During the recent violence in Swat valley, the education sector was the worst-hit, depriving thousands of children from access to education. Girls schooling was highly targeted and according to one estimate almost 70 per cent of the schools bombed by militants in Swat were for girls.
Efforts are being made to provide proper educational facilities to the children of Swat, but many are still being taught in open areas or tents, as school buildings have yet to be constructed in some places.
A local resident states “the girls were doing very well in education, despite the low investment in the education sector by the government. Girls’ literacy rates in Swat were much higher than many other areas of the province.”
Alongside schools, madrassahs in Swat valley provided religious education to local children. Many of these were closed down by the government, with accusations that the organisers were radicalising students and breeding extremism. However, madrassahs in Swat are now playing a pivotal role in providing religious education to children who do not have access to schools or whose parents prefer them to be educated in the madrassah.
New madrassahs are being opened in small homes, providing religious education to girls. There are a number of such madrassahs in the centre of Swat valley, Mingora. “We give basic religious education to the girls, alongside some modern subjects. The girls are very happy and enjoy their education, as well as learning the Quran with full religious understanding” says a local woman who runs a madrassah in Mingora.
“Swat is a conservative and traditionalist society, so many girls prefer to come to these madrassahs. Because we only teach girls and the teachers are also women, the students like the environment that the madrassah provides. There is a big difference in learning religious education at home and in the madrassah.”
“Our approach in the madrassahs is based on our learning in higher religious institutions. If they have a better understanding of the Quran and religion, they can convey that message to their parents and ultimately to their society.”
Kayenat, a student at the madrassah says “I have completed the Quran, alongside learning its translation in my own mother tongue of Pashto. Now I have a good understanding of the teachings of Islam. I know more about the rights of a woman and a man and about issues like marriage and divorce.” She further explains that “this education has further empowered me to decide and make choices for myself.”
“I learnt the Quran at home as well, but learning here from a teacher is much better. I gain an excellent understanding of the Arabic language and can now understand the interpretations of the verses,” says another student, Gulalay.
Most of the girls are very enthusiastic about the religious education they receive in the madrassah. However, the need for full schooling with contemporary education is still in demand as one student adds “it is equally important for us to get an education in school.”