PESHAWAR -- Pakistan has launched a comprehensive effort to improve girls' education and revive schools damaged by militants in the former tribal districts.
More than 100 damaged schools in Kurram and Orakzai districts are set to be rebuilt as part of a joint effort by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Education Department, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), with funding from the Canadian government.
Work on the project has begun and officials are assessing the extent of the damage to the schools, Hashmat Ali, senior chief planning officer of the KP Elementary and Secondary Education Department, said May 20.
The contractor for the rehabilitation work has been identified pending a contract, he added.
Donors will provide furniture and other accessories for the schools, he said.
The projects are expected to end on time, though authorities did some minor rescheduling due to the COVID-19 outbreak, he added.
The KP Elementary and Secondary Education Department and the UNDP earlier on February 20 inked a memorandum of understanding for the improvement of girls' access to quality education in the districts.
The three-year effort will provide support to the education department, community and students and improve access to education for about 14,000 students, with a focus on adolescent girls, the UNDP said in a statement.
In addition to the rehabilitation of the damaged schools, more than 300 teachers will be trained on "student-centred and gender-responsive teaching practices", the UNDP added. The programme will also form and train about 155 parent-teacher associations and mother groups to promote and monitor girls' access to education.
Health and hygiene awareness sessions are being planned for adolescent schoolgirls in 155 schools of Kurram and Orakzai districts.
"Education is the first step to breaking the poverty cycle," Ignacio Artaza, resident representative of UNDP Pakistan, said during a Peshawar ceremony marking the signing of the memorandum, according to a UNDP statement. "The future of the merged districts is dependent on harnessing the potential of its young [generation] through formal and informal education."
More than 607,500 girls in KP do not have access to quality education in the newly merged districts, according to the KP Directorate of Education.
Only 37% of girls are attending school at the primary level and 5% of girls at the secondary level, according to the 2017 education census.
Meanwhile, in Orakzai District, some 70 schools are destroyed and another 272 are damaged, according to UNDP data. Kurram District has 84 destroyed schools and 130 damaged ones.
In addition to infrastructure development, 65,000 teachers will be inducted in the next two years, with the hiring of 35,000 fresh teachers for the settled and merged districts set be completed by the end of May, said KP Education Minister Akbar Ayub Khan.
The rehabilitation and reconstruction phase has sped up because schools are closed amid the COVID-19 outbreak, said Khan.
Schools in central and upper Kurram were badly hit by militancy, and thousands of children, especially girls, could not attend school, said Hidayat Pasadar, a journalist from Kurram.
However, the school rehabilitation plan will help restore the damaged education system, he said.
The formation of parent-teacher associations and mother groups to promote and monitor the girls' access to education will play a large role in bringing back schoolgirls, Pasadar said.
"Besides rehabilitation, these schools will need properly trained teachers, as conventional teaching will need to be upgraded with modern tech if we really want to improve our education standards in the merged districts," he added.