13.7 billion) in 2016-2017, according to the KP budget white paper.
KP's plan to devote 28% of its budget to education compares favourably to Sindh Province's expected allocation of 20% and Punjab's 18%, according to a budget analysis by Alif Ailaan, an education reform NGO based in Islamabad.
KP officials want to do a better job of keeping children in school and away from extremists who sell dreams of riches and paradise.
KP children who stay in school are disproportionately male, according to Alif Ailaan: 52% of girls are simply not going to school, compared to 21% of boys.
The rate of dropping out from primary school is similarly weighted: 46% for girls, 25% for boys.
The KP plan to raise educational spending can help reverse these destructive trends, KP educators and activists say.
The KP government also wants to spend its money judiciously -- it is focusing its education budget on elementary and secondary education to ensure all children can aspire to higher education, KP Finance Minister Muzaffar Said Khan told Pakistan Forward.
Ahmed Ali, an Islamabad-based educator and senior research fellow at the Institute of Social and Policy Sciences, lauded the KP government initiative.
"It is important that the budget ... is focused on priority areas, such as building teachers' capacity, rehabilitating and adding facilities at schools, reviving lost infrastructure and installing new infrastructure," he told Pakistan Forward.
"Increased enrolment can be achieved only if KP education authorities utilise these funds judiciously to retain children ... into middle school and high school," he said.
"The fact that all provinces have increased their education budgets indicates that education has become a policy priority for Pakistani authorities," he said.
KP's educational spending boost deserves appreciation, said Aamir Gamaryani, peace activist and founder of the Sabawoon Education Academy in Nowshera District.
"Having more money to work with will definitely improve the situation," he told Pakistan Forward. "You need money to develop infrastructure, improve available facilities and provide more facilities."
That said, "the most important thing is building human resources", he added.
"A major chunk of the money should go to inculcate the spirit of peace and tolerance among teachers, who are the best transformers to educate children," he said.
Higher educational spending "will help us achieve the goal of an enlightened future generation opposed to the extremist mindset", he concluded.
Increases in educational spending are positively linked to better student outcomes, said Qamar Naseem, a civil society and human rights activist in Peshawar.
The funding will help rebuild schools destroyed by terrorists and will enable schools to teach more children, he said, adding that education defeats militants' ambitions of luring in children.
"Education can be one of the most powerful tools that we can implement in our national efforts to promote peace," he told Pakistan Forward.
Education encourages independent thinking and opens doors to new ideas, Peshawar schoolteacher Muhammad Iqbal said.
"Unattended youth and children are the likeliest to support militancy," he told Pakistan Forward. "If 28% of the budget goes to educating and bringing more children to school, it will serve as a base for fighting militancy and terrorism in the region."
"Education breeds confidence, confidence breeds hope and hope breeds peace,” he said.
"Independent thinkers try to make sense of the world and draw their own conclusions instead of blindly following the beliefs of others," Iqbal said. "With education, communication skills are honed, and communication is the key to solving conflict."
"Quality education arms schoolchildren with the tools to solve problems in their communities," said Rhyma Batool, another Peshawar schoolteacher. "Education reduces poverty, which often fuels conflicts and extremism."
"Educated citizens are less likely to stand for government corruption and can spur more government accountability, while uneducated communities are more likely to support militancy and terrorism," she told Pakistan Forward.