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Pakistan: Newsline

Frontier schools blaze a trail for girls’ education

©UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Zaidi
A student at Pitao Banda Community School.

By MaryAnne Fitzgerald

UNICEF’s latest ‘Progress for Children’ report, on gender parity and primary education, is part of the many efforts by partners in the world community to ensure that opportunities for going to school are equally available to both girls and boys. The report complements the work of the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative and the Gender Achievement and Prospects in Education (GAP) project, both supported by UN agencies, governments, donor countries, non-governmental organizations, civil society, the private sector and communities and families.

ISLAMABAD, 25 April 2005 — The students of Pitao Banda Primary Feeder School are among the trailblazers for girls’ primary education in the remote hamlets that are scattered throughout the foothills of the Hindu Kush, in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.

Many of the villages in the province are not easily accessible. UNICEF is assisting 21 existing community schools and has helped to establish another 28 schools for girls in these remote areas.

© UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Zaidi
Girl students at Pitao Banda Primary Feeder School in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.

Pitao Banda Primary Feeder School is one such UNICEF-supported school. For most students the hike along ridge and valley shaded by mulberry and walnut trees takes half an hour, but some must leave home at 6 a.m. to be on time when school starts at 7:30 a.m.

Many of the students arrive in tattered clothes, unable to afford a uniform. Some walk barefoot along the stony goat paths, saving their thin-soled plastic shoes for the colder weather.

Ranging from five to 12 years old, 140 youngsters sit shoulder to shoulder on the dirt floor of an open-sided classroom to learn the alphabet, basic counting, the calendar and the translation of Koranic prayers.

These giggling pre-schoolers are the first generation of women in their families to have the opportunity of learning to read, thanks to a UNICEF initiative that provides support for villagers in less advantaged communities in establishing primary schools.

In order to stay within the national rules, their class is supervised on a weekly basis by the head teacher from the nearest government primary school. Community school teachers must have a Primary Teaching Certificate to ensure quality education and to assure government officials that the curriculum conforms to national standards.

©UNICEF Pakistan/2005/Zaidi
In Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, some students walk for up to three hours along mountainous paths to get to and from school.

With the help of their teacher, Zakia Bibi, the students of Pitao Banda Primary Feeder School manage to transcend rudimentary conditions – cracked, muddy walls and insufficient or missing teaching materials – to seize the opportunity to learn, which is a lifeline to an education. “I have a blackboard that was donated by the boys’ school and teach from wall charts that I made myself,” says Zakia.

 “It starts getting cold in November and snows all through the winter. It will be cold for the girls, but what can I do? They will have to wear the warmest clothes they can find.”

Freezing temperatures and heavy snowfalls often force schools to close. This past winter was especially brutal, one of the harshest in decades. Pitao Banda School was forced to close for many weeks, keeping these girls out of the classroom.

The pupils here are used to harsh conditions. Most of their homes have electricity but less than half have running water. There is no doctor or dispensary to ease their constant coughs. Neither is there respite from household chores once they get home in the afternoon. The girls say they are still expected to wash the dishes, sweep the floor, babysit and fetch water from the stream.

But education is opening doors in their minds, a fact that is clearly demonstrated when they are asked who wants to continue school beyond primary level: A sea of eager hands shoots up into the air.



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