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Education
Losing the battle for young minds

Haqmal Masoodzai
Three remote districts in restive Paktia province have not produced a single high-school graduate in the past 14 years.
9.07.2015  |  Paktia
Female pupils attend primary school in Ghazni province.  (photo: Rahmat Alizada)
Female pupils attend primary school in Ghazni province. (photo: Rahmat Alizada)

Underinvestment in secondary schooling is a growing security threat for the residents of Shwak, Wuza Zadran and Gerda Seray. Despite the millions poured into educational development by international donors, these three remote districts in restive Paktia province have not produced a single high-school graduate in the past 14 years. 

Paktia is known for its relatively high standard of education—this year, it sent the third-highest number of students to state universities across the country. Currently, 15 religious madrasas and 353 state schools operate in the province, according to data made available by the local Education Directorate. Out of these facilities, 98 are high schools. Nearly 200,000 pupils, including 60,000 girls, attend the schools.

But this progress has evaded pupils in Shwak, Wuza Zadran and Gerda Seray, which have seen frequent school closures and “armed insurgents who threaten families if they send their children to school,” says Education Directorate head Shahabudin Mohad. 

Paktia schools, district-by-district

Chart: Paktia schools by district

Chart: Paktia schools by district

 

The districts are home to the Zadran tribe and known as a haven for the Haqqani network, one of the more than dozen insurgent groups active along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Traversed by mountain ranges, the districts face a dearth of clean water and health facilities and have high unemployment rates. Local residents earn a meager living by lumbering and picking pine nuts. Many become migrant labourers in the countries of the Persian Gulf, sending remittances to their families back in Paktia.

“We have tried several times to send professional teachers to these districts, but because of the hardship of life there, the teachers were unwilling to go and threatened to resign if pushed,” says Mohad. 

But local teachers and residents say security in the troubled districts has recently improved. They say widespread corruption in the provincial Education Directorate is the main reason for the underdevelopment.

“There are no teachers in these districts. The salaries allocated for them go into private pockets,” says Wuza Zadran resident Amanullah Khan Zadran, who served as Minister of Border and Tribal Affairs during Hamid Karzai’s presidency.   

Last year, local media reported the disappearance of nearly $300,000 in education funding, but the provincial government rejected the allegations. Mohad, who took over the directorate five months ago, says he has devised a plan to improve conditions in the three districts. 

“If things continue in this fashion, then in the future the people of this area could become a big headache for the government,” warns Niaz Mir, one of thousands of Wuza Zadra residents whose children are growing up without an education.

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